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Remote Ready Biology Learning Activities

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BMC Diversity Conversations Forum

Comments are posted in the order in which they are received, with earlier postings appearing first below on this page. To see the latest postings, click on "Go to last comment" below.

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Name: Serendip
Date: 2004-08-26 15:27:24
Link to this Comment: 10688

Welcome. Glad you stopped by. This is a place for conversation, for informal sharing of thoughts with others. Think of it as ... a place to celebrate, enjoy, and learn from both our similarities and our differences.

This is a place to leave thoughts and stories of your own that you think might be useful for others to hear, and to find other peoples' thoughts and stories that you might find useful.

Maybe you like it that things you write here can and will be read by other people (not only at Bryn Mawr but also elsewhere), but maybe its a little scary. If the latter, remember that if you don't write here, others won't have the advantages of your distinctive perspectives (and, if nobody writes here there is no conversation at all).

And remember that its a place for "informal" sharing; no one will criticize your writing (that's off limits here). And don't worry if what you have to say isn't your "final" thought about something. There aren't any "final" thoughts here, only thoughts-in-progress, the kind of continuing exchange that we all need from each other to help our own individual thoughts develop.

And that we need (not only at Bryn Mawr but worldwide) to help us all learn how to better shape and sustain rich and diverse societies.

A couple of thoughts from last year's forum discussion:

we believe that to be truly engaged and active, to be truly involved in challenging women, we must be willing to take some risks. We invite you to start taking some risks, big or small.

is it possible to change the system? ... i really really don't know.
maybe the only way to do it is through small discussions like ours.
maybe we do have to start on the small scale.
just change bryn mawr.

Its a new year. Let's see what new ideas we have, what new progress we can make. Together. For every one.

from a freshman pluralism workshop
Name: Paul Grobstein
Date: 2004-08-28 11:16:39
Link to this Comment: 10697

Rich conversation in a freshman pluralism workshop I was involved with yesterday. With thanks to all, and hopes that others will chime in with their own stories, a few things that struck me ...

Many students from (or with significant experiences) outside the United States have a quite different perspective on dealing with diversity. Group stereotyping is a much more accepted activity in social intercourse in many other cultures but is offset, to some degree, by a greater willingness to get to know individuals and to modify behavior in light of their group identities. "Americans" are "beautiful but dumb". nice/well-meaning but a little naive/arrogant in their belief that everyone can just get along.

There is real enthusiasm for an anticipated Bryn Mawr culture in which one doesn't have to justify one's oddities/peculiarities, and where one can easily "go to another table", ie meet/sit with/talk to people different from oneself. People want to be judged for themselves rather for any group characteristics they might have.

There are known vulnerabilities to be exposed and dealt with in trying to create such a culture: uncertainties about oneself and fears of rejection by others. At the same time, trying to be "nice" to everyone is probably not the best way to move towards where we would like to be. One wants to know in some fairly deep ways who other people are, and simply trying to be "nice" can get in the way of that. The trick is to somehow work on the edge of vulnerability and the "border of bitchiness".

Very much looking forward to hearing what others have been thinking/talking about ... and to continuing the conversations, for what they offer in evolving not only our local community but the national and world communities as well.

another workshop checks in
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2004-08-31 23:40:34
Link to this Comment: 10710

Thanks to Amy, Sophia, Carol, Britt, Mairi, Mina, Nissa, Sanda and Athene for their willingness to engage with me, last Friday afternoon, in a conversation about the inevitability of category-making...and the possibility of revising the same.

We began our discussion by going 'round the room, each of us using 3 words to describe herself. Then we went "up one level of abstraction," to look at just what sorts of categories we had used, and which ones we stayed away from. We spent some time thinking about why we had made those choices: was it because some categories mattered too much? Or too little? Because we preferred not to reveal our "real" selves to others we didn't know, because we couldn't trust how they might respond to a description of some personal quality or habit they disapproved of? How community-based were the categories we chose, how "unique and individualized"?

