Gender binaries, cultural oppression and protests

October 10, 2013
The Experience, Calli Reynolds '17  |  The Experience, On Campus

On Tuesday, Oct. 1, Unity House hosted a dinner discussion about how gender roles and stereotypes present themselves in the Latino culture. This dinner was one of many events to honor Latino Heritage Month, and as an attendee I was pretty excited to learn more about this culture that I knew very little about. The discussion started off by addressing intersectionalities of identity and how gender, race and socioeconomic status play an important part in how we, as Americans, view Latinos/Latinas.

America is a country rooted in binaries (black vs. white, rich vs. poor, able-bodied vs. disabled), which doesn't leave much room for those who do not easily fit a binary. Those who fit in multiple groups may experience identity in a more complex way. For example, when someone assumes that those with Latino/Latina heritage aren't educated because America is exceptional and Latin America is "backwards" in the context of a nation (the U.S.) where many women are intellectually oppressed, how does this affect women from Latin America?

Issues of class complicate this even more. The issue of an assumed lower socioeconomic status comes into play in a culture that prides itself on wealth. How do you address gender issues without discussing race and class issues? What becomes more relevant, culture or color? Does sexism/racism become a driving force for interactions and experiences?

I don't quite know what I was expecting when I engaged in this deep and powerful discussion, but as ideas were exchanged and opinions were shared, a student felt comfortable enough to share a story about how her culture impacted her experience in a classroom. This student shared a time when she felt a classroom was not a safe space, and we all felt like we were a part of her experience. Touching on stereotypes, oppression and gender inequalities, we all agreed that an injustice had been committed. After sharing possible solutions, the groundwork was placed for a student movement to create safer spaces on campus.

To me, this is one of the most beautiful things about Conn: The fact that we could all come together in support of one another's feelings and experiences to improve our community, shows our strength and compassion. A student protest was held several days later outside of Olin to commemorate a new movement. While I couldn't attend the protest, a fascinating discussion turned into something that the whole campus could learn from. Once Camels get going, there is no stopping them. 



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