The Elmira College Women’s and Gender Studies and student F.I.G.H.T. Club (F.I.G.H.T stands for feminists who want to fight for inclusivity, gender, humanity, and transparency) recently hosted the annual Julia Reinstein Symposium. Among this year’s events was a student-led panel discussion of four novels by 18th- and 19th-century female authors, including Jane Austen, Mary Shelly, Charlotte Bronte, and Louisa May Alcott. In another event, the students discussed race in Austen’s Emma with Cornell graduate student Victoria Baugh. The different events gave students the opportunity to talk about literary themes from that time and how they relate to today, such as family relationships and the role of women and of race within society.

“The discussion attendees listened with intent and respect,” said Emma Henault ’25, a member of F.I.G.H.T. Club who was among the panelists during the student discussion. “I felt really comfortable with the audience we had, and with the levels that they were willing to participate. They had some really fantastic input to share in our discussions.”

“I thought the panel went really well,” said event attendee, Haley Sullivan ’25, a Speech and Language Disabilities major. “I was impressed with the panelists. They all spoke professionally.”

Sullivan appreciated that the novels discussed were all written by women.

“It is great to see women tell their own stories, instead of reading stories about women told through the lens of a man,” she shared.

Emma Keenan ’24, a Nursing Major and member of F.I.G.H.T. Club, also attended the discussion. She enjoyed that the panel was student-led.

“I think having student-based panels is more intriguing than an adult panel,” said Keenan. She explained that she values book recommendations from peers because she is likely to relate to her peers in ways she won’t relate to a professor.

Keenan also enjoyed how two people could read the same book but end up with different, and even opposite, conclusions.

“Two people in attendance had very different views on the ending of Jane Eyre,” she said. Keenan explained that a professor felt the story’s main character, Jane, by choosing to stay with her love interest, was conforming to the standards for women that she had hoped to avoid in her youth. But, Keenan said, a student ‘flipped the script’ and views Jane’s actions as a matter of choice, deciding for herself the future she wants.

Henault also appreciated the spirit of debate and discussion during the event.

“I liked being able to have intellectual conversations with a variety of people,” she said. I spoke to folks I hadn't before and discussed topics that were pretty new to me. That was such a valuable experience.”

“I just wanted to have interesting conversations,” Henault continued. “I know that sounds simple, but it's just the truth. I was excited to talk about great literature with my peers, which is precisely what happened. I loved having that opportunity.”

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