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CREATIVE THOUGHT AT WORK Citizenship education

Joanne Myers ’75 wants her students to become critical thinkers and active cit- izens. For examples of both, they need look no further than the life and work of this outspoken scholar and tireless “ap- plied political philosopher.”

Myers is associate professor of politi- cal science and co-director of women’s studies at Marist College. To her Twitter followers (@feminista54) she is a “Femi- nist, Writer, Thinker, Poli Sci Professor @ Marist College & Poker (& Scrabble) Play- er.” To her students, she is Dr. JAM. The popular professor, who also blogs at, em- braces social media as another way to call attention to issues. “The purpose is to get people to think, sometimes by putting things in context or a different perspective, sometimes by posing a ques- tion, sometimes by just complicating an issue,” she explains. “Democracy is messy. If our chief values are equality and jus- tice—what do those very contested terms mean?”

Underlying it all is a drive to get her stu- dents and online fol- lowers to think about what “we the people”

of charity work, working on a cam- paign or with a nonprofit, or at- tending a public hearing.” The real world is rife with learning opportu- nities, as she re- lates in the story of a student who set out to pick apples for the local food bank. “They picked up their baskets, and she reached down for


a windfall apple,” recalls Myers, but “the leader stopped her and said to pick ap- ples that she would eat.” That moment changed how the student viewed people in need.




really signifies. “People need to be re- minded that they are not isolated, dis- connected from the public—they are the public,” says Myers. And they need to be well informed in order to be effective cit- izens. Myers tries to inspire her students to active citizenship in many ways: “By giving them the tools to question, and the tools to find the answers. By model- ing critical thinking and being an active citizen myself.”

Myers engages students with current events in the classroom and then has them test their ideas in real-world set- tings. She says most of her classes in- clude “a praxis component—three hours

In addition to a demanding teaching schedule, Myers has organized the annu- al Women and Society conference at Marist, serves on the board of the Eleanor Roosevelt Center at Val-Kill and at Grace Smith House

for domestic violence survivors, previ- ously crewed on and served as board president of the Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, and has consulted on various political campaigns. She writes and gives talks and workshops on topics as diverse as feminist political philosophy, property rights, environmental policy, and public policy and citizenship. She has just up- dated her 2009 book The A to Z of the Lesbian Liberation Movement: Still the Rage—“adding in the men,” she says, to create The A to Z of the Lesbian and Gay Liberation Movements—and has two more book proposals in review. She also finds time for painting, photography, poetry,

and poker tournaments. The field of women’s studies hadn’t yet come into its own when Myers was at Skidmore. “It was not seen as necessary,” she reflects. “We were a women’s college, after all.” She majored in philosophy and government and went on to earn an MS in political communication and PhD in urban and environmental studies at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. One woman Myers never tires of studying is former first lady Eleanor Roo- sevelt. “She was compassionate, and able to bring change about by listening, bringing people together, and planting seeds,” says Myers. “She continued to grow and learn throughout her life—she did not start out feminist, but became so.” Roosevelt’s women’s-only press con- ferences influenced news media to hire more women. And Myers admires her commitment to social justice, noting she worked for civil and human rights be- hind the scenes and not just in public. She says Roosevelt’s life and work offer an enduring message: “Young peo- ple need to know that they can make a difference—that one candle can combat darkness.” —KG



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