Bridget Meakin’s ‘yarn bombing’ project for Dr. Jill McCorkel’s Sociology of Deviance class*
Thanks to senior Bridget Meakin, the Oreo is finally ready to attend an ugly sweater party. As part of a project on social deviance for her sociology class, Meakin spent a month knitting approximately seventy squares of yarn to hang up on the Oreo and surrounding benches and handrails.
This practice, known as yarn bombing, was first recorded in May 2004 in Den Helder, Netherlands.
Since then, this form of street art has spread throughout the world and continues to challenge current notions of graffiti. Other terms for the activity include yarnstorming, guerilla knitting and graffiti knitting.
Meakin is currently enrolled in Dr. Jill McCorkel’s Sociology of Deviance class. The course seeks to analyze “deviant” behaviors and more general social control in the domains of business, drugs, sexuality and art. McCorkel’s assignment was simple—without breaking laws or causing harm to others, her students needed to break a social norm and analyze the effects.
“At first I was a little intimidated by the project because I am not a traditional student and don’t spend a lot of time on campus anymore,” Meakin says.
Ultimately, her long history of knitting and love of making things by hand helped her choose yarn bombing.
“When I was younger and rather rebellious, I dabbled with graffiti,” she says “So, when I first saw the concept of yarn bombing, I was smitten.”
Meakin set up three yarn bombs, one at the University and two in her current town, Exton. She started to knit before she received approval for her project, planning to carry out the yarn bomb regardless.
“It was something I had really wanted to try,” Meakin says.Meakin knitted every one of the 70 or so squares herself, but she was not alone in her endeavor.
“I had a lot of support from my amazing family and friends who put up with me knitting during any free time I had during that month,” she says.
Meakin estimates she used about 10 balls of yarn for the entire project; the Oreo installation alone took four balls of yarn to create.
On April 15, however, Meakin’s hard work paid off, and with the help of junior Benjamin Kramer, she installed her knitted squares on the Oreo, the benches in front of Café Nova and the handrails in front of Connelly.
While the yarn on the Oreo was taken down after approximately six hours the yarn on the benches and handrails remain.
“This is the first time I’ve had a student do a yarn bomb but I’m very glad she did,” McCorkel says. “Unlike traditional forms of graffiti, she did not do anything that would harm property or detract from the beauty of campus settings—rather, she added to it.”
McCorkel was not the only one to notice the beauty of the yarn bombing. Meakin observed an older woman walking through campus breaking away from her group to examine the installation.
“She walked over to the benches and ran her hands over the yarn and inspected the knitting technique,” Meakin says. “It was clearly the look a fellow knitter gives a project, and when she turned back to her group, she was smiling from ear to ear. It made the entire project worth doing to see her walk back to that group with an extra hop to her step.”
Student responses range from appreciation to confusion.
“They make the area look much more welcoming and warm, like students live there and care about the area,” freshman Ashley Van Havel says. “The color brightens the whole place up. As for how and why they are there, though, I’ve no idea.”
“All I can think of every time I see them is Hermione knitting elf hats for Dobby,” freshman Christine Albert says.
Passersby were not the only ones benefitting from the beauty of the installation; Meakin herself found the project to be extremely rewarding.
“I learned how much I love creating free works of art that people can experience and enjoy,” she says. “I’ve been a student at Villanova off and on since 2004, and this is by far the most fun I’ve had with a project in my long stint at Villanova.”
McCorkel also found the project praiseworthy, calling it “extremely creative, clever and beautiful.”
“I think it’s a great project, definitely one of the best ones I’ve had a student do,” she says. “Other students in class are fascinated by it and several have photographed it to show their friends.”
To Meakin, the time and effort she invested were well worth it. Yet the knowledge and experience she gained will not end when she hands in her final analysis.
“I am far from done with yarn bombing after this project is over,” Meakin says.
*Re-posted article - original is in the Villanovan [May 2, 2013]
Fall 2012: Click on a headline below to read the full story!
Students in Dr. Gallagher's Class Attend Talk by Transgender Alum
On Monday, December 3rd, several students in Dr. Gallagher's Social Psychiatry class attended "Transgender Identity: A Personal Story of Transition," a talk given by Aiden Kosciesza, a 2011 graduate of the Master's program in English at Villanova. Kosciesza's talk was co-sponsored by the Gender & Women's Studies program and by the Gay-Straight Coalition.
