By Elyssa Sternberg, Globe Correspondent
At 7 p.m. on a Monday, as students hustle about Boston University, in the basement of the George Sherman Union, the argyle couches and loveseats of the Center for Gender, Sexuality and Activism (CGSA) are pulled together to form a circle. The girls in the room nestle into the slightly worn furniture and pull up a few blankets. Junior Sasha Goodfriend, the facilitator this week, asks for volunteers to take notes and take stack--meaning keep track of the order in which people will talk.
The gathering is a meeting for BU's Feminist Collective (lovingly referred to as FEMCO), a group looking to forge new and important conversations about feminism, sexuality, and gender stereotypes.
BU was forced into the spotlight last academic year due to reports of sorority hazing, rape allegations involving BU's hockey team, and reports of "peeping toms," leading to multiple conversations about "rape culture" on campus.
"FEMCO last semester became something very important all of sudden because there was no other student group that was discussing issues to do with sexual assault, attitudes around sexual assault, what to define as rape... FEMCO was the only group I could identify at that moment in time that was discussing those things as it was bringing it out into the BU Community," said junior Yayra Sumah.
What started out as a lecture in the CGSA every week developed into a group conversation. As a collective, FEMCO does not have an official leader and the facilitator changes from week to week along with the topics of conversation. Any decisions made by the group must be unanimous.
Members found FEMCO to be a place to discuss their emotions about the situations happening on their campus.
"It was a space to let out your frustrations and your intense feelings. Personally for myself, during that time I felt frustrated... I would come here and my feelings would be validated. Positive ideas could spur out of that, ideas like Take Back the Night," said senior Michelle Tsiakaros.
Half of each FEMCO meeting is dedicated to activism, allowing for members to discuss their feelings on issues and then take action upon those feelings. One event that FEMCO ran last academic year was the "Take Back the Night" rally on March 30, 2012. Take Back the Night is a national organization that raises awareness about sexual assault.
"I helped organize the event and at the actually event my friend Swanson and I worked together to facilitate a speak-out," said sophomore Hannah Stolarski. "It's a moment in the event where people are encouraged to tell their own stories of sexual assault. It was really terrifying to lead that and to ask people to share something that isn't usually shared and isn't talked about. But it ended up being one of the most empowering experiences and just a great way to feel a sense of community to feel really connected with someone."
Becoming connected and understanding others is one of the key characteristics of the FEMCO meetings. One way this is done is with an emphasis on language. For example, at the beginning of every meeting, members go around the circle introducing themselves and making a point to note what gender pronouns they prefer.
"Every time I walk into that room the first thing I do is watch my mouth. Never go against any specific gender or any orientation. Not that I ever would but I am especially careful because it's a group that is based on consensus and respect," said senior Nancy Vegas.
FEMCO also provides a sense of solidarity within the group of feminists, which helps individuals face the stereotypes, for example, of the "militant feminist."
"I can't really grasp this image [militant] of the feminist meeting on Monday everybody with their blankets... and then my friends are like 'feminists are angry, they are being really angry.' Honestly, I don't understand what you are talking about," said Vegas.
While Goodfriend notes she wants to record what the current FEMCO group has been doing, the future is all about making sure conversations take place.
"I want FEMCO to constantly be reflecting. We should be discussing our feelings and current events and never be satisfied with the status quo," said Goodfriend.
FEMCO meets every Monday at 7 p.m. in the Center for Gender, Sexuality and Activism. Members can attend as many or as few meetings as they like. For more information on the Center for Gender, Sexuality and Activism, visit www.bu.edu/cgsa. This article is being published under an arrangement between the Boston Globe and Boston University.