We realized that the categories we most valued--that is, the ones we used both to describe ourselves and to seek out others "like" ourselves--were NOT those of the conventional "big 3" of race/class/gender, or even of the 3 more recent additions to the "canon of difference," those of sexual orientation, religion and ability. We saw that we had avoided altogether any labels having to do with soci-economic status, as well as nearly all relational ones (well, there WAS one self-described "mother," but there were, among our descriptions of ourselves, no "daughters", no "siblings," no "lovers," no "friends"). We noticed that we had made no mention of anything "sexual" (for fear of being judged?): there were no descriptions of sexual orientation, of particular sexual practices or even of sexuality in general; there was also no mention of age. There was very little mention of gender (because it was so obvious that we were all female: why waste a word? why bother?).

We saw, on examination, that we had called attention mostly to what was not visible, but invisible, not "assigned," but chosen. The categories we attributed to ourselves included those of ethnicity, political stance, geography, and physical traits. But the categories we most frequently occupied, by far, were those of "preferences " (I like to "talk," "be quiet," "read," "think," "write," "travel"... ) and of "personality traits" (I am "loud," "shy," "honest," "sarcastic," "pessimist," "realistic"....)

We turned next to the essays included in the packet on "Diversity and Community at Bryn Mawr College," to see what they might add to the conversation. We spent some time mulling over the (seeming contradiction?) between Baldwin's "there is a great deal of will power involved in...[maintaining one's] naivete" and the sentence immediately following it: "Most people are not naturally reflective." If we are really not "naturally reflective," then why must we "will" ourselves to preserve our innocence? Won't we do so "naturally"?

We looked too at Neil Rudenstine's claim that "our species...has generally been tribal and sectarian...any society...which deliberately tries to seek out...diversity is acting against the grain of strong human instincts and much human behavior....America...remains the one bold, idealist, though yet unfulfilled, living experiment that has consciously set itself the task of including people of widely divergent backgrounds from every part to the world."

Rudenstine's observations returned us to, and led us to mull further over, an idea that had been expressed @ the very beginning of the workshop, about our naturally seeking out others with whom we have something "in common." Are we all more strongly attracted to similarity than to difference? Did we come to Bryn Mawr hoping to find more folks like ourselves, or different from those we knew and are? We reflected on An Interactive Scientific Exploration Using Models , which shows us that even a slight preference for surrounding oneself with "sameness" results in a highly segregated neighborhood, while a slight preference for difference has *very* different results (try it and see!)

We wondered why Baldwin chose to stay in a village where he was a stranger--why not just stay @ home, where one is comfortably (?) known? Might we ourselves have come to Bryn Mawr seeking a place where we are less known? More able to revise who we are and how we perform ourselves? We are all strangers, gathered here now to (re-)make a village: will we do so best by seeking out those who resemble us? How will we know--especially if what really interests us about others is what is "inside," not immediately visible, not easily seen?

Anticipating, with pleasure, further conversation on these and related matters, during the upcoming Friday lunch conversations about "Making Sense of Diversity." Please join us--


"customs" and "traditions"
Name: Paul Grobstein
Date: 2004-09-11 11:18:59
Link to this Comment: 10819

Very much enjoyed yesterday's rich conversation. Thanks to all for helping me think more/differently about "customs" and "traditions", both as terms used at BMC and more generally.

Was intrigued by Chris" suggestion that a distinctive concern for "relatedness" was an important part of the BMC context. It is certainly NOT true that a tendency to form groups that oppose movement of individuals between groups is unique to customs groups at BMC (it occurs, as noted, with athletics groups, among others). And it is of course not unique to BMC either. Sororities and fraternities typically have this character everywhere, and it is a common phenomenon for ethnic groups generally, "whites" included, as in concerns about intermarriage. But maybe there is a quantitatively greater (if not qualitatively different) concern for "relatedness" at BMC, and so our experience can help us see somewhat more clearly a set of issues that it is important to understand better not only for our own community but generally?

What struck me is that a concern for "relatedness" is a good thing (people really WOULD like somebody to reach out and offer an invitation to dinner when you're new and alone in a strange environment) but that (like all good things?) there is some hazard associated with it (a sense that relatedness is threatened by individual exploration and so discourages it, ie if one goes to dinner with someone other than those whom one is "related" to one is "betraying" something).

