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.)

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