Below is an excellent synoposis of Kosciesza's presentation, written by Charlotte Andresen, one of the students in Dr. Gallagher's class and a senior majoring in Criminal Justice:
Aiden Kosciesza, born Arielle Kosciesza, realized that he was not his parents’ first-born daughter, but rather, their first-born son. For him, the confusion began in middle school, when he hit puberty. He dressed in oversized t-shirts to hide the fact that he was developing breasts, and he refused to wear a bra. He started getting depressed and suicidal because of feeling so confused and trapped in his body, and he was frightened by the idea of female sexuality. He felt that something was wrong with him at this point, but he was not yet sure what it was—he just knew that he hated being in his own skin. He started dressing in a gothic style in order to shift his identity and to keep people at a distance. When he started college, he still did not know what was wrong, but in the summer between his sophomore and junior year, he had an epiphany when he played a male role in a theater production. He said that when he wore that costume, he felt like himself for the first time since he could ever have remembered, because people reacted to him as if he were a male. He realized that this was more in line with his identity than he had ever felt when living his daily life.
In his talk, Aiden differentiated between biological sex, gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation, saying they are all distinct from one another. Biological sex is how we are defined as female, male, or intersex at birth and describes our internal and external bodies including our sexual and reproductive anatomy, our genetic makeup and our hormonal composition. Gender identity is an individual’s internal sense of being a boy/man, girl/woman, or somewhere in between, such as bi-gendered, two-spirit, or other identities. Gender expression is an outward projection of a person’s gender identity, often through behavior, clothing, hairstyles, and/or voice. Sexual orientation concerns who a person is sexually attracted to, and it is not connected to biological sex, gender identity, or gender expression. Sexual orientation can be anywhere on the spectrum, and it is not binary – some common sexual orientations are queer, gay, lesbian, pansexual, and heterosexual.
As soon as Aiden recognized his transgender identity, his life took a turn for the better, and his suicidal thoughts ceased. In his talk, Aiden also differentiated between transgender, transsexual, and transvestite. A person who is transgender has a gender identity that is different from the biological sex assigned at birth, a transsexual person is someone who is transgender who has taken medical steps – such as taking hormones or undergoing surgery – to alter their physical body to be in line with his or her gender identity, and a transvestite is someone who, for periods of time, dresses in clothing which is typically worn by the “opposite” gender.
It was not until January of 2011 that Aiden began making a medical transition. He’s been in hormone therapy for two years, but he has not yet had chest or genital surgery. He is saving up for chest surgery, but he does not want to undergo genital surgery yet - the current procedures for female-to-male genital surgery will not be able to achieve the results that he wants. He ends his story with the reminder that transgendered people do not choose this, they are just born this way.
Blythe Olsen, another student in Dr. Gallagher's class and a senior majoring in Sociology, has also shared her reflections:
Aiden James Kosciesza was born Ariel Koscienza. He began grappling with his identity in middle school, but it wasn’t until 9 years later that he began to identify himself as transgender. Aiden’s internal struggle began during puberty. Not only did he refuse to wear a bra and hid his breasts under oversized shirts, he would not even acknowledge when he began to menstruate. When Aiden entered high school, he attempted to commit suicide multiple times because of his inner conflicts.
In college, Aiden was engaged in theater and, in one production, Aiden played a male character. He taped his breasts against his chest and tucked his hair under his hat. When he experienced other people seeing and treating him as male, Aiden realized that this “reaction made all the difference.” After this play, he began researching what it meant to be transgender and his life started to fall more into place. During his junior year, Aiden started to be more comfortable with his gender identity as a man. Once plagued with self-mutilation and suicidal thoughts, Aiden began to accept himself as he is.
During the presentation Aiden talked about biological sex, gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation. He explained that someone can fall into various categories relating to gender and sexuality. Aiden stated that although he was biologically female, he self-identified as a man. Therefore, he is straight/heterosexual due to his attraction to women. Someone who is transgender can be straight or gay regardless of biological sex.
Aiden’s presentation reviewed the terminology around the issue of gender. Aiden mostly addressed what it meant to be transgender - i.e. one whose gender identity and expression does not conform to their biological sex. However, Aiden also introduced the term ‘cisgender,’ which refers to individuals whose gender identity and expression does match his or her biological sex.
