Lessons from serving on the Community Board on Sexual Misconduct

Image source. The Green Dot Bystander program is a national skill-building program used across college campuses in the U.S., including at Carleton, that allows students and others on campus to learn how to intervene safely when they witness instances of power-based violence.

Note: We are excited to present our first guest blog post! This post is adapted from remarks made by our friend and colleague, Dr. Mija Van Der Wege, during a presentation for Carleton’s Learning and Teaching Center. This presentation featured faculty, staff, and students who have served on Carleton’s Community Board on Sexual Misconduct, which is the board that adjudicates cases of student-to-student sexual misconduct. The four presenters spoke about the impact of their service on the board on their teaching and learning, their relationships with students/peers, and the skills they have learned from that experience they find useful in other contexts. Take it away, Mija!

When I first came to Carleton, I used to try to build and maintain strong personal boundaries between me and my students. These boundaries helped me maintain authority, which could be challenging as a young, female, Asian faculty member.  It also allowed me not to worry about what was going on in my students’ lives outside of my classes, which made my job seem a lot easier. Students could be vessels into which I could impart my knowledge, and I just needed to figure out the best way to impart that knowledge. However, since then, I have learned that I can be a better teacher by knowing more about student lives. And being a member of Carleton’s Community Board on Sexual Misconduct (CBSM)  has really enhanced that knowledge. So I’m going to talk (briefly) about what I’ve learned from being on this committee and doing this work.

First, I am a role model for my students. Being on this committee is modeling good citizenship for my students.I feel like I am doing vitally important work. And I constantly remind myself: if not me, who; and if not now, when.

Second, trigger warnings help some students embrace and learn material that is personally challenging. Like many women, I have my own history of sexual assault. Going through training to be on CBSM and reading the investigative reports was quite hard. I needed to prepare myself mentally and emotionally for the homework and for the meetings. The work took an emotional toll, even when I was not actively engaged in reading or thinking about the cases.

My experiences on the Board have made me more reflective and thoughtful about how I include and approach sensitive materials in my classes. I remember that a few years ago, I assigned a chapter on eyewitness memory in one of my classes. It contained a first-person narrative account of a sexual assault. After the class discussion on the topic, one student talked to me about how she had PTSD following a recent sexual assault and was caught off guard by this section of the reading. I felt terrible and realized that a simple content warning would have helped her manage how and when she approached that section. And I felt terrible thinking about  the other students who may have had similar reactions but didn’t talk to me about it.

Sometimes, I hear talking heads, or op-ed writers, or even other faculty argue against trigger and other content warnings, the so-called “coddling” of the student mind. And I want to tell them that these warnings are not coddling; they are not an opportunity for students to skip vital opportunities for growth. They are granting these students an opportunity to embrace the material in a way that they would not be able to otherwise. Certainly, going through the training on sexual assault was challenging for me, and being able to set the time and place where I engaged with it was invaluable and helped me engage with, rather than ignore or dismiss, the materials.

Finally, being on the Board has helped me practice compassion, empathy, and listening. As members of the CBSM, we spend a lot of time listening and trying to understand why people might behave the way that they do.I like to think that I am becoming better at understanding  why people behave the way that they do in the kinds of situations that the panel hears. It’s never been as simple as just perpetrator and victim in any case I’ve heard. It’s mostly just people fumbling around, usually drunk, trying to figure out what the rules of the game are.   I feel that many of our students are doing that, not just socially, but also in class and in other arenas on campus. They are just fumbling around trying to figure out what the rules of the game are, increasingly so as our student body becomes more diverse and as many traditional social norms are being challenged and changed.

Having been on this committee, I pay more attention to this fumbling, trying to identify it, and talk to the students that are fumbling in one way or another in my classes and in my role as advisor.  Rather than just a pep talk, I try to ask about what’s going on. I let them sit in my office and cry. I tell them that they don’t have to be perfect all the time, or even some of the time. Many of our students are struggling, and they can also succeed, sometimes with a little positive encouragement, a friendly ear, or a little extra leeway. Our students look up to faculty and staff on campus.  If we present ourselves as monoliths of expertise and authority, that’s what they think that they need to be. I’m learning that letting students see the nuances and cracks and glorious imperfections that we all share is, in many ways, as valuable as imparting knowledge.

