Oberlin Blogs

Fall Break: Social Justice Institute

October 18, 2009

Tess Yanisch ’13

For those of you who don't know, Oberlin has a week-long fall break after midterms, similar to the spring breaks that most other colleges have. (We have spring break too. We only get three days off for Thanksgiving, though.) Anyway, most people leave campus over the break. I'm going home soon, but I decided to stay a few days into the break to attend the Social Justice Institute.

I first heard about the SJI in the admissions packet I got at the beginning of the summer. It wasn't terribly clear about what exactly the SJI was going to be, but I filled out the application anyway and sent it in, figuring it would be interesting if I got in. I did, and I attended the first session of it today. I still wasn't very clear about what it was, but hey, social justice is cool . . .

It is actually a very interesting program. I'm going to have to leave it early tomorrow to get to the airport in time, which is a real bummer. I got to talk with several very interesting people. I think the SJI used to be held before Orientation and was only open to first-years and members of the Multicultural Resource Center--this year, it was open to everyone, including members of the community. That was actually an interesting thing: having adults around as well as us.

After a breakfast (the program started at nine), we were introduced to our main speakers/trainers, Deepika Marya and Leah Wing. They helped us brainstorm rules for talking about social justice: "finding contrasts, not conflicts"; "listening respectfully"; "honesty"; "stepping forward, stepping back" (so a few people don't just dominate the conversation); and so on.

We did an activity that led to a fascinating discussion of social class and society's bias toward the upper class. I think the most interesting part of it was that the upper class tends not to realize that not everyone has their resources, and so society sees the disadvantaged as less effective or hard-working.

After classism, we discussed--well, many things. I think I'll jump to the end of the day, when we talked about transsexual discrimination and definitions of sex and gender. I found that fascinating.

We got handouts of a roughly person-shaped outline, like a gingerbread cookie, labeled "Genderbread." Along its length were different terms and a line drawn across the genderbread's body to represent a fluid continuum. As I understand it, SEX is the physical characteristics you have; GENDER IDENTIFICATION is how you see yourself; GENDER EXPRESSION is how you project yourself to others; and SEXUAL ORIENTATION is who you're attracted to. We talked in small groups about these spectra. I'm going to have to do more research on definitions and try to find out where I fit as a pretty-sure-I'm-straight female woman who likes to look cute from time to time but who also grouses, with varying degrees of honestly-peeved-ness, about impractical clothes, high heels, and the necessity of removing body hair, and who usually feels more comfortable around men than women, and who's sometimes slow to realize "Hey wait a minute, he's CUTE." Hmm. Perhaps "naively geeky" is a gender identification?

We also discussed problems transgendered people face. The ones that struck me most were little things about daily life--getting in trouble for using the "wrong" bathroom and things like that. Those aren't the kinds of things you think about much, but they would be a big problem.

I know I promised a note on the Sunshine Scouts, and I will produce it--eventually. Til then, dear readers, hang tight!

(--And please feel free to comment, prospies/prospies' parents! Ask me anything; it doesn't have to correspond to the blog subject at all. I'm here to help out.)

Responses to this Entry

I know this may seem completely random (and off the topic of your post) but I really enjoy reading your posts! I totally identify with you, since I'm nerdy too. I guess. That's what people tell me. ^_^U

I'm interested in social justice too. I never knew they had this 1) week off and 2)SJI. Thanks for talking about it! Yet another reason to love Oberlin.

Posted by: Ariel on October 20, 2009 8:33 PM

Hi Ariel! I'm glad you enjoy my posts--that's very flattering to hear! And don't worry, random off-topic-ness is very much a part of my life. I'm happy to discuss any off-the-wall stuff with prospies, or anyone else for that matter!

EVERYONE at Oberlin is nerdy in some fashion. There are organ-playing nerds, rugby-playing nerds, biochemistry nerds, the small group of people in Barnard all fascinated by the spread of illness that I refer to as "the infectious disease people," Star Trek nerds, art nerds, neuroscience nerds, econ nerds, foreign language nerds, literature nerds, foodies, drama nerds, computer nerds, music nerds, classical music nerds, rock music nerds, punk music nerds, Neil Gaiman nerds, comic book nerds (INFINITE MONKEY is the name of the local comic book store...I've only been in it once, otherwise I would be flat broke right now), on and on and on. What kind of nerdy are you? Science-fiction fan, bookworm, Lord of the Rings nut, Discworld addict, Harry Potter devotee, photographer, Calvin and Hobbes fan...?

I'm going to make another post or two about the SJI, so please stay tuned if you're interested, and don't hesitate to contact me if you've got any other questions or comments! :)

Posted by: Tess on October 21, 2009 12:10 AM

That's so cool! I wish I'd been able to do it -- given how much of Oberlin life is spent talking (yeah discussion classes!), having the skills to manage a discussion gracefully is really key. My friends who did it last year were astounded by how useful it was.

Posted by: Aries on October 21, 2009 12:32 PM

Actually I don't understand what the SJI course is doing...but it seemed like very experimental.
How are the courses going now?
I am applying for Oberlin this year. Oberlin seemed like the only school that I found students write blogs. Cool!

Posted by: Biyi on December 13, 2009 6:59 AM

The SJI, in a nutshell, is about starting conversations about inequality in our society and how to stop it. It was a really interesting experience and if you get in, I'd encourage you to take it! I think it'll be during Orientation next year, although I'm not sure--it was during Labor Day weekend until this year, when the academic calendar got strange (classes started early). I don't know if it'll be back to normal next year or not.

My classes are all going pretty well--you can look at my most recent post to see my comments on finals.

I'm glad you're applying and I really hope you get in! Good luck! :)

Posted by: Tess on December 13, 2009 9:31 AM

I'm a, as you so affectionately put it, "prospie" for 2015, procrastinating/ researching for my "Why Oberlin?" essay and I stumbled upon this blog post.

This program sounds incredible and sounds like a miniature version of a class I took my junior year.
It's given me one MORE reason why I love Oberlin. Thanks for the post!

Posted by: Sita on December 26, 2010 3:51 PM

Thanks! I'm glad you enjoyed it. :)

Posted by: Tess on December 26, 2010 6:54 PM

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