Stories

A word from our students.

 
 

Rebecca Wilcox

 
 

she/her/hers
Master of Theological Studies (’18)

To me, the Carpenter Program is a place where intersectionality is being done and worked through in such a way that even the academic curriculum at Vanderbilt has not completely caught up with.  The Carpenter Program has outlined the diversity of what it means to be a woman and the ways in which they engage reproductive justice, mental health, race. In the program, intersectional notions of race, gender, sexuality -- with race, as a large component -- are deeply ingrained.

The most impactful experience in the program for me has definitely been the Sister Song Let’s Talk About Sex conference. It came at a very critical point in my life. My sister who was a sex worker had just passed away, so being able to take that trip vindicated her life and spoke truth to the power systems that subjected her life to violence and suffering. It was also a space where people could bring their wounds and experience collective healing. What was curated at that conference, and other conferences has been brought back to Vanderbilt Divinity through the Carpenter Program.

The Carpenter Program has enhanced my commitment to Womanism. I am unapologetic in centering black women in the work that I do, and developed an understanding that there is never a time where blackness and womanhood is separate from the person who is performing and embodying it. The Carpenter Program supported that understanding for me. I didn’t have to do gender and sexuality in the very feminist “Whole Foods” way that the normative gaze centers all women. It allowed me to particularize the experiences of black women and note that gender and sexuality are critical to how we evaluate womanist ethics.

A lot of my work is the question of moving theory to praxis. The work I do is in domestic violence, trauma, and crises. Seeing how poverty is a major catalyst for domestic violence, especially in the lives of poor black women, I am able to call upon what the Carpenter Program has taught me, which is not just intellectualizing an experience, but to show the practitioner work of the theoretical. When I’m conversation with individual women, I’m not just identifying their experiences as a result of systematic oppression, but actually assessing how they are resisting and living out and surviving with their own agency.

The Carpenter Program is where I’ve had the most wrestling and reconciling. Gender and sexuality is so complex and nuanced that it makes us contemplate what it is we hold true about these social constructs and how we embody them, and who we get to label, or accept, or be in community with.

As a black woman and the ways it relates to gender and gender roles, it was through the Carpenter Program that I accepted my truth as someone who is very untraditional. It was liberating to reshape my womanhood to align with who I am and not to feel insecure about the fact that what is often ascribed to women in society, I didn’t embody, and that’s ok.

What I would want to see more of in the Carpenter Program is the diversity of identities in a similar space through collective work. Every now and then you would meet people who you knew were earning the certificate, but didn’t really know the work they were doing. Creating a space where participants were analyzing and developing notions of gender and sexuality collectively is something I would want to see.

“A lot of my work is the question of moving theory to praxis”

— Rebecca Wilcox

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Judith Clerjeune

 
 

she/her/hers
Master of Divinity (’18) Carpenter Certificate

To me, the Carpenter Program is a program that allows you to merge and interweave your interests in religion, gender, and sexuality. The program creates opportunities for students to look deeper into the intersections of gender and sexuality and religion through different programming, conferences, speakers, workshops on campus and across the country.

Two memories come to mind when I think about most impactful experiences. One is the Let’s Talk About Sex conference in New Orleans—an annual conference put on by Sister Song. This last conference celebrated their 50th anniversary and a few of us went down to New Orleans for the conference. It was an amazing experience to see different folks across the country working on reproductive justice, issues of religion, gender, maternal health, abortion rights—a range of different issues. To be in that space to hear what people are doing across the country, and be a part of the conversation of how we at Vanderbilt can bring the intersections of religion and the issues I mentioned earlier, was amazing. Second, in working with Lyndsey Godwin, I had the opportunity to create a workshop for Take Root, a reproductive justice conference focusing on red states. In doing this, we met with others doing this work in the region to collaborate and support one another.

When I think about how I may have impacted the program, I recall opportunities I’ve had to lead in different organizations, including the Office of Women’s Concerns. At the Women’s March 2.0 in January of this year, I worked with Lyndsey Godwin to lead a workshop on how we use the Bible and other texts as liberative tools for this work to fuel our imagination, given our context in the south.

I’m thankful for the chance to connect these different interests and have the space to expand the work of imagining and reimagining alternatives and new possibilities.

I came into divinity school knowing I wasn’t particularly interested in parish ministry. I wasn’t looking to get ordained. Before coming to divinity school, I was working at an immigration rights organization, so knew I wanted to work with a nonprofit, but I also knew I wanted to bring in my own experience living in an immigrant community, and bring in the experiences of immigrant into my work. Through the Carpenter Program, I’ve been able to focus on the intersections of immigration and reproductive justice and domestic violence, looking specifically at how immigration status impacts one’s ability to access the services they need. For those who are in domestic violence situations, how their status may prevent them from accessing help. The Carpenter Program has given me the space to explore those different interests and make the connections that are necessary for me to do my work in a way that is fully integrated and comprehensive. After graduating, I will continue the work of immigration rights and policy work.

I am thankful for the opportunity to think deeply about the intersections of domestic violence, reproductive justice, and how that connects to immigration justice.