 

Racially charged words in the classroom

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In this blog post, we want to signal boost a podcast episode where Professor Koritha Mitchell (Ohio State University) talks about her approach to racial and other identity-based slurs that appear in the materials she teaches in her courses. She discusses her policy of developing a class “covenant” that expressly forbids students from using the N-word or other slurs. She talks about how having a clear policy allows her and her students to read parts of texts where slurs are used without avoiding those passages and most importantly, she argues that not saying the slurs do not prevent the students from being able to analyze the texts deeply and critically. In fact, she posits (and her students featured in the podcast affirm) that such a policy allows for deeper engagement because students are not worried about how to approach these texts. Her approach allows us (as teachers) to consider more carefully our learning goals and how the diversity of student identities, experiences, and backgrounds in our classrooms changes how we reach those goals.

She repeats a phrase often in her explanation of why White teachers, in particular, are not more thoughtful about how they approach this issue, especially as it might impact Black students and other students of color: “White people are not being special or unique when they hold themselves to incredibly low standards in their interactions with people who are not White.” She repeats this idea of “low expectations” a few times, including how such low expectations apply to people of all kinds of majority identities (including race, gender, and sexuality). She also explains how the everyday violence of our institutions become normalized in moments where racial slurs are read or used in classrooms and workplaces: “When institutions are literally built on the denigrating and diminishing people of color, White people do not have to seem aggressive in order to do great violence. Denigrating and diminishing people of color might be said to grease the wheels that make our institutions and our country function.”

In the episode, Professor Mitchell starts by describing her experiences both with her students and with colleagues around the use of the N-word in classrooms and at her workplace, which, as she importantly points out, includes the classroom. As she notes, she has the right to expect a different standard of conduct in her workplace and for her students to have a different standard of conduct in their learning environment than at a hip hop concert or out on the streets. She then discusses specific passages from Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and James Baldwin’s essay “Notes of a Native son,” which include the N-word and another racial slur, and how her policy allows students to read these passages without re-creating the violence of such words by speaking them and to dig deep into the meaning of those words.

The latter part of the episode features a thoughtful discussion among three of her students who talk about their experiences with the policy and the impact it had on their learning experiences in the classroom.

We recommend a listen whether or not you’re teaching texts with the N-word or other racial slurs. We found Professor Mitchell’s approach and her explanations useful, especially her reminders about how everyday experiences in White institutions can feel violent to students and faculty of color.

Finally, a shout out to our awesome colleague and friend, Marty Baylor, for telling us about the podcast!

How now down brown Take 5: Stereotype threat, gender pronouns and the gender binary

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In this post, we address a question sent to us by our colleague, Anna Moltchanova, who teaches in the Philosophy Department at Carleton College. Anna asked us whether there’s a downside to having students introduce their pronouns in class and identify themselves as a particular gender in that it might introduce stereotype threat and affect their performance in class, especially since the first class of the term can set the tone for the rest of the term. She noted that philosophy is a field that is very gender-imbalanced and she wanted to know if there are ways to counter stereotype threat. She also asked, given the gender imbalance of the field, whether deconstructing the gender binary in such a context may cause some unintended retrograde consequences.

Thank you, Anna, for giving us a chance to think through this complicated set of issues that you raise about how to ensure a more equitable learning environment for all students, given how male-dominated the field of philosophy is.

As Claude Steele and other researchers have defined it, stereotype threat describes a situation where a person’s performance on a task is negatively affected by their concerns about how they will do on a task, because their identity group is stereotyped as not being skilled or capable of that task. Researchers have demonstrated that any group can be susceptible to such a threat–in this talk, for example, Steele gives the example of how a White man might be under stereotype threat when asked to perform in a rap battle! There are a few conditions where stereotype threat gets “activated”—the stereotyped identity has to be “primed” in some way and the person has to care deeply about doing well on the task. Is it possible then that being asked to share gender pronouns could “prime” a female student in a philosophy class?

From our understanding of the research on stereotype threat, that is not out of the realm of possibility, but we’d want to weigh this possibility against the alternative. Given how important it is for people to be recognized as the gender they are, in this case, we’d venture to say that the possibility of triggering a stereotype threat seems lower than the possibility of the harm caused by mis-gendering students. One of the main things we understood from the conversation that we had with our friend and former Carleton colleague, Tegra, is that asking for gender pronouns ensures that we’re not assuming people’s gender based on our perceptions of their gender expressions (you can check that two-post conversation here and here). In other words, the moment where we are sharing our pronouns is not the first moment in which we are gendered in a classroom. It is difficult not to automatically assign gender identities to everyone we encounter—in fact, that’s one of the hardest habits that we have to break in order to ensure that we’re allowing everyone to tell us their gender rather than assuming it. Given that, asking for pronouns allows individuals to claim their own gender identity.