Towards the end of the presentation, Aiden explained that two years ago he decided to begin hormone therapy. As a result, his voice became lower, he began to grow facial hair and lost the curves that were previously visible in his body. The growth of facial hair was especially critical because it allowed strangers to immediately identify Aiden as a man. He also said that once it is financially feasible, he will have his breasts removed – often referred to as top surgery – but for now he wears a chest binder. His deeper voice and name change have made a huge difference in Aiden’s life. Aiden stated that he sees himself as a man with a slightly more complicated medical history. Most importantly, Aiden clearly articulated that he did not “choose” to be a man, but rather, that is just who he is.
For more information on gender and terminology, please see resources offered by TransYouth Family Allies, the Bryson Institute, the National Center for Transgender Equality and Gender Spectrum.
Michelle Sparck and Dr. Donna Shai
Guest Lecture by Michelle Sparck in Dr. Shai’s class
On Monday, December 26, students in Dr. Shai’s Cultural Anthropology class met Michelle Sparck, a political advocate and small business entrepreneur from a village in southwestern Alaska.
Michelle spoke about growing up in rural Alaska, with her sisters, her native Alaskan mother, and her Jewish father. Her mother is Cup'ik Eskimo, from a very small village in western Alaska and she was the first person from her village to go to college. Her father was a '60s radical who taught in urban schools in Baltimore and imported his radical sense of justice to western Alaska.
Michelle and her sisters grew up in a settlement surrounded by the Arctic tundra of the Yukon Kuskokwim Delta, a vast, treeless land mass that spans 65,000 square miles, and is only accessible via small plane or boat. For decades, native communities here have maintained a traditional subsistence way of life, including fishing, hunting and gathering from the land.
After seven years of working on Capitol Hill for several Alaskan senators and congressmen, often on land and natural resource issues, Michelle starting thinking about starting a business that would benefit her home state. Michelle and her sisters used their inherited knowledge of and experience with Alaskan plants and harvesting techniques to start a skincare product line, ArXotica. After winning seed money for their plan to bring infrastructure and economic stability back to their native village, the Sparck sisters started exploring Arctic plants – which have been used for medicinal purposes for hundreds of years by native Alaskans – to identify which ones would be ideal as anti-aging products.
ArXotica is slowly garnering more media coverage and consumer demand, while also offering work opportunities in a region that needs new sources of income. The Sparck sisters’ commitment to their community is explicit on their website, www.arxotica.com:
ArXotica hopes to act as an agent of change to improve the quality of life and provide opportunities for our people, so they no longer have to leave their homeland to find work. ArXotica strives to produce products without compromising the integrity of our isolated culture and our remote, resource-rich land.
Michelle also spoke about Alaskan crafts, specifically doll-making, which is an important craft among native Alaskans. Traditionally, these dolls are made with realistic facial portraits. Tourists, however, want simplified faces, so that’s what Eskimos make for them, but it’s not true reflection of their art. Michelle distributed beautiful basketry, boots made from animal furs, a hat made from animal skins, as well as carvings in ivory. Michelle herself was wearing a traditional Eskimo kuspuk, jewelry, and boots.
The students in the class showed great interest in Michelle’s lecture and several of their reflections are included below:
Ms. Sparck lives a very interesting life in which all aspects are traced to her Alaskan roots. As a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., she was initially exposed to Alaskan politics and interests as an undergraduate. Now, Ms. Sparck is involved in advocating on behalf of the Alaskan health consortium, fishing groups, and tribal interests among others. Her political work is most striking and also the surprising, as she is very passionate about protecting the interests of her people. It is the attitude of “paying-it-forward” that Michelle most wants to impress upon others when it comes to her native community and people. As a wife, mother, natural Alaskan skincare line founder, and political advocate for Alaska, Michelle Sparck leads a life devoted to her home and pays tribute to it in all that she does.
One thing I found particularly fascinating was when Michelle mentioned the high unemployment rate in Alaska, despite it being one of the richest states in the US. She further explained that the majority of jobs are highly seasonal and are used to build financial gaps in family budgets. While I can understand taking advantage of seasonal circumstances, it makes me wonder how Alaskan families can provide for themselves throughout the year. Michelle explained that a lot of people, particularly women, turn to the manufacturing of handmade Alaskan arts and crafts to help make ends meet. However, she mentioned that a lot of the crafts are highly commercialized to what tourists want and expect from the culture. I found this highly disturbing…how are we supposed to appreciate the natural authenticity of a culture and gain a true respect for its people?
