As part of the Body Positivity and Self Love Project hosted by the Center for Social Justice Education, renowned sexuality educator Ericka Hart came to Rutgers to discuss her experience with cancer, sexuality and social justice.
The project, which has been in place for several years at the University, involves several different programs and lectures to encourage students to take care of themselves, said Lindsay Jeffers, the assistant director of programming at the Center for Social Justice Education.
“It’s all about bringing a lens of taking care of yourself, loving yourself and embracing all parts of who you are,” she said.
The event started off with an introduction of Hart by showing a video of her interview on the Public Broadcasting Station (PBS). In the interview, Hart discussed her history with sex, the relationship between desire and politics and her criticism of the medical institution.
Hart then participated in a moderated conversation with Zaneta Rago-Craft, the director of the Center for Social Justice Education, who began by asking what inspired her to take on the role of sexuality educator.
“I just talked so much,” she said. “I wanted the answers to all the questions.”
Inspired also by Ruth Westheimer, a German American sex therapist and media personality, Hart realized that talking about sex made a difference and was something she wanted to start doing. She also learned about some of the ways her previous thinking was “sex-negative,” such as believing that getting pregnant young was detrimental to a person’s life.
The conversation shifted to Hart’s academic experience at Widener University, where she received a master’s of education in human sexuality. She said there was a lack of focus on race, even though as a Black woman she experienced the intersection between race and sex. Specifically in a class on sex and history, she recalled how the class only briefly discussed Africa before shifting to Europe.
As a current professor at Columbia School of Social Work, her lectures center Black people toward the forefront, with examples on polyamory, abortion and sexual violence involving them.
When asked about the politics of body positivity, Hart said that fat bodies were not part of the idea of what was traditionally beautiful, which comes from institutions, magazines, media and also Disney movies. She specifically referenced Ursula from “The Little Mermaid,” who she said many people associate wrongly as the villain.
“Even though her cleavage is out, even though her dress is kind of short, she’s not deemed as pretty,” she said. “How many people are talking about wanting to be Ursula? Not enough.”
Another movie that perpetuated this idea was the romantic drama “Love & Basketball,” because of the way dark-skinned and light-skinned Black people were portrayed, Hart said.
Hart is not only a queer Black woman, but also a cancer survivor. When she was diagnosed with bilateral breast cancer in 2014, she said her identity was never properly represented in medical institutions. She said most people had a narrow view of breast cancer, associating it with white, wealthy women.
“I was 28, broke, a lesbian and living in Brooklyn with some rent I couldn’t necessarily afford,” she said.
She also said Blackness was not even erased in medical institutions, but never addressed in the first place. This was why Black maternal death was so high in the country, and also why more Black breast cancer survivors die at faster rates than other races, Hart said.
When it comes to medicine and healthcare, she said race was a social construct because her blood was not different from that of a white person, and her cancer did not operate differently in her body than a white person’s.
“The way you treat me is different than a white person,” she said.
The same idea applied to sexuality, because it was seen as a medical model of disability, which links a disability diagnosis to a person’s physical body, Hart said.
The event ended with a question-and-answer session, with students and faculty asking questions about whether Hart planned on writing a book, how to further the conversation on sexuality, the hypocrisy of universities, advice to white students and how to balance between self-care and working.