Once you or we have decided, then, that the benefits outweigh the costs of asking for gender pronouns, we can look at the research on stereotype threat that has shown that there are ways to mitigate its effects. It’s important, for example, to talk about doing well on a specific task or in a field as the result of effort and growth, rather than some idea that some people (or some genders!) are “naturally” better in philosophy than others. The idea of a growth mindset can allow women students to understand that philosophical intelligence is malleable rather than fixed. Studies have also shown that it’s important to think about the situational cues being given to students about who belongs in a particular department or field or what researchers calling “belonging mindset.” Promoting a growth mindset and paying attention to what implicit and explicit messages are being given to students about who “belongs” to a department or field can help encourage students from traditionally underrepresented groups (based on gender, race, socioeconomic class) to see themselves as philosophers or physicists or mathematicians. Such messages are conveyed in myriad ways: the gender balance of faculty in a department; the identities of speakers in a department; whose voices and perspectives are included in the curriculum and so forth.

Finally, you ask whether incorporating the notion that gender is non-binary risks necessary attention to the ways in which women have been historically marginalized in the field of philosophy and continue to face such marginalization. We were discussing just this issue in a different context recently. Anita mentioned that she saw a post by an alum during the Kavanaugh Senate confirmation hearings about how the discourse around gender and sexual violence reinforced the gender binary and made invisible the experiences of trans and gender expansive survivors of sexual violence. For a moment, Anita was taken aback and annoyed–can’t women (and clearly at the time she was defining women as cis-women) not have the spotlight for just a moment to focus on their experiences of harm? Then she took a step back to remember that expanding our definition of who has been harmed doesn’t subtract from the harm that one particular group experienced. Indeed, as we expand our understanding of who has been harmed and how, we gain better insight into the way power is structured. It also allows us to build broader coalitions in the fight against power structures. In this case, it is not just cis-women who are harmed by patriarchal structures, but all women and all people who are seen as not belonging in philosophy because of their race, class, gender, and other social identities.

P.S. Neither of us are experts in the concept of stereotype threat, nor are we in male-dominated fields, so we welcome any anecdotes, experiences, strategies, and generous critiques you may have (especially if you’re in White/male-dominated fields).

Suggestions for further reading:

Aronson, J., Lustina, M. J., Good, C., Keough, K., Steele, C. M., & Brown, J. (1999). When white men can’t do math: Necessary and sufficient factors in stereotype threat. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 35(1), 29-46.

Beasley, M. A., & Fischer, M. J. (2012). Why they leave: The impact of stereotype threat on the attrition of women and minorities from science, math and engineering majors. Social Psychology of Education, 15(4), 427-448.

Davies, P. G., Spencer, S. J., & Steele, C. M. (2005). Clearing the air: identity safety moderates the effects of stereotype threat on women’s leadership aspirations. Journal of personality and social psychology, 88(2), 276-287.

Spencer, S. J., Logel, C., & Davies, P. G. (2016). Stereotype threat. Annual review of psychology, 67, 415-437.

Steele, C. M. (1997). A threat in the air: How stereotypes shape intellectual identity and performance. American psychologist, 52(6), 613-629.

Steele, C. M., & Aronson, J. (1995). Stereotype threat and the intellectual test performance of African Americans. Journal of personality and social psychology, 69(5), 797-811.

Steele, C. M., Spencer, S. J., & Aronson, J. (2002). Contending with group image: The psychology of stereotype and social identity threat Advances in experimental social psychology (Vol. 34, pp. 379-440): Academic Press.

The “problem” student/The student “problem”: Links round up

Image: Hopkins High School students staging a sit-in for sexual violence victims during the Senate confirmation hearings for Judge Kavanaugh. (Image source)

As we’re settling into the fall term, we’ve been reading a new crop of articles talking about the “problem” of this generation of students on campuses and campus climate. Today, we wanted to provide links to two articles we’ve read in the past month on this topic. Of course, if you want to check out some of our thoughts on this topic, please see this previous blog post.

