Don’t Let the Elephant in the Room Make You Look Like an Ass

Jessica Avery ‘15 and Evelyn Masterson ‘16 

Originally Posted by Mount Holyoke News April ’15, shared with Permission

Controversy has stained the dialogue here at Mount Holyoke College. Unwillingness to constructively engage with viewpoints that do not match one’s own is a major problem here that has silenced many. For many students, college is about finding an identity and connecting with those around you. At Mount Holyoke College, there is definitely a certain tone which many students adhere to. At what point, though, does this lead to the marginalization of others?

The Mount Holyoke College Democrats (MHCDs) and Mount Holyoke College Republicans (MHCRs) addressed this problem one evening in Blanchard. The two student organizations came together to connect with one another and brainstorm ways to community. Their first joint effort was a wreath donation to a local Veterans of Foreign War chapter for a Veteran’s cemetery for the holidays. And that was just the beginning. We are currently planning to co-host a bipartisan party this April.

We, Jessica Avery and Evelyn Masterson, Presidents of the MHCDs and MHCRs, respectively, continued the conversation over the second semester as tensions continued rising. We both believe that Mount Holyoke students should take care of each other. We don’t see politics as some never-ending quest for power. Politics is not an “us vs. them” game. Ultimately, the two sides will always have trouble compromising if they are continuously arguing and seeking to silence each other.

We are confident that bipartisanship exists both in the United States as well as on campus. We envision a campus that acknowledges that differences exist and that difference, especially in political beliefs, is okay. Having a uniform tone and ideological belief system is not how we grow as people, students, or citizens. As a Gender Studies Major and President of the Mount Holyoke Democrats, I (Jessica Avery) believe that there are certain opinions that are physically and emotionally harmful to others. People who hold these opinions need to be held accountable for their words and actions. They need to understand how years of institutional beliefs and political barriers make certain opinions problematic. I want to see campus full of people who step outside themselves and examine their opposers’ position in a critical and thoughtful way. That is why I began the process of collaborating with the Mount Holyoke College Republicans. Ignoring our differences does not solve problems.

As a Republican, I (Evelyn Masterson) took a long time getting used to this campus. I think this was because it was difficult for me to speak my mind without wondering if somebody would immediately try to silence me. I would have transferred out of here in a heartbeat as a first-year if it weren’t for my supportive friends who helped me to see that no good can come from giving up on creating space for bipartisanship in an educational institution. Now that I have been at Mount Holyoke a while, I am confident that our students can be tolerant of other opinions when they have the right guidance. Through our composition of this article, Jessica and I hope that we may play some role in promoting bipartisanship in the Mount Holyoke community.


We believe that the events we have planned will provide a free and open space, which will empower students to speak their minds in a non-academic environment. We hope to see more of these events in the future. Until then, here is our “How To” guide on how to create safe conversation spaces on campus:

Listen to the other person’s entire idea before critiquing or asking questions. (We need to ensure that MHC continues to be a place that supports and empowers women, not contributing to their silence.)  Like people, political parties cannot be put in boxes, so do not make any generalizations. Personal attacks are never okay. Remain focused on the ideological conversation itself and not on the characteristics of the people who are speaking. (If Democratic political consultant James Carville and Republican political consultant Mary Matalin can do it every day in a marriage, then so can you!) Come with an open mind and the desire to learn. Be sensitive to your audience and do not make them feel as if they are being personally attacked.

As the leaders of the two partisan groups on campus, we feel that it is important to acknowledge differences and the reality that college is about learning. Learning cannot occur without talking about and exploring deeply different concepts, therefore we hope that these five guidelines will be useful to you in the future. Also remember that it is always important to keep a safe place on campus whether you agree with somebody or not. Silencing others is never productive.

           As John McCain, a U.S. senator known for his efforts to promote bipartisanship, once said, “Our political differences, no matter how sharply they are debated, are really quite narrow in comparison to the remarkably durable national consensus on our founding convictions.”




