Students discuss intersectionality at CGSE panel

by Priya Ramaiah | 7/23/15 8:33pm

Four panelists shared stories of intersectionality last night at a panel kicking off the Center for Gender and Student Engagement’s Voices of Summer programming. The event featured three student panelists in addition to Kari Cooke, the Office of Pluralism and Leadership’s assistant dean and advisor to black students.

During the discussion, panelists Asha Wills ’17, Micah Park ’17 and Tsion Abera ’17 pointed out that students at Dartmouth each experience the College differently as a function of the different parts of their respective identities, a tenet of intersectionality. Abera, for example, explained how she experiences privilege as a heterosexual woman while also facing challenges as an African American woman.

Park described how she felt exoticized as an Asian-American student for the first time at Dartmouth even while she experiences privilege due to other parts of her identity, such as her socioeconomic status.

“You can be oppressed in one way and privileged in another,” she said. “Those two things can be happening at the same time.”

Coming from her hometown of San Francisco, Park said, she was aware of negative stereotypes about Asian Americans but had never felt lesser for her heritage. At Dartmouth, she said she has worked to come to terms with how the different parts of her identity affect her experience, especially when many people do not realize they are making others uncomfortable.

“You have to reevaluate what you’re going to let define you,” she said. “It’s easier said than done.”

Many people at the College and in general do not recognize the ways in which they are privileged, Wills said. In high school, Wills said, she had been identified as an athlete or musician, but at Dartmouth found that her predominate identity was as a black woman.

All of the panelists agreed that having close friend groups on campus has allowed them to cope with negative experiences as both women and minorities,

Cooke emphasized the importance of a form of feminism that takes into account the nuances of people’s lived experiences, such as her being both black and a woman. She said the legacies of colonialism can be seen in the concept of first-wave feminism, which begins with the woman’s suffrage movement.

“Everyone experiences Dartmouth differently,” Cooke said, adding that she hopes to provide support for students dealing with discomfort in her new role as an OPAL assistant dean.

CGSE intern and co-director of the Voices of Summer show Jessica King Fredel ’17 said that starting the summer programming with a panel on intersectionality helps create a framework for participants to view the other events.

“Having this event first allows this topic to be in conversation with the rest of the events,” CGSE intern and co-director Kalie Marsicano ’17 said.

Abera emphasized the importance of realizing that the problems faced by historically oppressed groups are systemic and far-reaching. Dartmouth can be an oppressive place, but it is not an isolated case, she said.

“When people talk about white privilege, a lot of white people see it as a personal attack and get defensive,” she added. “It’s not a personal attack. It’s that, systemically, a group of people is suffering.”

The event, attended by about 30 people, was held in Triangle House. Programming will continue with a panel on healthy relationships at Alpha Theta coeducational fraternity on July 28.

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