Sara Ahmed, one of our favorite thinkers on institutional privilege and power, argues in her new piece that we need to pay attention to the connections among

a constellation of related figures: the consuming student, the censoring student, the over-sensitive student, and the complaining student. By considering how these figures are related we can explore connections that are being made through them, connections between, for example, neoliberalism in higher education, a concern with safe spaces, and the struggle against sexual harassment. These connections are being made without being explicitly articulated.  We need to make these connections explicit in order to challenge them. This is what “against students” is really about.

While her essay looks generally at how students who “complain” are talked about, she focuses specifically on how students who bring up complaints of sexual harassment are viewed and treated. She writes about the pervasive silencing of students:

I have been in touch with students from many different universities who have made complaints – or tried to make complaints – about sexual harassment as well as other forms of bullying. I have learned of the myriad ways in which students are silenced. Some students are dissuaded from proceeding to formal complaints. They are told that to complain would damage their own reputation, or undermine their chances of progression; or that to complain would damage the reputation of the member of staff concerned (and if they do proceed with complaints they are often publicly criticized as damaging the reputation of the member of staff); or that it would damage the reputation of departments in which they are based (with a general implication being: to complain is to be ungrateful). Students have reported how their complaints are “sat on,” how they have to testify again and again; or how they are doubted and ridiculed by those they go to for advice and support.

The second article is a review of a book by the authors who wrote a well-cited and circulated article entitled “The Coddling of the American Mind.” In the review of these authors’ new book with the same title as the article,  Moira Weigel argues,

The core irony of The Coddling of the American Mind is that, by opposing identity politics, its authors try to consolidate an identity that does not have to see itself as such. Enjoying the luxury of living free from discrimination and domination, they therefore insist that the crises moving young people to action are all in their heads. Imagine thinking that racism and sexism were just bad ideas that a good debate could conquer!

We’d love to hear your ideas and questions on this topic–please comment on the blog site or if you have a question, you can send them our way here.

Educators on Strike

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In this week’s links round up, we call attention to two sets of workers in the education field who have been organizing, striking, and demanding better working conditions: graduate students and K-12 teachers.

In the past few months, graduate students at various campuses across the nation have been demanding, among other things, better pay and better health insurance. Sometimes, as is the case at Columbia, striking for the right to unionize.

February 2018 Strike by University of Illinois at Chicago Graduate Employees’ Union

April 2018 strike by graduate student union at Columbia University

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Graduate students have also been voting on different campuses to decide whether to unionize (in 2016, the National Labor Relations Board ruled that graduate students are allowed to unionize).

April 2018 vote by Harvard graduate students to unionize

April 2018 vote by Penn State graduate students *not* to unionize

The other group of educators who have been on the news in the past few weeks have been K-12 educators who have gone on strike in various states, sometimes even in defiance of their unions, to protest low pay and school funding cuts.

These first two articles provide helpful background information to the teacher strikes and actions: Paul Krugman’s op-ed argues that the recent history of tax cuts have had a big impact on teachers’ salaries and benefits, leading us to this present moment where “teachers, the people we count on to prepare our children for the future, are starting to feel like members of the working poor, unable to make ends meet unless they take second jobs.”  This piece by Bryce Covert talks about how over the past decade, teachers have been asked to do more with less, and how this policy has led to the kinds of strikes we are seeing.

Teacher Pay

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Information about the some of the specific teacher strikes:

West Virginia

Oklahoma and Kentucky

Colorado

Arizona

We stand in solidarity with our colleagues in graduate schools and K-12 schools as they organize for change.

 

How now down brown Take 3: Social justice on campus

In today’s post, we take on a question sent to us by a Carleton alum: “How do you navigate higher education institutions and be committed to social justice when these spaces are often antithetical to social justice?”

Our first reaction to this question was “Higher education institutions in the U.S. are often spaces that are antithetical to social justice because U.S. society is often a space that’s antithetical to social justice!” A long line of critical social theorists, including Samuel Bowles & Herbert Gintis and Pierre Bourdieu & Jean Claude Passeron have argued that educational institutions reflect and reinforce societal inequities, especially along socioeconomic lines. Carleton College and other higher educational institutions are no exception.