So maybe the trick is to keep what we want but also be aware and act in relation to the hazard? While freely offering relatededness at the outset for everybody, we could make it clear that customs groups are intended as a stepping stone to further explorations of relatedness, that BFF's are fine when found but not the goal/intent/end all and be all, that part of the important BMC experience is the opportunity to explore the strengths and limitations of relatedness. And that that means taking advantage of the diversity of the community to try out new forms of relatedness?

It strikes me that it would be a significant and valuble step not only at BMC but worldwide if we could begin to think of groups (and customs and traditions) as valuable forms of relatedness that provide the basis for new explorations rather than as ones to which every individual is expected to pledge allegiance and defend for all time.

Looking forward to future conversations.

Customs Discussion
Name: Hannah Upp
Date: 2004-09-18 10:24:06
Link to this Comment: 10860

This discussion was quite an eye-opener for me, as I felt like my customs group was a wonderful part of my freshman year in the way that we supported and got to know each other. I felt that I discovered amazing friendships with people that I assumed I had nothing in common with when I first met them. For me, Customs was a way to get beyond those initial impressions and try to honestly get to know the diverse group of girls that lived on my hall. In doing so I think I learned the friendships don't necessarily have to be between two people who have a lot in common. I do hear the extremely valid and important criticisms of the Customs program and am concerned that some felt trapped into a group that gave them a hard time for making friends outside of the customs group. I believe that the Customs program could emphasize that Customs is a great way to START Bryn Mawr and leave the focus more on the orientation process instead of introducing a "predetermined group of best friends". I think that this approach to Customs could help the program accomplish what it originally intended to do.

israel palestine talk
Name: orah
Date: 2004-09-24 15:01:18
Link to this Comment: 10940

thank you all for the talk today. really, thank you. i really look forward more conversation like the one today.
some things i need to say.
from a more subjective POV than i took today. i am skepticle as to whether a 'more subjective,' 'more Knowing,' pov is the best way to peace... i think i will try to craft subjective words (as subjective words must be "crafted" as opposed to spat, i think) here in writting.
i have heard the argument that 'terrorism is in the eye of the beholder' and i agree. i fully agree. governments can be tools of terrorism. democratic governments can be tools of terrorism. and i will say that, yes, the israeli government terrorizes. but i think there is a problem when we say that one people is oppressed more than another bc they are labeled as terrorists while the other is not. i am pretty sure that BOTH parties terrorize each other. how can you highlight the terrirism of one group as a means to underscore the terrorism of another? EVERYONE in this situation is oppressed. and while one side may live in airconditioned homes and the other in crumbling shacks how can you say that the one living in airconditioning is not oppressed when at any moment she may be blown to bits on a bus?
EVERYONE in this situation is oppressed. and i don't think there is one party that is oppressed over another. the acts of terrorism manifest themselves in different ways. everything is hazy and mixed with blood and dead people. that's all there is. and it doesn't help when we demonize one group as "undercover terrorists." we are ALL terrorists.
okay. one more thing. i was reminded today of paul's diversity conversation last year on segregation, in which we decided that the only way to create a diverse, an integrated community is to 'choose for difference.' if we want an integrated community we must choose the people who surround us for their differences rather than their similarities.
my question: are we always searching for diversity ? are there communities in which segregation is a good thing?
i think there is a safety in segregation.
also, if we are always bringing difference into ourselves then in a way we are destroying difference. if the other is always encouraged to become a neighbor then at some point there won't be an other. right? wrong?
i don't really want to forget my tradition and history. is that okay ? or is that what perpetuates this problem. and is peace worth the giving up of history and tradition? is the survival of this world worth the destruction of memory ? i'm really asking. i don't know.

appreciation, thoughts
Name: Paul Grobstein
Date: 2004-09-25 09:47:03
Link to this Comment: 10945

VERY powerful, rich, and for me instructive conversation yesterday. Thanks to all for caring, speaking out of deep feelings, listening, responding. Some thoughts on issues Orah posed ....