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Flying the Flag: Living America’s Values

A Piece I wrote for Masslive published November 25, 2016:

I’ve seen a lot of outrage for the removal of the American flag, a symbol of our nation, at Hampshire College.

As a Chicopee native and 5 College consortium alumna, I am more disheartened and concerned there is no outrage by older generations and veterans for un-American values being perpetuated on college campuses such as blatant racism towards students of color, unsolved or disputed rape allegations, or cheating organized to protect rankings and students.

It is not the American flag that makes us who we are. We do not need a symbol to do what is right and just. I hope colleges that have the flag flying actually live American values of decency, equality, and respect for all like Hampshire is working to achieve for students on campus.

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Not Your Father’s Freedom

This piece has sat in my Moleskine for some time now, but a Masslive Editorial further pushed me to publish it. I would like to note a trigger warning for war-related trauma and violence.

Being from Chicopee, my community has lived among Westover Air Force Base, the nation’s largest Air Force Bases. Post-Desert Storm however, the base remained quiet, though not inactive. According to their website, over 5,550 military and civilian individuals work there.

Recently, F-15s reportedly flew early in the morning (before 6am,), which caused great alarm within the community. Following the increased chaos around the airplane sound, the Base posted a message stating “The F-15 fighter jets are conducting real-world missions, not training, and are using our base as a stop-over point before continuing east… We apologize if this creates any inconvenience for you.” Immediately, people responded that others should be grateful, there was no reason to apologize or that this was the sound of freedom.

The anxious response of people, both civilian and military, is justified. Our country lives in a constant sense of heightened fear of terrorism and warfare. The unfortunate part is our society simply shouts this is the sound of freedom, which couldn’t be farther from the truth. My question is, does America truly know the sound of freedom?

WhenUnknown-1.jpeg civilians in countries that are military invades hear this sound, are they hearing the sound of freedom? Because even if we are there to expand their freedom or protect them from harmful regimes, they still no that those planes, the people, and weapons inside could harm them.

When the little toddler in Granby whose parent is stationed overseas hears that sound, are they hearing the sound of freedom? Or the soldier who was woken up to that sound knowing that it could bring them harm at any moment, do they hear freedom?

As civilians in the United States, we are disconnected from the war and are taught war expands freedom. But, that is not always the case. Next time you hear a plane and think you hear freedom, consider those who hear death upon that planes arrival.

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The American Delusion: How Americans See Immigration

No thanks to He Who Can’t Be Named of the Republican Party*, people are speaking out about immigration more than ever. Many of these comments mention walls, “illegals,” and “going back to where you came from.” One of the most common statements- “undocumented citizens take [goods and services] away from hard-working Americans who live here legally.” This is an incredibly problematic statement. I have a single story that exhibits why and shines light on the story that millions of people live every day.

Do you remember a time when you worked 12-15 hours a day with no minimum wage, overtime, or legal protections? Yeah, me neither. Thanks to the hard work of those before us, the average American officer worker gets a reasonable salary, time off, and a 37-40 hour workweek. These same office workers get cubicles or offices, desks, and computers. Many of them even get a lunch break! Trust me, I know as well as the next person that these jobs can be tough and exerting mental energy can be exhausting. My tune quickly changed however after spending the summer working retail. A job where I am on my feet all day and make minimum wage (after graduating from a pretty good school I might add!) But still, I am afforded paid time off after 6 months, am already in line for a promotion, and receive perks like discounts and store money. Although I complain, it is still not terrible.

Remember when I asked about working 12-15 hours a day with no minimum wage, overtime, or legal protections? Remember how we determined those times haven’t happened in a long time? Right? Wrong! That is a reality for millions of people everyday. When you say “undocumented citizens take goods and services away from hard-working Americans who live here legally,” you are really saying that your work is more important than theirs or that a piece of paper makes you more entitled. And frankly, a lot of time undocumented citizens are not eligible for goods or services from the government, yet still pay a variety of taxes into the system. It is a false statement that needs to be eradicated from white American vocabulary.