There is, however, an additional factor that might make higher education institutions seem particularly antithetical to social justice and we think it might be due to what Angela P. Harris and Carmen G. González describe as “the contradictory culture of academia.” As they write in the introduction to one of our favorite books about higher education, Presumed Incompetent, “On the one hand, the university champions meritocracy, encourages free expression and the search for truth, and prizes the creation of neutral and objective knowledge for the better of society–values that are supposed to make race and gender identities irrelevant. On the other hand, women of color too frequently find themselves ‘presumed incompetent’ as scholars, teachers, and participants in academic governance” (p.1). Another contradiction might be the lofty rhetoric of diversity and inclusion that is commonplace these days in colleges & universities that sit alongside ongoing inequities and differences between the experiences of marginalized students, faculty and staff and those of race, class and gender privileged students, faculty, and staff. We’ve written in an earlier post, for example, about how our identities as women of color are valued and appreciated as bringing diversity of representation to the college but the diversity of ideas and experiences we bring and champion often is not welcome.

Now we get to the hard part of your question: how do we stay committed to social justice and remain part of these institutions?

First, while our commitment to working towards more socially just schools and societies remain steadfast, we know that we do not always live out these commitments. Often, we fail to speak up and act in ways that align with our principles for many reasons, including fear, fatigue, and ignorance. These moments of failure lead us to develop a sense of patience and generosity–we understand that people and institutions fail in living out their commitments to social justice, as we do.

Second, the key difference between being a student at a small, residential college and being an employee at such a place is that while work is a part, an important part, of our lives, we do have lives outside of the campus! We do not have to eat, live with and hang out with our colleagues in the way that students have to eat, live with, and hang out with fellow students. We get to create communities outside of work that sustain us in the ways that we need. We get to take advantage of being in or close to the Twin Cities with their diverse racial and immigrant communities. We get to be part of a community of women of color academics, for example, in the Twin Cities who provide support and critical perspective on our work lives.

Third, working at an academic institution differs from the student experience in another way: temporality. We are here for the long haul (whether at one particular institution or in the larger apparatus of academia). That perspective means that we can see and feel the change that does happen, and we can participate in small or significant ways in its propulsion. For example, academic freedom means that we can generally teach what and how we want. Both of us see our classes as spaces of interruption that ask students to examine the way systems, institutions, and even nations do their work; we ask them to be willing to see not just the aspirations, but the costs involved. Teaching often offers moments of joy as students start to see structure and can then imagine better possible futures. For Anita, getting tenure has meant that she can pursue more participatory and collaborative research like her recent project working with five Carleton students on student experiences in STEM departments. Honestly, students–their willingness to learn; their excitement to teach us; their energy and curiosity; their diverse range of experiences–are a big part of what helps us stay in higher education.  

Finally, our persistence in the institution leads us to invest in changing it in ways that are often  invisible to students. We sit on committees, participate in tenure reviews, read and review manuscripts by colleagues, help lead national conferences, get involved in reading groups, try out new ways of learning and teaching, and develop programs that matter to us (like Critical Conversations at Carleton). In other words, we contribute to the workings of the institution. Sometimes that’s frustrating, when the wheels are turning in ways that we cannot stop or shift, but mostly it’s empowering, because we have chances to question the status quo and contribute to change.

When it comes down to it, we are both educators at heart. What we mean by that is that we believe in change. If we didn’t believe that individuals could grow or that committees could rethink their methods or that institutions could reassess their systems, then we would not be here. (Hmm, what else do you all think we would be doing if we weren’t teachers?) Our honest and deep belief in change keeps us going even when we get frustrated by these spaces that often seems antithetical to our commitments to social justice. In other words, what keeps us going is being together in the struggle …and having matching winter hats! 😉

Gender Inclusivity in the Classroom, part II

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(Image credit: GSC Presentation at the Carleton LTC, “Making Class Welcoming for Trans* and Gender Variant Students,” Oct 29 2015)

See part one for a discussion of gender inclusivity as we think through gender pronouns and their relationship to gender expression and identity. We left off talking about what might make folx uncomfortable with pronoun discussions; here we continue our conversation with Tegra Straight thinking about how these interactions might play out in the classroom.

Tegra: One of your questions for me was whether asking for pronouns allows people to be gender fluid in their identities. I think it does as long as you allow people to change their pronouns during the term.

AC: And how do you do that? Do you say it every class–everyone say your gender pronouns?

T: Most of the students I’ve met who are comfortable in their fluidity and talk about it say, “I use she/her/they/them” or “I use different gender pronouns depending on how I’m feeling. Today I’m using…and I’ll let you know if that changes.”

AC: Do I check in again sometime during the term or say something at the beginning of the term?

