Beyond Gender and Sexual Diversity
If I had a quarter for every time the phrase “gender and sexual diversity” has come out of my mouth in the past year, I’d be filthy rich. Forbes-list rich. As Resource Officer, it has been my jive and jam. However, as my wonderful Colby College education has enlightened me, I have come to favor another phrase even more: multiculturalism.
This JanPlan, I was lucky enough to be a teaching assistant for Multicultural Literacy (shout out to Multicultural Literacy participants!). I got to be mentored by amazing professors, work closely with my peers and meet stellar freshmen and sophomores. While I began the frigid and dreary month nervous and unsure of what to expect from the experience, I left it in utter excitement, with newfound knowledge that propels me toward making positive change.
In the past year and a half, our campus dialogue and climate relating to gender and sexual diversity has grown tremendously. As a community, we have done terrific work to give voice to issues once silenced. But how beneficial and dynamic can these conversations and changes be if we don’t simultaneously explore other silenced issues and issues of privileged? Not very. Colby can engage with gender and sexuality issues—that’s progress—but want to talk about truly silenced social issues? Racism. Classism. Ableism. Ageism. Religious oppression. What about learning differences and mental health? How can we start those conversations without the awkward quietness that seems to follow? Time for us as a college to step up to the plate!
We can start by acknowledging our privilege. I am a white woman. I grew up poor, but my mother’s hard work has provided me with a secure financial backing and different class affiliation. I went to a prestigious boarding school on full scholarship. I have a young, active, able body. I am not religiously oppressed. Clearly, I’m pretty darn privileged.
During my Multicultural Literacy class, we were asked to talk about which aspects of our identity we identify most with. I like to identify primarily with my values, but I also first identify as a woman. Why? Because that is where I lack privilege. White, heterosexual, financially-sound and able-bodied—other aspects of my identity are the socially constructed norm. However, I choose not to be blind to my privilege. I will choose not to be the white, well-educated feminist, speaking for all women from a classroom because I am ignorant to other standpoints. I’ll be Berol, and I pledge to get down and dirty in the messiness of social justice. You should consider joining me.
So, here is my new goal: not to simply acknowledge the intersections of gender, sexual diversity, class, race, ableism, ageism and the many other “isms” that abound, but to dive into the complexity. As social activist Tim Wise asserts, “It is up to us to take responsibility, not because we are guilty but because we are here.” As a community, let’s acknowledge that yes, many of us are privileged, and while that doesn’t mean we should only feel guilty—it does mean that we should take responsibility and do right by everyone in the community.
Look around you. What you take for granted may not be granted to everyone. I’m asking you to join me in thinking about that, and in thinking about how we can make this community—our world—more just.