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Rj Robles

 

they/them/theirs
Master of Divinity (’18) Carpenter Certificate

The Carpenter Program in Religion, Gender, and Sexuality is an opportunity to dive in to those topics while in divinity school through coursework such as queer theology and theory, pastoral care, LGBTQ counseling, and more. it allows folx to explore topics of LGBTQ identity and the church.

One of the experiences that has been most impactful for me was planning worship for the Transgender Day of Remembrance for the community. It provided an opportunity for transgender people at Vanderbilt to participate in worship and hear someone say that trans people have always existed and there is a place for us in scripture.

The Carpenter Program has allowed me to understand myself and claim it boldly and courageously that I am a transgender preacher; that I can bring my whole, authentic self into ministry and to the pulpit. Before Vanderbilt Divinity School and the Carpenter Program, I never would have thought myself a preacher or ministry, much less a transgender preacher or minister. That’s something that organically happened, and I am so grateful for the space that The Carpenter Program gave me to grow more into my vocation and calling.

One of the most challenging pieces in the program for me were the deep theological questions posed in Ellen Armour’s Queer Theology. That course allowed me to dive in to questions related to denominational stances.

 
 

What I recall from that experience is the opportunity to speak with my peers and colleagues about their denominational stances and the histories of LGBTQ people being harmed by spiritual violence, and reckoning with the healing work that needed to happen as a queer, trans person who has been deeply hurt by the church.

When I think about my own impact in the program, I point to my pushing the conversation around gender identity and trans-ness. As a trans student, specifically a gender queer student who goes by them/they/their pronouns, there was a lot of education that we needed to do even in a liberal, progressive space as Vanderbilt Divinity School. To force that conversation to come to the forefront of among students, colleagues, faculty, and staff is the revolutionary work that my embodiment brought to the school.

I, too, have been changed by the Carpenter Program. I had given up on doing work within the church around becoming LGBTQ welcoming and affirming, but now I feel that work is my calling within the Disciples of Christ tradition, as I serve as a resource and conversation partner for clergy peers across denominations. That is a calling I continue to live in to, and hope to continue, especially in the intersections of pastoral care and healthcare.

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Dawn Bennett

 
 

she/her/hers
Master of Divinity (’18) Carpenter Certificate

If I were to describe the Carpenter Program, I would say it’s a place where you can discover yourself, discover others who are like-minded, and a place where we can come together to learn about gender, sexuality, ways of being, and the ways that we are fearfully and wonderfully made.

When I think about impactful experiences in the program, there is one that has made a lasting impression for the remainder of my days. I had the wonderful honor of writing a liturgy and presiding over a service for Rj Robles, a Latinx scholar here at Vanderbilt Divinity, who legally changed their name while studying here. As a way to get behind one of our own, it was important for me as a minister to celebrate that in a way that i believe is God honoring, to who we are as a divinity school, and honoring to Rj. Writing the liturgy in partnership with Rj, delivering the sermon, and being able to pray over them in the midst of our entire student body, to lay hands on them and watch them be celebrated has truly changed my life and has given me tools and embodiment that has deeply impacted my future work as a minister.

One of the ways that the Carpenter Program has shaped and molded me is through my participation in GABLE as a board member. It’s a student organization for the queer folx, the unicorns, the queers, the allies--it’s for all of us. We don’t even remember what the acronym stands for, but it’s a place to celebrate your unicornness. Being in GABLE has given me an additional skillset to fulfill leadership roles with people who are allies and people inside the community.

What has been most challenging about participating in the Carpenter Program is the toggling between autonomy and allowing people to live into their authenticity. As a second career student, my age affords me a particular perspective that some of my younger cohort hasn’t grown into yet.

As an older person, sometimes I struggle with letting a younger generation be bombastic and angry and rage and make accusations that may not be true, but be true to them. I sometimes look at things as student, a mother, as an activist or minister. Part of being in this community, I have had trouble sitting on the fence because my nature is to be a peacemaker. But the peace is sometimes found in the midst of pain. It’s been a growing edge for me.

One of the ways I hope I have impacted the group is by working with other queer people in the program to help them identify and celebrate the Imago Dei. I think one of the greatest injustices is to tell God’s creation that they are a mistake; that they don’t matter and are somehow unworthy of the love and the dignity that is our birthright. One of the things I try to do daily is instill in every person I come in contact with, queer or otherwise, is that we are who we are, and are made out of the abundance of God’s love.

Being a part of the Carpenter Program gave me the space that I needed to come into full bloom as to who God made me to be. I’ve been queer for an extremely long time, but I lived a life that did not allow that to blossom. I have two gay brothers, a lesbian sister, and a transgender son, and I labored as a sibling growing up in the fake doctrine that didn’t allow that to fare well. I am thankful that my child, who lived as an out lesbian had a much more acceptable time. When my son transitioned, that was met with great love. Having the freedom in the Carpenter Program, through theological discernment, gave me the opportunity to identify and celebrate my own queerness.

Being intimately tied to the Carpenter Program helped me come out step by step by step, and I’m so incredibly thankful.

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