T: I think that you might, when doing the introductions, just say something like, “I understand this is what it is today. If we need to check in again, shoot me an email, and we can do another round of intros in case something has changed for someone.” I think that is completely appropriate.

AC: The first time I did it in my classes, I was really uncomfortable just because I had never done it before. But I think the students were totally cool with it and they did not bat an eye. I think these were all students who had gone through the orientation where they had talked about gender pronouns. They seemed perfectly fine sharing their pronouns.

T: I think proportionally at this point, more faculty and staff are uncomfortable sharing than are students. But even I can feel uncomfortable with faculty and staff because it can feel uncomfortable if I say my pronouns and no one else does. I’ve been doing this for a while and I can still feel uncomfortable doing it, which doesn’t mean that I don’t think it shouldn’t done. If someone introduces themselves in a way that I think is problematic, I don’t know that I’d correct them.

AE: Your discomfort seems like it’s about the power dynamics of the moment.

T: I think that’s an issue that the faculty talk about when they talk about it being an invasion of privacy. Do you have power in this moment to force students to come out in ways they are not ready for? I would probably argue no, because a student can share whatever pronoun they want and, again, if that changes for them, you can just remind them to let you know. I think students will say whatever pronouns they are comfortable saying as long as we stop attaching a gender identity to the pronouns.

AC: And that’s really hard.

T: I still do it. I have to consciously un-do it as I get to know people.

AC: Part of what the students want when they’re asking us to ask about pronouns is to talk about the non-obviousness of gender identity. The idea is that we think that gender is obvious: we see you wearing a dress and we think that you are a “she”, but that’s not necessarily true.

T: We have a student who dresses fem all the time, in a skirt, and use ‘they/them” pronouns. If they weren’t comfortable introducing their pronouns and even when they do, they probably get misgendered a lot on campus.

AC: The other question that came up…there’s a worry that as faculty that we’re going to do it wrong and our students are going to hate us because we did it wrong. So we might as well not do it. For example, when I was at the Rainbow Retreat last winter, a student talked about how a professor asked students to introduce their pronouns but said, “Tell us your pronouns like he or she” and the student was critical that the professor ended up sticking with the gender binary. And my perspective was like, “Well, they’re trying.” But I also understand the student’s perspective: “You’re basically ruining the whole point.”

T: It really depends on the student and on the day. Sometimes a student will be talking about a class and say, “You know they really messed up on this but at least they tried.” And Rainbow Retreat tends to be a time when people come to vent and just let go.

AC: Sure. That’s fair enough.

T: So that’s some of what it is. And sometimes people do get upset. I think that, ideally, faculty sometimes need to admit that they can learn from students.

AC: I learned about the term “cis-gender” from one of my students about five years ago. I teach about gender and education, and they were, like, “Hey, do you know this term?” and I’m like, “No!” [laughter] They pointed me to Julia Serano’s work, which is awesome.

AE: I had a student who came to me about three or four years ago and told me about a club she was starting for asexual students on campus and that was the first time I had heard the term.

AC: Really?

AE: I think I had heard of it, but I didn’t understand it. So she told me about her experience and why she was gathering a group.

AC: You’d never heard the term “asexual” before then?

AE: Not in the way she was using it, I should say. I thought about it as someone who doesn’t want to have sex. And the way it’s coming up now is that it’s a sexual identity. You’re straight, you’re queer, you’re asexual. Which means that maybe you’ll have sex but it’s not the primary way you want to have relationships.

T: That community includes folx who identify as asexual and as aromantic so it complicates it even further for people who might be sexual but don’t hold romantic attractions. So there’s a ton of identities within that community.

AC: Right. The term that students want to use on campus is LGBTQA+ with the A standing for asexual and aromantic and the + standing for other marginalized gender and sexual identities. That seems like a really broad term.

T: Speaking particularly of the Carleton context, we use that acronym and don’t include intersex, for example, because we don’t have any resources and we don’t do any programming around intersex identities. If students wanted us to do more, we’d look into it. If you look at Carleton’s campus, I don’t think it’s difficult in general to be lesbian or gay or queer. I think it can be more difficult if you are bisexual or poly or more fluid in who you are attracted to.  There’s a lot of lack of knowledge and discomfort around ACE identities trans and non-binary identities. Particularly, I think QTPOC as an intersectional

AE: …which is the best acronym ever!

T: They call themselves “QTs.” [Laughter]  So that’s been the focus of our office.  All of our programming is inclusive of all of the acronym but we have tried to decenter White gay and lesbian experiences.