I recently heard a story about undocumented citizens who work 12-15 hours days without breaks, are shafted on tips, and barely earn enough money to make ends meet [because their employer doesn’t pay them minimum wage.] In no way is this moral or legal. Because of their citizenship status, workers don’t report these horrific conditions though in fear of fines or worse, deportation.

And for those of you, who say they “deserve it” since they are here illegally, let’s discuss why they choose to live in America. One of the workers said that they came to America because of the dollar’s buying power. They could have anything they wanted in America, if they just worked here for it. Little did he know, he would be working over 80 hours a week. And where does that money go? That money goes to rent that he is overcharged because it is under the table. It goes to a food for his family. It goes to his family in a Latin American country to survive. Not just survive with food and shelter, but to pay off gangsters who hold people and their homes for ransom. People come to America to obtain a dream that does not exist for them. They come here because for some it’s their only chance to live without fear of death. By having all loopholes and waiting lists to live here legally, our nation forces people to stay in unsafe conditions and puts lives in limbo.

One man, who has obtained citizenship since moving here, is also still subjected to these work conditions at times. He wants to bring this up to the authorities, but knows his coworkers would be in jeopardy. He is stuck between justice and existence. In addition to this job, he rents apartments, which has shown to be a difficult endeavor too. One tenant asked him to let her skip a month or two of rent, due to a financial situation. After the tenant missed a few payments, the case was brought to court. Many of you would expect a court to demand that she pay rent or be evicted, but that did not happen. The court ordered him to excuse rent for a few months, and a follow up hearing gave her an even longer extension. How is he supposed to make ends meet if the justice system is allowing people to not pay him rent? Even as a citizen, our nation is telling him that his possessions and work are not deserving of reasonable compensation. It’s a cycle that pushes people back into poverty, immigrant or not.

A woman was asked how she liked America, she said that is was very different than she imagined. She said that she likes it here, but all she does is work. She hopes that she can go back to her birth country one day, when things clear up, because she misses her family and the freedom from working all the time to live. When someone mentioned this feeling to her manager, he said, “Oh, it’s fine. They love to work.” This overused and dangerous stereotype needs to be erased.

People believe immigration is a “new problem.” That people coming in now are what is “bringing down society.” But with 11 million undocumented citizens already here, we need to re-evaluate how we respond to their existence. The landlord and worker mentioned above has lived in Boston for over 20 years, where he raised a family and contributed to society through his work. Without supporting his rights as a workers, documented or not, we are perpetuating the notion that undocumented workers don’t matter in our society. We are also allowing people to work in conditions that have been deemed illegal, unhealthy, and unsafe. A piece of paper should not dictate how workers are treated. Period.

I write this post from a position of privilege. I know this. I can speak out against the atrocities against undocumented citizens without fear of fines or deportation. I hope that this posts makes you go beyond the “who is coming into our country” narrative. I hope you think about why people come here, how they are treated in America, in their birth country, and how we as a nation can remember that all people have a right to humanity no matter what a piece of paper says.

*Donald Trump

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Because She Liked to Talk about IT.

People have been talking to me. People have been talking about me. People have been talking to me about me. It’s really quite unsettling.

This is not some alternate Gossip Girl universe though. This is about the Vagina Monologues. I’m not going to talk about the misinformed controversy around it or why the play is still important. I am not an alumna or Eve Ensler. I am simply a senior at Mount Holyoke who is acting in this years’ production of the Vagina Monologues, and I am here to tell you why.

I remember the first time I saw the Vagina Monologues. It was spring 2013, my sophomore year. I had only been at Mount Holyoke for a year, but had already declared myself a Gender Studies Major and was very vocal about my feminist beliefs. Seeing the Vagina Monologues just felt right. And after all, I was prepared and already knew everything the play touched up.

