Feminist mini golf gets players talking
MIDDLEBURY — It can be easy for conversation to unfold over a round of golf, and the team behind the new feminist mini golf course at Middlebury College are hopeful the holes they’ve created will get players talking about one topic in particular — reproductive justice.
The course was designed by students and faculty at the college, along with a handful of other collaborators, and officially opened this past Friday. Each of its 11 holes highlights reproductive issues like abortion and sex education, intended to generate discussions about these topics and educate community members as they move through the game.
Georgia Crosby, a Middlebury College student who helped design the project, said the golf course is meant to provide an approachable way to start important conversations.
“You don’t have to be young and in college, you don’t have to be older and in a career, you don’t have to be Black or to be white, mini golf is for everyone,” she said.
Much of the course was designed and constructed by students in a new Feminist Building class, co-taught by assistant professor of Gender, Sexuality, & Feminist Studies Carly Thomsen and art studio technician Colin Boyd. Students in Thomsen’s Politics of Reproduction class created educational material and art for the project as well.
Thomsen’s coursework has for years incorporated project-based learning that pushes students to think about class material in new and playful contexts outside the classroom. Students in Thomsen’s Politics of Reproduction class are typically tasked with transforming a reproductive justice-related topic into a board game. The mini golf course takes Thomsen’s use of games as a means of education and advocacy a step further.
For the project, the 10 students in Thomsen and Boyd’s Feminist Building course picked an aspect of reproductive justice to focus on in the hole they created.
“Each student designed a hole to be a physical representation of the challenges or obstacles that are in place now in regard to women’s health and dealing with these issues,” Boyd explained.
Students then created preliminary drawings and scale models of their designs. Midway through the semester, students began building the course at Kenyon Arena, using lumber from local companies like rk Miles.
The work of the project’s other collaborators can be seen throughout the course, such as a “transportation” hole that was designed by students at the Gender Institute for Teaching and Advocacy at Metropolitan State University, Denver, and built by members of the Vermont Works for Women Trailblazers program. Students at Providence and Hamilton colleges also contributed artwork for the project.
The fruits of these efforts were unveiled on Friday at Kenyon Arena, where the course’s 11 holes are situated across a sizable portion of the hockey rink. Each hole represents a physical space in which various issues of reproductive justice unfold.
Players at Hole 10 find themselves in a solitary confinement cell, a replica that points to the experiences of incarcerated pregnant women and mothers. Hole 3 resembles a kitchen, a space in which tasks related to care work often take place. The hole informs players on the impact and burden of care work, or the paid and unpaid labor of taking care of others, and asks them to reimagine how that work is structured in society.
Crosby designed Hole 5, which focuses on sex education. The start of the hole asks players whether they were offered a comprehensive or abstinence-based sexual education course in school, with their answer directing them to one of two paths. A more comprehensive course leads to a less restrictive path, while those headed down the alternative route face more obstacles.
Crosby said the hole is meant to resemble how the type of sex education an individual receives can affect them.
“The (comprehensive) side is supposed to have a less obstructed path, to show how much more this kind of sex ed facilitates your first sexual experience and health,” Crosby said.
The hole provides information on the current state of sex education throughout the country, noting that the majority of these programs exclude information about LGBTQ+ sex, among other topics.
Crosby said she hopes the course helps inform players about sex education and related issues of reproductive justice.
“I have a lot of friends that would never have taken the time to think about these topics, because they haven’t been brought to their attention” she said. “There are a lot of people coming to this course that otherwise wouldn’t be exposed to this information. It’s interactive, and even if they’re just here for mini golf, they’re going to end up learning something along the way.”
Informative material throughout the course is accompanied by QR codes, which direct players to additional sources of information. In addition to being educational, the mini golf course is also designed to start conversations about the various reproductive justice issues each hole focuses on.
Electa Assaf, a student in Thomsen’s Politics of Reproduction class, said the golf course provides a different means of learning and talking about these topics.
“It kind of gives people a new way to think about some of this stuff that they wouldn’t be engaging with otherwise,” Assaf said. “Even if they aren’t engaging directly with the QR codes, in some ways it provokes their thoughts and at least starts a conversation. In each of the holes there’s a lot of information, in some there’s a lot more art, and all of those choices are very intentional.”
Some of those conversations began on Friday, when over 150 students, staff and community members came out for the project’s grand opening.
Anita Borlak was among the Middlebury College students who tried out the course during the event. When she stopped to speak with the Independent at Hole 8, Borlak said she was finding the course to be informative in ways she didn’t expect.
“I initially thought this was just going to be an interesting event, and I’m finding that a lot of it is much more substantial,” she said. “This seems to be a really good mixture of quality, substantial feminist matters, but also a fun mini golf course.”
Charlie Porto, a senior at the college who visited the course with Borlak, said he was also learning a lot from the game.
“Coming out here, it’s hard to imagine mini golf being informative or educational in any way, but to see that actually being achieved here is quite incredible,” he said.
The mini golf course will reopen to the public on June 1 and remain available during select hours until July 15. Open hours for the course can be found on the project’s website at feministminigolf.org.
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