AC: I’m trying to figure out, we have this very specific term we use at Carleton and I understand that’s the one that students want to use, but does that reflect larger realities, realities outside of Carleton?

T: I think it reflects the movement right now. Our acronym is shorter than the movement. A lot of people include intersex, two spirit, same gender loving…if you’re looking a place that’s just using LGBT, they’re probably not focusing on issues that are important to students at this time.

AC: If we think about history, politics and law and legislation, there have been particular ways in which gay, lesbian, and bisexual folks and trans and gender non-binary folks have been particularly targeted and not supported by our society. Are there similar histories of oppression for the other marginalized sexual and gender identities? For example, there are Christian students on campus who feel marginalized on campus. But in broader American society, Christianity is the dominant religion of the United States and there isn’t a similar marginalization there. I’m trying to keep in mind structures of power in society…but by making it such a large inclusive group, are we doing the students a disservice in not teaching them how power and privilege will play out when they get out of Carleton? And/or are we giving them a false sense of safety and inclusiveness that may not exist when they get out into the work world?

T:  I struggle with the notion that by creating a safe space on campus, we’re not preparing students for “the real world.” Our students work in the real world. They have summer jobs, some of them need to have jobs during breaks. Usually these are marginalized students, queer and low-income;  these are students who are already very familiar with the “real world.” I think that, particularly if we are focused on trans, non-binary, QTPOC and ACE identities, the role of a four year college is to provide time to be fully supported, time to question, to figure some stuff out, so that when you graduate, you have an even higher level of resiliency to work with. So when you go out and are in the “real world,” you’re going to be able to deal with all the shit you’re gonna encounter. Just because the real world sucks doesn’t mean that we should treat them any worse on campus! They are already used to that, particularly these days. A lot of older folks have this narrative of not understanding your sexuality or gender identity till later on in life. A lot of students have figured out their identities in high school before coming to Carleton and they’ve already dealt with a lot of shit from family, friends, systems. I think our ability to create community and a safe space allows them to process through some of that pain or to get to understand other people’s intersections of oppression. Me as a middle-class, White gay person can learn something from interacting with a lower-income QTPOC person and recognize that I still have a lot of privilege and there are things I can do to make sure that others in my community experience less oppression than they currently do.

AC: That makes sense.

T: It hurts our office because we have to be over-programmed all the time. Laura and I have to work lots of weekends and evenings but I think our office is seen as one of the more progressive spaces on campus so students will come to us if they want to do something more progressive.

AC: I think that’s a shift. When I got here, it seemed like the GSC was a space that was mostly White.

T: Yeah, when I got here, it was White. Particularly white queer women. Within the last three years, we’ve really seen change. It’s partly willingness of my part and Laura’s part to constantly take on criticism and we have a really good working relationship with QTPOC and trying to listen to their needs and what they need from our office. Also, just being really intentional about hiring a staff that’s representative of the Carleton community and of the queer community in particular. Campus is a pretty supportive space. I think a lot of students have a lot that they’re involved in. They feel welcomed but the GSC might not be their primary source of support. For others, it is.

AC: Just to wrap up, what might be three things students want faculty to know to make classrooms a more inclusive space?

T: Obviously, we’ve said pronouns are a pretty big deal. Also, we still have students who say faculty call out the wrong names.

AC: Hopefully that’s been fixed. [Note: currently at Carleton, once on campus, students can enter the name they want to be called into the database so that when a faculty prints out a class roster, they should have those names.]

T: I’ve heard of faculty expecting the students to represent their identity. What happens if you only have one student with a particular identity and it’s the focus of discussion in class? There needs to be better understanding of how to navigate that, making space for that student to share but not making their experience the focal point of the lesson. The last thing would be being aware of mental health issues, and that depression and anxiety are real things that make it impossible to function at a Carleton level/pace. I don’t think it’s just faculty who need to be aware, but something the whole campus has to tackle.

 

Inspirations/Resources

Adrienne Rich, “Compulsory Heterosexuality,” 1986.

Julia Serano, Whipping girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity, 2007

Resources at Carleton

GSC: Resources for Transgender and Gender Non-binary Students

GSC: Inclusive Classroom

Vanderbilt Center for Teaching resource: https://cft.vanderbilt.edu/teaching-beyond-the-gender-binary-in-the-university-classroom/