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Feminist golf course aims to start conversations

MIDDLEBURY COLLEGE STUDENTS work on one of the holes of the Feminist mini golf course being constructed in Middlebury College’s Kenyon Arena. The course will open to the public on May 12. Photo courtesy of Karin Hanta

MIDDLEBURY — The first-ever feminist mini golf course will debut at Middlebury College on May 12. Each of the course’s 11 holes focuses on a different reproductive justice topic — foster care, incarceration, abortion, contraception, sex education, crisis pregnancy centers, the history of modern gynecology, and so on. Players will learn information about these topics through the art and design of each hole, as well as through QR codes that link to a website where players can learn more about the topics presented.

Each hole is connected to a place where that reproductive issue is likely to play out in the real world, including a hospital, a prison, a classroom, an abortion clinic, a courthouse, a bar, a church, and a home.

Rayn Bumstead, the project’s Director of Design, sees this approach as one that will allow players to think about the architectures and geographies of reproductive justice. “The places where reproductive injustices occur are all around us, which means that possibilities for resistance are also all around us.”

The mini golf course was designed and built primarily by faculty, staff, and students connected to Middlebury College’s first-ever Feminist Building class, taught by Dr. Carly Thomsen and Colin Boyd and cross-listed by two programs, Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies and the History of Art and Architecture. In addition, Carly Thomsen’s Politics of Reproduction students have generated educational content and art, which is incorporated into each hole and also available on the project website.

The collaboration central to this project extends far beyond the Middlebury College campus. Participants connected to the Trailblazers program through Vermont Works for Women, an economic justice and career training nonprofit, constructed one hole. In addition, students in Gender Studies classes at Providence College and Hamilton College produced artwork for the mini golf course. The project reaches all the way to Denver, Colo., where students connected to the Gender Institute for Teaching and Advocacy at Metropolitan State University, Denver, designed and built a hole that is already up and running on their campus. This hole is being replicated at the Middlebury course.

Thomsen, the Project Manager, sees the mini golf course as an expression of her commitment to public feminism. “Core to my teaching and research is a belief in the necessity of translation, that is, taking academic theories and transforming them into alternative formats for audiences beyond our classrooms.” Thomsen has long used game-making in her classes and says that she has seen the pedagogical benefits of this approach. “Games are a way to invite people into conversations they might not otherwise have. Also, games are useful for those of us who have been having these conversations for a long time and are exhausted by the recent attacks on reproductive justice. In this moment especially, we deserve to be reminded of the joys of activism.”

Isa Perez-Martin, a Middlebury College student in Politics of Reproduction who is working on generating content about abortion and crisis pregnancy centers, said “I have been talking about the event with my friends for months! We’re all very excited.” Perez-Martin believes that the interactive and artistic nature of the mini golf installation will allow its feminist messages to reach more people.

The grand opening of the reproductive justice mini golf course will also feature an original trivia game, created by the producers of the Trivia Time podcast. The mini golf course will be housed in the Middlebury College hockey rink and will be open select hours from May 12 until July 15.

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