Identity exclusion in the liberal arts

“Identity is about situatedness in motion: embodiment and spatiality. It is about a self that is constituted through and against other selves in contexts that serve to establish the relationship between the self and the other” (Rodríguez 5).

(I feel that I ought to preface this blog entry with a brief disclaimer about my academic self and history. This is the first course with any AES/WGS elements to it that I have ever taken at Willamette and in that light my linguistic toolbox may be a ill-prepared for the discussion that I am about to embark on. That being said, please bear with this newbie as she stumbles around a hopefully thoughtful conversation about Latin@ countercultures.)

There are a variety of things from Rodríguez’s book that I particularly enjoyed, but one particular stood out to me as absolutely fascinating – the malleability of our internet identities. In her chapter on chat rooms, she frames our use of technology as sometimes a “sensuous seductress” and other times a “cruel dominatrix”, which holds the endless possibilities of conquest and experiences. There is a certain release that we can gain from forays into an online, nearly anonymous environment – I regularly hang out on the well known internet communities tumblr and reddit, seeing who else shares similar interests and bonding, passively but often actively, with these cyber-strangers outside of any physical boundaries – but there is a certain risk, absolutely. I portray my likes, my hopes, and my fears – everything I identify as – out for all to behold, which invites dialogue at best and insensitive bullying at worst.

We are who we attempt to construct online, which gives us the greatest liberty – but this liberty implies a level of social detachment, of being alone at the start. It is through common interests that we build new communities, if we can, which is what got me interested in an article I stumbled upon on Google. The article in question a column written anonymously regularly in Smith College’s Independent Student press, titled “Sex and the Smithie: The Exlcusion of QPOC” (see bottom of post for link to article). In the article, the author writes passionately out of frustration towards her school and the apparent disregard (to the point of total exclusion) of not only femme lesbians but queers of color in general. She had come to Smith dreaming of a school that would provide a “safe space” for her femme queer identity, on the (false, rumor based) presumption that Smith College is made up of mostly lesbians; instead, the school has ignored her, and she laments that “the measuring stick [she] was up against did not have any color or feminitiy on it.”

Now, this is not to say that the school around her does not support queerness. In fact, Smith, being an all-woman’s liberal arts college, claims to champion the queer identity on campus, boasting its LGBTQ cultural phenomena, BDOC (Big Dyke on Campus). According to the author, however, she has yet to see any Latin@ or femme BDOC’s.

Her anxiety is something that we have brought up often in class, and something that I feel continues to be a persisting problem, especially in the spectrum of liberal arts universities. Her peers seem to understand at a surface level the inclusion process of the queers within their community, with slightly awkwardly labeled group, BDOC. In their bold attempts to fit the mold of what an open minded university should be (read: that exact safe haven that the author herself looked for when arriving as a freshman), they seem to have overlooked the other possibilities of what gender identification can be. Certain images (possibly due to the overexposure of celebrities like Ellen Degeneres and Jane Lynch) come to mind, and those images are waved around like a flag, perpetuated by the creation of the BDOC.

More worrisome still is the author’s fear that brief moment of self-doubt, wondering whether or not she should change her identity as a queer to fit the image her school seems to accept. This leads me to the above quote as well as the tie in with Rodríguez’s chapter on Internet identities: identity exists spacially, that cannot be denied. As we also mentioned in class, our society holds us to a certain standard of interpellation. That is, we only function properly as a society if we have these identities and thus the ability to acknowledge the identities of others. We feel the need to label people, just as we as people respond when others label us. Granted, some individuals within our society are more apt and culturally equipped to do this identifying, and many of the ladies at Smith College seem to have good intentions when they boast such a community. However, they neglect to understand the consequences of such labeling and in doing so end up creating a very exclusive community, and the narrator herself feels ousted, thrown to the fringes of the community because she doesn’t fit the bracket of queer her school identifies.

After reading through this article and thinking about it, it has made me realize how lucky this class is to have such a safe and understanding space. It got me thinking about Willamette as a whole and I realized that I really don’t know much about Willamette’s gender and identity politics. On the surface (and from my incredibly untrained viewpoint) Willamette seems safe and welcome enough, but I’m sure there are plenty of those who feel like the article’s author, in one way or another. If anything, reading this article has got me rethinking my inadequate knowledge, and as this course progresses, I will attempt to rectify that situation.

Link to article:

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About hgmacki3191

I like eggs. And I met a girl who's name was Rio and she dances on the sand. I'm stubborn and complicatedly emotional. I invent words like "complicatedly" and say things like "Explain to me your skills of grammar". I win. Always. So, basically all you need to know about me is: 1) I'm a hybrid pesca-lacto-vegetarian for mixed reasons 2) I make up words and shit 3) Abortions are my cup of tea. Always. 4) I hate politics, so don't even try to get me started in a debate with you. 5) My religious beliefs are probably different than yours, so don't try to engage me in a religious discussion. You will cry. And I don't try to convert/pray for me. Mmkay? 6) I like anime, video games and Cosmopolitan. Contradiction? Maybe. Awesome? Yeah. 7) I win. Always.

One thought on “Identity exclusion in the liberal arts

  1. I appreciate these reflections so much. An operative, though seemingly simple, term here is assimilation. Space can enforce assimilatory identity practices, and fail to acknowledge the power structures inherent in this. Resistance to assimilation is often perceived as instability, anger, weirdness, lack of civility, and other marginalizing pathologies. The blog you reference seems to work as an intellectual space to work through these spaces and practices. Thanks.

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