Coffee Hour with Lorraine Dowler and Jenna Christian: Landscapes of Impunity and the Deaths of LaVena Johnson and Sandra Bland

Friday, February 23, 2018 - 3:30pm
Refreshments are offered in 319 Walker Building at 3:30 p.m. The lecture begins in 112 Walker Building at 4:00 p.m

About the talk

On July 19, 2005, Army Private First Class Lavena Johnson died in Balad, Iraq, just eight days shy of her twentieth birthday. On July 13, 2015, almost twenty years later, twenty-eight-year-old Sandra Bland’s life came to an abrupt end in a jail cell in Waller County, Texas. Both women’s deaths were ruled suicides, and both women’s families and friends reject these judgments. Instead, the they insinuate foul play by the state, which directly governed the militarized spaces within which the women both died. At first glance, these women appear to have had very different life trajectories, one a United States soldier and the other a Black Lives Matter activist. However, in both of their cases, the ruling of the suspicious deaths as suicides illustrates the state’s attempt to render their deaths banal, and thereby diminish the state’s own culpability in producing both the shocking, immediate deadly outcomes, as well as the slower undergirding conditions of racial and gendered violence that made their deaths possible. In examining the relationship between the highly visible, rapidness of violent death and other overlooked, routine forms of state violence, this paper proposes new directions for political geography’s engagement with critical geographic insights of relationality and describes how, as feminist geographers, we can contribute to a more robust understanding of care’s political possibilities. Specifically, in understanding the unremitting acts of violence, on women’s bodies, especially women of color, this talk focuses on the interdependent nature of care and vulnerability.

About the speakers

Lorraine DowlerLorraine Dowler

Lorraine Dowler is a faculty member in Geography, Women's Gender and Sexuality Studies, and the School of International Affairs. Her scholarship is rooted in a feminist approach to geopolitics that enables more fluid conceptualizations of compassion, identity, and individuality as related to understanding everyday life, private spaces, and the lives of women and other marginalized groups.

Jenna ChristianJenna Christian

Jenna Christian is a National Science Foundation fellow and a doctoral candidate in the departments of Geography and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Penn State. Her research and activism engage feminist theory, critical geography, and critical race theory in the study of the US military, citizenship, education, incarceration, social movements, and peacemaking.

Contact us

Penn State encourages qualified persons with disabilities to participate in its programs and activities. If you anticipate needing any type of accommodation or have questions about the physical access provided, please contact Angela Rogers in advance of your participation or visit.

Angela Rogers  office: 814-865-2493 email:

Coffee Hour