I was thrilled to see that Michelle brought many pieces of traditional native Alaskan crafts to show the class. One piece which I found to be incredible was the ivory necklace carved to represent a dogsled team. The attention to detail and the beauty of the necklace took me by surprise. I also enjoyed seeing how native Alaskans have incorporated modern practices, such as using rubber soles on boots, in order to keep many traditional practices in use today. Looking at the pieces and hearing Michelle speak about the tradition of creating arts and crafts helped me to realize the great importance it holds in Alaskan culture.
Students Conduct Legal Research in Dr. McCorkel's Fall 2012 Courses
Several students in Dr. McCorkel's Sociology of Law and Punishment & Society courses are doing legal research on Pennsylvania's response to the recent US Supreme Court ruling in Miller v. Alabama which declared juvenile life without possibility of parole sentences unconstitutional.
Nick Grassi, Rachel Gladys, Catrina Muffoletto, Molly Sapia, Louise Campbell, Grant Chemidlin, and Angelica Lieto spent the first few days of the semester in court, attending a hearing for Giovanni Reid and Carlton Bennett, who were each convicted at the age of 16 for a murder in which neither was the triggerman.
Students will continue to participate in scheduled court hearings over the course of the semester.
Students Explore Restorative Justice at Conference
On Friday, Sept. 28, over 20 students from Dr. Welch’s and Dr. Arvanites’ classes attended a conference at the Connelly Center entitled “Restorative Justice in Action: A Challenge for Philadelphia.” Former Supreme Court Justice Janine Geske, who is currently a Professor of Law at Marquette University Law School (Wisconsin) and director of its Restorative Justice Initiative, provided the keynote address.
Lauren Destito, who is a Sociology major taking Dr. Arvanites’ Sociology of Deviance class, shares her reflections on Justice Geske’s address:
Justice Geske’s presentation was my first time hearing the concept and process of restorative justice explained in depth. While I had heard about Rwanda’s experiment with restorative justice in trying the genocide prisoners, I did not know that restorative justice communities were being used in prisons within the United States. I think that her point about the “ripple effect,” which includes the psychological and emotional damage that occurs as a result of crime, was very insightful. That kind of damage is many times the most detrimental kind of damage accrued from being the victim of a crime and yet is completely unaddressed by the criminal justice system.
From what I gathered, it seems as though restorative justice is a concept that is completely counter-cultural to mainstream America’s disposition towards criminals and punishment. I think that many people would be hesitant and reluctant to believe that a system in which victims, criminals, and representatives from the community gather together, attempt to foster a sense of community, and delve into the victim’s story would accomplish anything. However, I found Justice Geske’s second-hand accounts of the stories that the victims and survivors told within their circles were both very disconcerting and heart wrenching, and I could only imagine how moving it would be to hear those stories told first-hand by a victim. I think that the element of the restorative justice that provides victims with a forum to retell their stories and see the impact it has on those around them is very helpful in helping these individuals begin to heal. The point that Justice Geske made that stayed with me the most was that most offenders have been victims themselves. This fact was something that had never occurred to me, and it points to the fundamental inadequacy with which society helps victims of crime recover.
Justice Geske’s address was followed by a panel discussion with victims, offenders, and affected families. The panel included: Michael Whittington, who as age 16, was involved in a robbery attempt in Southwest Philadelphia in which a man was shot and left paralyzed; Father Mark Shinn, the pastor of St. Andrew’s Russian Orthodox Cathedral, who was the victim of a violent crime; Victoria Greene, founder and executive director of Every Murder is Real (EMIR), a grassroots organization honoring the memory of her son, Emir Green, who was murdered at the age of 20 in 1997; and Alice Sedden, the sister of an inmate sentenced to life without parole.
Below, another student in Dr. Arvanites’ Sociology of Deviance class shares her experience of the panel discussion:
The first thing I noticed when I entered the room was how diverse the crowd was. There was a mixture of Asians, African-Americans, Caucasians, Muslims, and Catholics in the audience. Usually when I attend lectures or conferences on Villanova’s campus this is not the case. Although many of the individuals came from different universities and non-profit organizations, the diversity illustrated the far-reaching impact that the American justice system has on people from various ethnic and religious backgrounds. The panelists consisted of a victim, an offender, a family member of a victim, and a family member of an offender. I observed a middle-aged, African-American woman; a young, African-American male; an elderly Caucasian priest; and a middle-aged, Caucasian woman on the panel.