The instinct to seek security through segregation is, I suspect, very old and very deeply rooted in the human brain. It does not though, for those reasons, have to be taken as either "right", or the only/best possible guide to human action in the present ,or unalterable (I Am, and I Can Think, Therefore I Can Change Who I Am). Thanks to Orah for connecting yesterday's conversation to an earlier one on segregation/integration. Perhaps at this point in human history there is actually more "security" to be found in integration than in segregation? Particularly if we all, individually and collectively, can find it in ourselves to genuinely recognize difference as valuable? That wouldn't require "bringing difference into ourselves" and so obliterating difference but instead valuing ourselves AND others as different and so encouraging a continuing and constantly changing diversity.

"i don't really want to forget my tradition and history. is that okay ? or is that what perpetuates this problem. and is peace worth the giving up of history and tradition? is the survival of this world worth the destruction of memory ?

My thanks particularly to Chris, Aia, and others who had the courage to speak out of very deep parts of themselves and so help us all see where some of the dynamics of conflict come from. It did seem to me that a significant part of the conflict in the present had to do not with actual problems in the present for which one cannot imagine possible solutions but with constraints on imaginable present behaviors reflecting lessons one has drawn from what one understands of the past.

This pattern, like the "security in segregation" one, seems to me also a quite general one. I can easily think of quite direct parallels not only in other national/international conflicts but in my own personal life as well. And so this pattern too is probably both old and deeply rooted but also revisable?

I don't think the solution is to give up "memory" itself, nor "my tradition and history" - the past is a useful (but NOT definitive) guide to how to behave in the present, and one's past is part (though by no means all) of what makes one onself, different (desirably) from all other individuals. But just as we shouldn't live entirely in the present (with no memory), perhaps we could all learn (and help each other learn) to live less in our "memories" of the past . Those memories are, after all, not "reality" but stories we make up and use to help us make sense of the present. So they differ for different people (and different groups of people) and bring us into conflict when they mandate different actions in the present.

Maybe we could keep our "memories", and use them for the valuable things they provide us, but learn to think of the present as always something new, a place where we can always conceive ways to do things that are different from and avoid the mistakes that have been made in the past? As part of this, we would necessarily have to recognize past mistakes. By making that a part of a broader, common dialogue (one in which we also ask/grant forgiveness from/to one another for past mistakes?), we could use the process to create new more inclusive memories/stories that help to link us together in ways that support the continuing evolution of our different stories.

Thanks again to all for your contributions to my thoughts, offered in turn for whatever use they might be for someone else's. Looking forward to further conversation.

getting out of the box
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2004-09-26 10:50:20
Link to this Comment: 10950

I've just posted a summary of yesterday's conversation about Listening for Peace: The Israel-Palestine Struggle. I hope others will add their thoughts, angles of vision I haven't represented or ideas which have come to you since. One which came to me was the direct relevance of a discussion elsewhere that began with Writing Descartes and has arrived now at a series of meditations about the need to "get out of the box," to look around outside it in order to know better what's going on in the world (and so better "secure" oneself in it)--and in order to discover alternate ways of conceptualizing the problems which face us. Check it out.

One State
Name: Student Contributor
Date: 2004-10-04 16:35:29
Link to this Comment: 11018

I just read this article in the New York Times by an Op-Ed contributer advocating for a one-state solution. I think he makes a rather compelling argument.

Just copy and paste.

pedagogie styles talk today
Name: orah
Date: 2004-10-22 13:42:50
Link to this Comment: 11173

thanks all for the diversity talk today on pedagogie styles ... just a comment to get off my mind ... i think the nature of the act of learning is a very selfish act ... i am out to learn about ME. i bring information into myself and apply it to my experience and use it in an attempt to critically examine what I know. i learn in an attempt to shape, and impove myself. "i want to be myself only much much better." i think that the ability to think critically is a way of organizing information: our senses are inundated with information from the outside world which we are supposed to bring in and incorporate into ourselves. the ability to think critically makes us able to prevent system overload ... BUT, this does not mean that i don't want to hear your story, that i am not interested in your story, rather, in the act of bumping your story up next to mine my story shifts, is affected by your story. so, maybe the most important informer to my story is your story.

