Feature image via The Miscellany News
Hello and welcome to another edition of Autostraddle’s College Lesbianage: a glimpse of college life through the wide eyes of six freshly fallen snowflake first-year queers. This month’s update finds our Lesbianagelings finishing up their finals and heading back to their homelands. What have they learned about the world and themselves during this first semester of college?
I’m not the one who gets angry, who raises her voice when something goes awry. Growing up, that was generally my mother’s job. She was loud and when she got mad it was wise to stay quiet, lest I wish to hear a forty five minute lecture about the miracle that is my birth and the value of a college education. It doesn’t matter the initial topic of her rant because it will always find its way to the same ending. This is beside the point.
Let me preface my anger and frustration with this: for the last few weeks, there have been incidents of vandalism both targeting an individual – a dear friend of mine – and discriminating against the LGBTQ community as a whole. These remarks were found scrawled on the walls of one of the safest spaces on the Vassar campus, the LGBTQ center. For one of the incidents, a friend and I were the first to notice the vandalism and immediately called security to report it. We were questioned and a representative from Vassar’s counseling service came to evaluate our emotional state. I was much less sad than I was perplexed and annoyed. We were then told that the Poughkeepsie police department would work in collaboration with the LGBTQ center and campus security to start an investigation. While these steps definitely showed me that the campus is concerned and there is a continued effort, there was something about the incident that struck me.
Not only am I shocked with the number of incidents of hate speech that have happened this semester alone, but with the way that security and the custodial services chose to deal with the aforementioned vandalism. They painted over it as soon as the report was filed. A periwinkle blue covered the text and just like that it was gone. I don’t how I would have chosen to handle it if I was in that situation and I agree that it should not remain on the walls. Yet it seemed almost too quick and too hurried. Shouldn’t there be some time to reflect, to analyze it, even if it is painful and uncomfortable? Perhaps I suggest this because in the past few weeks I have become overly critical of almost everything thanks to political theory!
In one of the articles I read this semester, entitled The Ideal of Community and the Politics of Difference, theorist Iris Marion Young says that it is imperative to acknowledge the differences among us. This is not limited to the differences that separate us but the differences within ourselves. She suggests that as a people, we adopt a politics of difference both in our ideology and our practices. I agree with what she has said but when thinking about this situation, I wonder about how we are supposed to receive this kind of difference. Here, this vandalism is clearly unwelcome and most would agree that it is “wrong”. But how should a community deal with this uncontested “wrong” difference? Should it be abolished altogether? Or should it be observed and reflected upon as I suggest? How can we use Young’s idea of a politics of difference to look at something as intolerant and unwelcoming of difference as this vandalism?
It is weird to think back to the time before Vassar, before I would even be able to articulate a question like the one I have proposed. I used to think, like many people, that these types of issues didn’t apply to me or that someone else would deal with them. Someone else would mobilize and talk about conflict resolution into the wee hours of the night so I wouldn’t have to. However, in light of recent incidents and because I have become more socially conscious, I no longer think this way. In fact, issues of difference and marginalization have become incorporated into almost every extracurricular I am involved in. In the upcoming year I will be co-president of Queer Coalition of Vassar College, as the sophomore co-president is moving up to a position in student government. The other co-president and I hope to make the group more radical and get more people, especially those outside of the queer community, talking about social consciousness issues. I’m also a new member of Campus Climate, an unofficial organization which tries to get marginalized voices heard without going through student government. We’re working on getting a better look at admissions and allowing for gender neutral bathrooms all across campus. I guess that after much deliberation and many readings on ethical responsibility (again thanks political theory!), I see it as my duty, as a person who would be historically categorized as oppressed, to have my voice heard. And so with this article that I express my discontent and my determination to continue to stay radical.