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Fresh Faces in Women and Gender Studies

By Amanda Peterson

Though they aren’t exactly new to WGST, Professors Tiffany Jackson and Dr. Randa Tawil may look unfamiliar to those who spent a year in Zoom classes. With classes returning to in-person, there’s no better time to get to know these personalities in WGST.

Those who have been at TCU for longer may recognize Professor Tiffany Jackson, as she formerly held the position of adjunct professor since 2017; but, as of fall 2021, she took up her new position as a Visiting Lecturer, a one-year appointment.

Tiffany Jackson, Visiting Lecturer in Women and Gender Studies

Professor Jackson is excited to explore the new opportunities of Visiting Lecturer, especially the experience of teaching full time. In years to come, she hopes this experience can be used at TCU, where, she says, “I’ve just been cuddled in all of this love.” But if not, she knows this opportunity prepares her for many places as she gains insight into new ways of teaching and working with students. In the spring, she will teach Feminisms of Color, a foundational WGST course.

In her Introduction to WGST classes, Professor Jackson engages students in a “brave space.” Similar to safe spaces, the class climate is one of respect and without judgment, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be discomfort. In talking about the important subjects in WGST, Jackson encourages her students to lean into that discomfort so they can teach others about their lived experiences.

Outside of the university, Jackson serves Women of Wisdom, Worth, and Wealth, which is built on a growing vision now aiming to empower businesswomen of all ages and experience levels. In sharing this space, Jackson says, businesswomen can learn from each other about different forms of success and how to ensure that their voices are heard in a male-dominated field. This can be especially difficult once the women go their separate ways, but Jackson finds this type of work is “frightening and empowering all at the same time.”

Professor Jackson has also worked with The NET of Fort Worth, an organization that works to support survivors of sex trafficking. There, she mentored women on healthy relationships, which she says many of the women struggle with. In describing this work, Jackson says, “What I taught them to do was to recognize person-to-person, healthy relationships, one woman to the other, where it is give and take—it’s reciprocal, not necessarily always being used—and to help them affirm their self-worth.”

As she considers this work and the application of her various degrees, Jackson notes, “I have a passion for women and women’s empowerment in particular. And that would be every part of a woman: mind, body, and soul.”

Professor Jackson says, “I don’t have all the answers to anything, but I’m always thinking. And I’m always observing, and I’m really open to learning about new and different things. And then I share that knowledge with others to see how they feel about it. They may love it; they may not, but it’s always wonderful to have a conversation.”

Randa Tawil, Assistant Professor in Women and Gender Studies

While Professor Jackson is fresh to her new position on campus, Dr. Randa Tawil recently began her journey at TCU in the fall of 2020 as an Assistant Professor of WGST while teaching remotely from her home in Seattle.

Students can take Introduction to Women and Gender Studies with Dr. Tawil; she’s also currently teaching her course Sex, the Body, & U.S. Borders. In the spring, she will teach Transnational Gender & Sexuality, which is a foundational WGST course.

In Intro to WGST, Dr. Tawil’s goal is to “make the familiar strange.” While looking at the threshold concepts of Women and Gender Studies, students begin to realize that the things they consider natural or inevitable have been influenced by history, politics, and society. Tawil says, “That can actually be a very dangerous proposition, right? Because once you know that this thing that you thought was natural, actually is socially constructed, then you might want to change it.”

Students can then delve deeper into these issues through her special topics class, which studies “the way that migrant policing (immigration control, policing of immigrants, laws that are passed, etc.) and the policing of sexuality (policing of women, policing of people’s bodies) really grow together.” This examination leads to the conclusion that immigration policy is fundamentally a reproductive issue, as the gendered policing of the border determines who is allowed to have children in the U.S.

Like her class, Dr. Tawil’s research centers on migration, mobility, and ethnic studies. She uses archives from multiple regions to trace migration patterns and understand how routes of travel were affected by sites of imperial power. Most fascinating to Tawil is the way migrants (women from Syria in particular) had to move about, often with high uncertainty, in an indirect manner as they approached various borders and restrictive powers.

According to Tawil: “We often think of migration as kind of point A to point B. And from my research, what I found so fascinating was that it’s really not like that point. It’s A to point Z to point L to point R, then back to B, then to A. It’s really circuitous. And people don’t always know where they’re going to end up. They have to make decisions along the way. And usually, when we study immigrant experiences, we start when people arrive in the US, but there’s a lot that goes on before then; from when they leave their country of origin until they come to the U.S. there is a lot that happens in between the actually affects where they end up and how they are treated where they end up.”

Dr. Tawil believes that Women & Gender Studies is a transformational field because its many topics and theoretical lenses illuminate all of our lives. As she puts it, “It is so ingrained and part of our life, that studying it will allow us to understand ourselves better in the world and the world around us in a much more critical way. Taking a Woman and Gender Studies class allows for the possibility of not only changing our perception of ourselves but changing the way we want to interact with the world.”