in regards to the detrimental aspect of personal anecdotes ... i think this is a scary ledge to walk ... i have told personal tidbits before and have regretted it ...its embarrassing... it can trivialize personal experience ... if you tell something of the self in the wrong place, expose the self to a dangerous environment... it hurts when a part of the self is opened into a place where it is not appreciated ... am in classes right now that i think could be good classes but there are students that innundate the class with irrelevant, personal anecdotes ... a bummer ... really does ruin the class ... so, i think the key is that a personal story should only be told if it is NOT told in order to give the self a "one up" give the self "authority" on a certain matter.

i hope everyone has a wonderful / restful weekend.

from deaf to hearing: some lessons about diversity
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2004-11-19 18:13:38
Link to this Comment: 11688

I just posted a longer version of this commentary in the Brown Bag forum on "Science's Audiences, but thought it might also be usefully consultable here.

I was talking about the conference on Signs and Voices: Language, Arts, and Identity from Deaf to Hearing which was held in the Tri-Co last weekend. Several things in that astonishing four-day event stuck me as being highly relevant to our conversations on diversity. First: the good groundwork that had been laid to assure that the varieties of people who came together around the topic of deafness could all hear one another (every event was represented in three ways: spoken, signed and synchronously-translated-and-displayed-on a-big-screen; there were also individual hearing assistance devices available). It was of geat interest to me to listen--and simultaneously watch--two performances of everything that was said, to notice the different representations of all that was offered, and to note (bounded by my own capacities for interpretation) the particular limits and expansiveness of each form.

In the Brown Bag series, we've been talking a lot this semester about "translation"--that is: how effectively to convey the work of scientists to the public. So I was particularly impressed by David Corina's presentation on Saturday morning. Because I was responsible for the Bryn Mawr portion of the conference, I was worried about attendance for that session, and fretful ahead of time that--if anyone came!--they would have difficulty understanding what David said, or its relevance to their own experience. How could/would such "scientific" and "specialized" work "translate"? I needn't have worried. David is himself multi-lingual (=signs) and speaks clearly; many members of the audience spoke/signed afterward about the ways in which their own brain experiences corrobrated or challenged the work David was doing. This was for me a paradigmatic expression of a different dynamic than the one traced in a recent brown bag: of an "'informed' group who thinks they have some helpful ideas to contribute to a broader society, and find their efforts to convey scientific ideas confounded because each person has ideas on the topic that have been shaped by their own experiences." What we got on Saturday was something much more insistently and effectively bi-directional: a brain researcher was telling people (who have particular sorts of brains) what studies on language processing were being done on folks like them; those folks talked back to him. Everybody (including listeners-like-me) learned.

This seems to me of evern larger relevance. We've been talking a lot here about how to keep conversations inclusive, not close them down, not shut folks out. During Brenda Jo Bruegemann's presentation on Saturday evening, she observed that ASL is the fastest-growing "foreign language" in American colleges and universities today; @ the same time, fewer deaf children are learning it--either because they are getting cochlear implants or because they are being educated orally. What is happening, then, to the uniqueness, the specialness, of "Deaf" culture, which has so insistently in recent years refused to define itself as "disabled" (and thereby instantiated a hierarchy between itself and those seen as "less abled"?) Who will "own" sign language--and the Deaf culture it figures--if more hearing people learn to use it? (Many interesting pedagogical observations arise here, too, around why so many hearing students are interested in this new-to-them language; might it have to do w/ teaching styles that are newer, more visually and kinesthetically oriented than those employed in the more-conventionally-taught foreign languages?)

Much to think about, in light of today's discussion about the ways in which bringing a range of different sorts of learners, with different individual and group investments, to campus might alter the current culture here....

