Standing on Her Own, Usually in High Heels
Issue   |   Fri, 05/22/2015 - 11:34
Photo courtesy of Caroline Katba '15
Katba’s experience living around the world has given her a well-rounded perspective on gender issues.

Caroline Katba’s distinctive style had caught my eye in passing the many times I had seen her smoking a cigarette and holding intent conversations on the sunlit benches in front of Frost.

In her black leather pumps, perfectly tailored dresses and red lipstick, Katba has a commanding, glamorous presence. She is a little intimidating in the way that she seems older than she really is, a cosmopolitan quality that makes perfect sense taking into account the independence with which she has carried herself throughout her life.

As many first-year students can tell you, coming into contact with a student who is a fixture on campus is a bit like seeing a movie star in real life. But my first interaction with Katba was not exactly what I had expected from the chic woman I had initially mistaken for a professor.

I met her in the dorm room of a mutual friend, where she looked much less intimidating under the soft fluorescent lighting. She cradled my friend in her lap as if she were his gentle older sister and asked us very genuinely what we were interested in studying and how our first year was going.

Katba’s tenderness in that moment was indicative of how she seeks to share her kindness and spirit: From asking you how your day is going to fighting for institutional improvements at the college to serving as a true citizen of the world. She strikes a rare balance between being an outspoken, natural leader while also remaining patient, supportive and down-to-earth.

Navigating Amherst

Katba came to Amherst through a scholarship from the Hope Fund, an organization that creates higher education opportunities for Palestinian students at American colleges and universities. Katba sees Amherst’s diversity as one of its best qualities, though she believes you must seek this diversity out; it won’t come to you.

An excellent conversationalist, Katba often attracts an eclectic crowd of listeners, not only telling good stories but also patiently listening to stumbling questions and taking the time to articulate what she wants to say on controversial topics like race and gender.

“People here are very serious,” she noted as I asked her to reflect on her many conversations here at Amherst.
Upon her arrival, Katba says she missed her family, her food and her culture.

“I missed the solidarity,” she told me during our conversation. “Everyone is involved in resistance in their own way.”
She was taken aback by the apathy on campus, but this apathy only worked to further stoke her political consciousness.

More than simply educating Katba on critical thinking in the classroom, Amherst offered her a political environment in which to exercise this critical thinking. She said she has learned that in order to institute change and action, you need resources, people and ideas.

During her sophomore year, Katba found a channel of resistance on campus working with students like Dana Bolger ’14E, who helped initiate the drive for awareness of sexism and sexual violence at Amherst. Katba became a vocal member of students advocating for a greater institutional commitment to sexual respect. Her shrewd eye for unraveling intersectional threads of injustice was already clear in a 2012 article about sexual respect in The Amherst Student. In her piece, she noted, “There’s a perception in the Five College Consortium that Amherst College is as snobbish as a school can get, when that’s just not true. It’s our job as students to hold ourselves accountable to everything we say. When we hear people make elitist comments we need to stop those people and educate them on what they’re saying, even if they don’t like what we have to say.”

Katba cites the creation of new Title IX policy as a result of these efforts as one of the most significant changes that occurred during her time here.

A Woman of the World

As a political science major who has also extensively studied German, Katba’s academic interests are diverse, though she claimed, “I’m not an academic. I do most of my work outside of the classroom.”

Fittingly, some of her favorite classes here, such as Traumatic Events, Reading Politics and Apartheid, relate to her personal experiences and knowledge as a leftist who has lived in a region full of violence. She understands the effects of oppression and privilege both inside and outside of Amherst and seeks to apply what she has learned in the wider world.

Katba has the insightful ability to think comparatively about the identities she has observed to be entwined with their environments. For example, spending time living in a variety of places — Palestine, America, Berlin, China, India — has helped her gain a multifaceted, well-rounded perspective on gender issues. She said that where she grew up, women were encouraged to be strong and empowered, contrary to Western stereotypes about Islam.

“It’s not about the headscarf,” she said. “In a time of constant crisis, gender identity becomes more fluid. Women have to assume the responsibilities of men.”

She was wary of oversimplifying the experience of womanhood in each distinct place, but she noted that in each place she has lived there is still a general trend of “inherent domesticity … a woman is always someone’s daughter, someone’s wife, someone’s sister, someone’s burden.” Even in the U.S., Katba said, where a woman technically has the most legal rights, she is ultimately expected to care for the home and her children.

Although Amherst has responded in some ways to recent student activism, Katba remains unsatisfied.

“There has been cosmetic surgery but at the core it’s the same,” she said. For example, she believes the Day of Dialogue lacked structure, abstracting instances of racism and treating widespread, stubborn issues on campus as if they could be resolved in one day.

She fears that addressing these deep underlying issues, as if it were a PR issue, and then ignoring them is a product of what she characterizes as “the corporatization of culture.” She said that Amherst’s bureaucracy distances the administration from the students and gets in the way of widespread cultural change.

Although she’s never afraid to boldly speak her mind, Katba’s critiques are always thoughtful and well considered. Whether we discussed Germany’s relationship with Judaism and Israel or the structure of the administration at the College, she carefully evaluated the positive and negative qualities in a given environment rather than outright condemning it for its problems.

Reflecting on Four Years

“Take the time to reflect,” Katba said when I asked her what her main piece of advice would be for students still in college. When she reflects on her own time at Amherst, she said that she feels like fellow students have received the correct impression of her and is satisfied that she has established herself on campus by speaking out.

“People think I’m aggressive, and they’re right. I am,” she told me.

Katba’s friends speak admiringly of her impact on campus.

“Caroline has inspired me to always try to be a better person,” Brian Zayatz ’18 said. “She leads through her actions, not just her words, and refuses to be silent in the face of injustice, no matter how big or small. Some folks around campus only see her fierce side, but she’s also one of the most loving people I know. She’s a personal hero of mine.”

Although her name is peppered across the archives of The Amherst Student, signed and unified with others on petitions advocating for justice in Palestine, sexual respect or greater efforts to eliminate racism on campus, she said she has not thought too much about her legacy at Amherst. She wants to dedicate her life to a cause rather than her name by working in advocacy for Palestine after graduation.

Unsurprisingly, her deep friendships and relationships with professors, students and staff color her relationships most of all.
“I don’t mean this in a condescending way, but I will miss being surrounded by such a high concentration of talented people,” she said. She’s especially proud to belong to the class of 2015: “We really fought as a class,” she told me.

Her care for others extends to the individual level; when I repeatedly apologized for going on tangents during our interview, she told me not to worry because she is used to listening to people as a Resident Counselor.

“Stop apologizing,” she said “That’s something else I’ve learned to do. When you want to say ‘sorry,’ pinch yourself or squeeze your toes. It’s easy for me to do because I wear closed-toed heels.”

My first, surface impressions of Katba as a mythic figure changed during our conversations, bringing out her kindness and warmth. Even so, she still seemed like a figure larger than life as she pulled out a hand-rolled cigarette from a soft black, studded leather case from France and said, “People say I am a strong woman, but I’m just a woman. I am my own woman.”

Theron (not verified) says:
Wed, 11/04/2015 - 11:20

I'm not sure why but this blog is loading
very slow for me. Is anyone else having this issue or is it a problem on my end?
I'll check back later and see if the problem still exists.

my page free apple iphone 4 unlock code