The way in which each panelist spoke was very noticeable. You could hear the hurt and sorrow in the African-American woman as she described her son’s murder. When the offender spoke he stuttered frequently and he did not seem comfortable speaking. It surprised me how the victim sympathized with his assailant and how he directed his frustration and disappointment on the justice system. However, my guess is that because he is a priest, his religious views on repentance and forgiveness may have influenced his opinions. Out of the four panelists, I felt like I could relate more with the Caucasian woman who was a family member of an offender. This is because I am also the family member of an offender. Thus, similar emotions resonated within me as she described the embarrassment, unhappiness, and anger experienced by her and the rest of her family. Although my older brother is not imprisoned and the crime he committed was far less severe, I empathized with her. In my opinion, family members of offenders are often overlooked because media and society tend to focus on the victim, the offender, and the victim’s family. Allowing the Caucasian woman to share her experience alongside the victim, the offender, and the victim’s family was an excellent way to account for every party affected by crime. Overall, this session enabled me to understand the extent of crime and justice; furthermore it allowed me to understand how restorative justice offers open discussion concerning ways to improve the justice system and how restorative justice creates an opportunity for victims, offenders, and members of the community to handle crime and its repercussions.
The conference also included breakout sessions conducted by key agencies and individuals actively involved in restorative justice work in the Greater Philadelphia including: The Inside Out Program, the Federal Court’s S.T.A.R. (alternative reentry) program, the Mural Arts Program, Community College of Philadelphia Reentry Project, Restorative Justice from a Victim Advocacy Perspective, and Adeodatus Prison Ministry (of ADROP—the Augustinian Defenders of the Rights of the Poor).
Stephanie Luu, a senior in Dr. Arvanites’ Sociology of Deviance class, attended the workshop facilitated by the Adeodatus Prison Ministry. This ministry runs a weekly Philadelphia-based support group for former inmates, their families, and friends. Here are Stephanie's comments:
I attended the Adeodatus Prison Ministry presentation, where they discussed how they provide spiritual help for people who are released from prison. They believe that everyone is good and deserves a second chance, which shows me that they understand there is a great presence of structural issues that leads to deviance. They said that inmates are actually safer in prison, and therefore need a support group for when they are released; inmates are “like children after they get out.” I was moved that they thought to offer this service to criminals; this is a benefit for citizens that I feel is usually overlooked. It is something I never gave much thought to before today; when inmates are released, they really do resemble children in many ways. They may be “orphaned” if their families have decided to cut off contact with them; they may not have a place to stay, or a means to get food; society may have changed drastically depending on how long their sentence lasted.
On the other end of the spectrum, inmates leave prison just to return to the same society that they left from, resulting in their repeated arrests. I think this is because of the same structural issues that continue to exist, societal problems that lead them to commit deviant acts. If their life situations led them to deviance, and they return to the same living conditions, then they will be deviant again. This environment applies to children as well; the speakers said that the children of inmates are six times as likely to commit offensives compared to children whose parents have not been arrested. I think it is great that they are trying to reach out to children as well, as an attempt to help them avoid the structural factors that might lead them to deviance like their parents, in order to expand their road to success.
One speaker also said that when a priest visited the prison, prisoners were clamoring to give him the names of their children. I felt this demonstrated the religious institution in action. It made me realize how important religion is for inmates when other societal institutions have failed them, such as education, the economy, or their families. I was shocked to hear that 1/28 children in this country have a parent in prison, and that 1/9 black children have a parent in prison. Also, out of the 45% of unresolved murders in Philadelphia, about 70% are murders of young, black males. I found it hard to comprehend that the difference between races was so obvious; I knew there was a difference, but was not aware that this difference was so significant.
The conference was organized by The Philadelphia Coalition for Restorative Justice which involves a group of organizations that joined forces to engage in important restorative justice projects in the Greater Philadelphia area and further reconciliation between crime victims, offenders, and their respective families. Core members of the coalition include The Augustinian Defenders of the Rights of the Poor (ADROP), St. Joseph’s University, Villanova University, The Mural Arts Program of Philadelphia, and The Federal Court’s STAR Reentry Program.