Name: Claudine J
Date: 2004-11-27 12:51:56
Link to this Comment: 11774

On last week's discussion that focused on the subject of Posse, I was very happy to see the amount of people who wanted to learn more about the program and the students who are part of it. However, I was disappointed at the small amount of students that were not inattendance at the discussion. However, it was a very comfortable space for me to come out and tell people how I felt about posse, the bond I have with my posse sisters and why I love Posse so much. In the first excerise of the workshop, "Connections", people where able to say what their initial thoughts on Posse was. One other posse scholar stated "a blessing" and I immediately agreed in my head with her. Without Posse I feel that I wouldnt have been exposed to so many wonderful things that occured in my life in the past three years. I wouldnt have met so many wonderful Bryn Mawr women; I wouldnt have been able to study abroad in Spain, being the first in my family to travel outside the U.S. other than to my homeland of Jamaica; I wouldnt have met so many wonderful professors who have become my mentors and the list goes on. I often at times wonder where I would have been. Although, I feel that I would have been doing wonderful things somewhere else, Bryn Mawr is where I needed to be. It brings joy to my heart when I hear people say good things about Posse. It also brings joy to my heart when people who had misconceptions about the program finally grow to understand it more. I hope that we have another discussion about Posse, and one where the attendance of students are more abundant. Although, Posse 1 will leave Bryn Mawr very soon, there are still 4 other posses that will be on campus and I want people to understand to learn more about the program so that they can learn more about the students. If you want to learn more about the program simply have lunch or dinner with a Posse scholar, we are open to share our thoughts about the program. You can also visit the website,

Claudine Johnson
Bryn Mawr College
Class of '05

which direction?
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2005-02-03 09:32:19
Link to this Comment: 12466

As I was writing up my notes from our discussion, last Friday noon, about How Women Fight, it seemed unclear to me whether we had been saying that--because women so value relationships--they try very hard not to "stick out," not to distinguish themselves by being (at Bryn Mawr) "too smart" OR "stupid." Or whether the drift of our discussion was in the opposite direction: that preserving relationships is NOT our primary motivation. Instead, what drives our behavior may be a profound self-doubt, a fear that we are NOT "smart enough"--and so we turn to relationships to assure ourselves....?

Making Nice
Name: Vanessa Ch
Date: 2005-02-03 10:05:21
Link to this Comment: 12469

I was intrigued by the discussion of people, principally women, asking rather than making a statment when speaking in class. I was glad someone referenced author Jennifer Boylan's personal observation that she adopted this speech pattern after undergoing a gender change.

In my experience, this "feminine" response has two other causes, besides the possible gender one. One is the natural human tendency to become stuck in speech patterns. Raising one's voice in a question at the end is very infectious--and can be a habit that is hard to break. I taught middle school girls for years, and the problem was almost epidemic!

Another cause, I believe, is that everyone feels so rushed--so uncertain of another's undivided attention. My son made use of the questioning statement for about a solid year, and while I was eager for him to stop this pattern, I also realized I was being sent a signal. If I was always busy doing something else while "listening" to him, he resorted to voice tricks to be sure I was still listening. If, on the other hand, I looked at him the whole while he was talking and stopped multitasking for a moment, his need to speak in questions lessened. This may not be the situation in classrooms at Bryn Mawr, but I'd be curious to see if the roots of that speaking pattern are not linked to our fear of not being heard out (perhaps aside from feelings of self-worth).

Name: Jackney
Date: 2005-02-03 10:35:51
Link to this Comment: 12472

I thinkt hat te idea of challenging somone's comment in class or making one of your own actually stems from people's insecurities about themselves probably in then sense of being a women. Unfortunately it seems that even though we are at Bryn Mawr to push aside and challenge the way the world thinks about women, we still subjects upon ourselves this way of "feminine" thinking.
And as far as why we do not confront each other like we should it is porbably the fear of being labeled somthing because in fact I know a couple of people who have confronted others and one ended up being brought to the honor board when the offense clearly was not on her and another found out that those she confronted wrote up comments about her on some web page. We should be able to confront each other and resolve our problems and those being confronted must realize that they are being confronted because their actions have been rude or hurtful in some way. Theys hould look at it not as an opportunity to gossip about someone but as an opportunity to learn that their actions were not acceptable.

Making Nice
Name: Lisa Chirl
Date: 2005-02-03 21:14:54
Link to this Comment: 12499

Some thoughts that I had after the session on Friday.

One factor (for me) is that I tend to want everyone to like me (less now but I did when I was in college). I've found that men can disagree and still socialize but women often don't want to "hang out" with people of radically different ideologies. We get around this by avoiding difficult subjects but the classroom can't allow avoidance while still having relevant discussions.