But was I wrong.

Hair. It was one of the first monologues in the play. The woman’s husband, her only husband, coerced her into shaving all of her hair off. I began to cry. I sat there as I watched myself on stage. Too many ex’s had demanded or “politely requested” the same thing that this man had. This monologue articulated everything that I had been I feeling. Everything that I needed to get out. In that moment, the Vagina Monologues opened up my consciousness. It gave life to my feelings.

That’s why.

That’s why I am participating in the Vagina Monologues. It gave voice to my feelings. This play is about a topic few people ever get the opportunity to speak about- Vaginas. Exposure to the Vagina Monologues, along with the new on-campus production, The Student Body, is space for learning that all Mount Holyoke students have to experience.

The structure of this piece was partially inspired by the Vagina Monologues.

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College Dems Stand With Pregnant Workers

My College Democrats of Massachusetts piece on the importance of supporting and passing the PWFA!

MHC Democrats

Originally posted on January 8th by the College Democrats of Massachusetts.


As a part of the College Democrats of Massachusetts’s #Lobby2Win Strategy, we’ve endorsed the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act. We are currently behind 11 states (including Texas and Alaska) with legislation protecting the rights of pregnant workers. This #ForeverBlueBlog post is written by Jessica Avery, Co-Chair of the Mt. Holyoke College Dems

Being born on December 22nd meant that my parents celebrated more than just Christmas that year. As a retail store manager, my mother’s final trimester coincided with the holiday season, which brought 60-hour workweeks. “I remember asking my doctor for a note to reduce my hours to 45 a week, which meant that I’d probably still be working around 50 hours,” my mother, Christine Avery said. Although 22 years ago, unfortunately circumstances like these are still realities for pregnant workers.Massachusetts currently lags behind 11 other states, including Texas…

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Week Fifteen: Returning to the Motherland

Yes, I have been home for about 10 days now. I just couldn’t bring myself to write this because I knew that writing this meant that this chapter of my life was over. And, I just wasn’t ready to admit that. What I’ve learned in Amsterdam about myself and about gender studies will stay with me forever. So, even with this chapter closed, I will frequently turn back to reminisce and remember it all!

Leaving Amsterdam meant leaving some of the most amazing people and the most incredible city in the world! My last week there was filled with karaoke, drag bingo, a lovely home cooked meal, and a final trip to a local brewery in my neighborhood. I also went to the Rijksmuseum and saw some breathtaking pieces. I presented my ISP project on paternity leave in the Netherlands, which is my academic pride and joy! On my final evening, I had cheese and stroopwafel in the park next to my house with friends from MHC, Zoë and Emma. It was the perfect ending to a challenging semester.


^[Flevopark was 5 minutes from my house, but I only went on my last day in Amsterdam! What a shame because it was so beautiful.]

I wrote this following piece when I was still in Amsterdam. It sums up what it means to study abroad and who you are when you leave”

I’ve heard that studying abroad is the best time of your life. While this may be true, it can also be the worst. For me, it was the first time I left my bubble called Western Massachusetts. I view studying abroad like your first day of school or work. Every thing and every one is new to you, and it is absolutely terrifying. In the end though, you come out stronger and more ready to take on whatever the world throws at you.

While these past 3.5 months have probably been the most different of my life, I wouldn’t trade them for anything. I’ve learned so much about the people in my life, but most importantly I’ve learned about myself. What I want and what I need.

I wish I had come to this realization about 2.5 months ago, but I didn’t. Sometimes we need to go through hard times to make us stronger and make us realize all the incredible treasures around us. I was so worried about what I would loss by coming abroad that, just now, I’m taking off the blinders to see what I’ve gained. I’m also not going to say I changed. Because, while I am a different person than I was 3.5 months ago, I didn’t change. I simply found who I am supposed to be.

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