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Saturday, March 3, 2018

A return to two towns…Brockport and Scranton

February into March 2018

It is homecoming month for me, Aphra Behn, Guerrilla Girl On Tour and on my way back to two places which have been very important to me – so important that I write about them both in my memoir UN/MASKED, Memoirs of a Guerrilla Girl On Tour.

Back to Brockport! 
On February 20th I returned to my alma mater – SUNY Brockport where I received my undergraduate degree in theatre. I wrote extensively about my college days in my book - mostly about the fact that I was sexually assaulted by a professor in the theatre department.

With Dr. Panning and Dr. LaSavoy 

I was a bit nervous about my return the Brockport so I contacted the coordinator of Brockport’s Writers Forum, Dr. Anne Panning, to discuss with her how I could maximize my impact on campus. I should not have been worried for Anne Panning completely understood how important it might be for me to talk about sexual assault to the current student body on the very grounds where it happened. She was completely with me when I told her this was an important moment for me and talked about how I might make the most of my return to Brockport. We decided to take advantage of time and she scheduled a full two days for me to mingle and talk with as many students and faculty as time would allow. 

Women's and Gender Studies Rock Star Students at SUNY BROCKPORT 
I flew into Rochester and rented a car.  So many times I had taken the road to Brockport but since it had been about 35 years since I had been to Brockport I found myself driving on new roads and unfamiliar routes. No wonder I made a stop at the Brockport Diner as soon as I found it in the same spot I left it.  My first waitressing job was at the Diner – the graveyard shift from midnight to 7AM. 
Back at the Brockport Diner

SUNY Brockport’s campus is twice the size it once was but the main road through campus was the same. It was raining when I parked illegally in the faculty parking lot at the Fine Arts Building and dashed inside for a quick look at the theatre department. It was deserted – none of the bustle and noise of the days when the department boasted 200 majors. I found the main stage open – a half painted set in the middle of the stage.  A floodgate of memoires opened and washed over me. Everything was eerily familiar. I knew my next stop would be the creepy predator professor’s old office. I had to laugh when I found it was now a janitors closet.  Revenge is sweet.

Creepy Professor B's former office. 
After that all apprehensions melted away. My return to Brockport turned into one big love fest.

Lucky me - I got to speak to students at a Women’s and Gender Studies class (with Dr. Barb LeSavoy), a theatre class (with P. Gibson Ralph and Dr. Davida Bloom). The smiling face of Dr. Oh-Kon Cho appeared – he came to Brockport just as I was graduating and gave me a very warm welcome back. We reminisced about the days I was a student and there were 17 full time theatre faculty on staff.

With Dr. Oh-Kon Cho
Interviewed by Barb and Anne for Writers Forum Brockport

During my visit I was interviewed by Dr. Panning and Dr. LeSavoy for the Writers Forum archives which date back to 1968 and include interviews with major authors including (Guerrilla Girl) Anne Sexton. I had lunch and got to chat with some amazing Women’s Studies students. I fielded smart, funny questions from an English creative writing class (who had all ready my book). And I had the chance to make a trip back to the Lift Bridge Bookstore – the site of my feminist awakening. (See UN/MASKED and the story of finding a copy of “Our Bodies Ourselves” there circa 1974.)  Of course it was kismet that they had a used copy of Our Bodies Ourselves which I snapped up for a giveaway at my reading that night.

With the winner of "Our Bodies, Ourselves"
What can I say about the Brockport audience that won’t sound mushy except to report that they sure knew how to welcome me home. As I walked onto the stage they held hand made gorilla masks to their faces and laughed. What a welcome. Even the awesome Brockport President, Dr. Heidi Macpherson, was there. I signed many books and left with my heart full of a tremendous feeling of gratitude at how far my journey has come.  Thank you, Brockport.
Decorated Gorilla Masks 
The crowd at Brocport 
Onwards to kick off Women’s History Month at another town full of memories - Scranton Pa – the city which hosted the world premiere of my play, JOAN, in 1999 (which won a Jason Miller Prize from the Scranton Times for best production).  In Scranton, I was artistic director of the now defunct TNT theatre for two years.

At U of Scranton 
I am in Scranton at the invitation of the University of Scranton (and Dr. Jamie Trnka) which is the home of many super savvy feminist students. 17 of them participated in my poster making workshop the evening I arrived, creating 4 provocative posters (which now grace the walls of the women’s center).

U of Scranton Workshop Artists! 

The following evening I presented “PUSH/PUSHBACK, 9 steps to make a difference withart and activism” that night as part of U of Scranton’s Schemel Forum. A mix of students and Scrantonites filled the audience, mostly the back rows.  One audience member explained it this way, “We’re catholic. We like to sit in the back!”

The U of Scranton Audience 
With Peggy Lee of local Chanel 16
The local news showed up and so did the campus paper.  While the Jesuits were a more subdued crowd then Brockport they nonetheless offered crisp attention, spurts of laughter and many nods of support for the feminist issues I raised. And of course they had some of the smartest questions I have ever received during the ending Q and A.

U of Scranton POSTER by Workshop Participants 
It was pouring rain as I left both Brockport and Scranton.  But my spirits were as high as they have ever been. As I drive home from Scranton, I recall the strong poster on racism a group of students created during the poster workshop - expressions of pain rain down on women of color. I have shared some of my own pain as a survivor of sexual assault and domestic violence and it feels right. I have shared some of the tactics of the Girls with the hopes that that others may now utilize them to push against our predator president and patriarchy. These past few days remind me how lucky and grateful I am to have had the opportunity to go back and meet new people from the places where I have so much herstory.

With much love,

Full Circle - Back at the Lift Bridge Book Store where a Book inspired me to be a feminist. 

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