ICONfront interviewed a gender activist, Rioppi, who is one of the founders and members of ICU Prism, and is currently working on many different gender-related issues. This article talks about the background story of the creation of ICU Prism, her ideal form of activism, and her messages to society.
Q1. Please tell us about your activism.
I created and am one of the members of a student organization, ICU Prism, which is a platform where members can work on and publicize their individual gender-related projects and host events, such as a podcast channel and the Sexual Harassment and Sexual Violence Research Project (SSP). ICU Prism recently became an intercollegiate organization, and we are welcoming not only ICU students but also students from other universities and graduate schools.
Q2. What made you decide to start ICU Prism? When did you start it?
I started my activities at the beginning of my first year of university. When I entered college, I missed the commencement ceremony and wasn’t able to get along with my club members or ELA (English for Liberal Arts) classmates. I was in desperate need of a community that I can belong to. I wanted a community that embraces a laid-back person like me for who I am and that has members who have a good understanding of gender-related topics, so I decided to create this community myself. If I describe how I felt when I started in one word, it would be “loneliness.”
Initially, I went alone to put up posters at the Center for Gender Studies (CGS) to organize a meeting to spread awareness about sexual consent. I then suggested to the ID23 students, who were taking the class “Approaches to Gender and Sexuality Studies,” that I wanted to work together with them. We started our activism with five students, including some of my ELA classmates whom I invited later. The members naturally came together. While the goal of ICU Prism is to make the university campus a safe space, it now serves as a platform for students who are interested in gender-related issues to bring in their projects.
Q3. Your activism mainly focuses on gender-related topics. What led you to have an interest in gender issues?
When I was a high school student, I participated in a public lecture on queer theory held by a Ph.D. student, Hidenobu Yamada, at the University of Tokyo. I found that gender was an academic subject area that people study. At the time, I wasn’t sure if I was going to go to university, or even if I would be able to graduate from high school. So I was looking for universities where I could study gender studies, and found the Gender and Sexuality Studies course at ICU interesting. I applied for and entered ICU, which has led me to this point. The reason I was focusing on sexual consent at the time I started ICU Prism is because I got the idea from student groups and activists at other universities that I found on Twitter.
Q4. Please tell us more about ICU Prism’s podcast.
We have just started our podcast channel, Gender 4 Youth. Three members from ICU Prism are currently working on this project, and I’m a script writer and a cue cardholder. We invite researchers and graduate students who study gender-related topics and talk about their research. We actually released our first episode a couple of weeks ago! In this first episode, you can listen to a graduate student at the University of Washington, Daiki Hiramori, talking about his research. I believe this podcast is good for high school and university students who are interested in gender studies.
As for why we started our podcast channel, we decided to do online outreach activities because one of our members was passionate about releasing their ideas on a digital platform, but I was not good at writing, so we chose to do a podcast. We got inspired by Tonari-no-Kenkyushitu (Study Room Next Door), which is a podcast channel where novice researchers from different subject areas share their experiences and research. Similarly, I wanted to focus on gender-related subject areas and release academic information on our channel.
Q5. What exactly is the Sexual Harassment and Sexual Violence Project (SSP)?
The SSP started with the goal of conducting a quantitative survey of sexual harassment and sexual violence in ICU. We plan to conduct the survey while learning about social research methods and exploring which data collection method is most appropriate for us.
By doing this survey, we’ll be able to understand what issues we should be focusing on as a student organization. Right now, we are in the process of negotiating with the university.
Q6. Why did you start this project?
Since I founded ICU Prism, I haven’t really felt that I’m getting closer to the goal of “making ICU a safe space for everyone.” I realized it was because there was no quantitative data that indicates how safe students feel at ICU campus. I’ve seen many qualitative questionnaires and events that discuss gender-related topics, but it’s not clear how influential these activities are unless proven by quantitative data. Due to various reasons, this kind of survey project has not been conducted so far, or access to the survey results has been limited at ICU, so I thought it would be less challenging if students conduct the survey, rather than the university.
Q7. What have you gained from your activism and what message would you like to tell ICU students?
I feel that my activism is fruitful when I realize it has created new encounters and established new networks. For example, I found Mr. Daiki Hiramori, who was the guest of the first episode of our podcast, on social media, and contacted him via direct message (DM). He has been helping ICU Prism’s activities so much.
Regarding what I learned from my activism, I honestly feel that my uncertainty about queer theory, about a safe space for everyone, and about activism has increased compared to before I started my activism. For example, for queer theory, I found out how the definition of terms are always changing, how having fixed definitions of such terms contradicts queer theory, and how queer theory scholars are gaining authority and strengthening the power system instead of dismantling it. I’ve come to realize the complexity of queer theory.
Q8. What does activism mean to you?
Because I am a laid-back person, I think ICU Prism should be a casual community where everyone can feel free to join, to back off, and to work on the projects that they are only interested in. I understand that it is not an easy thing for all members engaging in the same sort of activism to share the same level of energy and passion. So I believe that the kind of activism where each member initiates or participates in projects based on their individual interests or awareness is also a valid form of activism.
My ideal form of activism is not enlightenment. It is one where each activist accumulates academic knowledge little by little and delivers messages and information based on their learnings to society, while making their standpoint clear (based on the idea that one’s perspectives are constructed by their social and political experiences.).
Q9. What would you like to say to society?
If you have experiences of being marginalized or facing inequality in the social system that is producing power, you might be engaged in social activism to rescue yourself from such experiences. However, depending on the goals and process of your activism, what you gain from your activism might not always relieve you of such experiences, but increase the suffering or pain as a result of different causes. When you’re confused about your experiences, you might find someone’s random tweet relatable, or replies to the tweet disturbing, or just feel more confused. Sometimes I find myself wishing random tweets wouldn’t teach me how to feel hurt. I especially feel that way when certain experiences leave me feeling neither pleasant nor unpleasant and I’m still trying to figure out how I feel. When I read through tweets written by brave feminists who speak up for justifiable reasons, my unexplained feelings become tied to their narratives and are given certain shapes, and the feelings that cannot be explained by their narratives are often neglected. This is why I always keep in mind that I am the only person who can connect my own experiences and feelings.
With all due respect, what I would like to say to all activists who turn their negative experiences into their motivation for action is that the connection between their experiences and the existing narratives can be tied and untied anytime.
Q10. What would you like to work on next?
My goal is to create and release fifty podcast episodes! It would also be nice if there were funds to support student organizations that work on gender-related activities. We are also looking for new members of ICU Prism. Since ICU Prism has become an intercollegiate group, I hope it would become larger and create a space where anyone can feel free to join and work on their activities in a laid-back manner.
Check out her SNS pages here!