One more "structural" thought--I'm not sure what HS is like these days :-), but I know that I didn't have many opportunities to voice my own, personal opinions. (We had to figure out what we were "supposed" to say in a discussion.) Perhaps people need more opportunities to voice opinions about "easy" topics (within the class) before moving on to the tougher ones?

the staff's making sense of diversity
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2005-02-14 09:36:46
Link to this Comment: 12871

As I was writing up our conversation, last Friday, on how members of the staff make sense of diversity on campus, what struck me most was the dissonance between the clear conviction of some staff members that they have an important contribution to make to the education of BMC students, and the observation that only one kind of knowledge is privileged here: that students may feel that they cannot learn from, or respect, someone who has not mastered "book knowledge."

Your thoughts about ways we might intervene in that hierarchy of knowledge (which may underlie other hierarchies that separate faculty from faculty, staff from staff, students from students, and each of us from our fullest selves.....) are warmly welcome here.

Peace Corps values and privileged knowledge
Name: Ann Dixon
Date: 2005-02-16 11:09:25
Link to this Comment: 12926

Is it really the case that most students privilege book knowledge above all else? Or is it just a widespread perception that they do?

I was reading a BMC publication this morning which discussed/bragged that there are now 16 BMC alums in the Peace Corps, the 2nd highest per capita among colleges and universities. My impression of the BMC student body these days is that students are more involved with the world and more activist-oriented, more praxis-oriented, than when I was a student (1979-83). If you consider the underlying values for these sorts of activities, it seems that there is a strong value put on knowledge through interactions with the world, not just on book l'arnin'.

And while a disproportionate number of alums will go on to graduate and professional schools, perhaps there is also a greater number (with a lower profile on campus?) who will ultimately work outside of universities. Maybe the self perception of the student body hasn't changed as quickly as the goals and activities of the student body.

Ann '83

feminism ... and beyond?
Name: Paul Grobstein
Date: 2005-02-27 17:49:10
Link to this Comment: 13267

Appreciated the conversation Friday, learned a lot from it, and ... to be honest ... felt a little "out of place". Which is perhaps relevant to the conversation.

Chris described the significance of "feminism" for himself, and I resonated with that description. I too have long felt a sense of comradeship with groups of women greater than that I typically feel with groups of men. And greater comradeship with groups of people sharing ethnic backgrounds different from my own. And I also think of myself (I hope with some justification) as committed to and engaged with the project of assuring that women (and people of various ethnic groups) have the same opportunities that anyone else has.

What gave me pause was the feeling that "feminism" was felt by many people to be the sine qua non not only for advancing the cause of women but also the cause of respect of respect for diversity generally. I certainly think that "feminism" has played a very significant role in recent western culture and should be both studied and honored for that role. And I think the cause of women is an important one that needs continuing attention. What I'm not persuaded of is the notion that "feminism" (any more than any other "ism") is the preferred or best route towards a more effectively pluralistic society for ALL people.

That's what made me feel, perhaps inappropriately, a little "out of place". My engagement with feminism, like my engagement with the civil rights movement, relates to a sense of making common cause with others in a larger struggle to assure that all people have a meaningful voice in the cultural stories that surround them. I don't think that requires denying a commitment to the cause of women but do think it probably requires an openness to visions and ideals beyond feminism alone.

Feminism talk
Name: Julia Wise
Date: 2005-03-05 10:19:28
Link to this Comment: 13428

I also feel weird about feminism being used as a kind of gateway movement for other areas of activism or social justice. I read an article in Ms. Magazine recently in which something like five different causes, including things like anti-tobacco work, were held up as "feminist" causes. I feel I should care about things like the tobacco industry or the environment not because I'm a feminist, but because I'm a human. I know arguments exist that the same patriarchal system is perpetuating all the bad stuff in the world, but I haven't heard them yet, and I'm not sure it's more useful to use one's pet cause as a medium through which to work on other causes.

Name: natalie
Date: 2005-03-24 15:58:40
Link to this Comment: 13986

Can we talk more about differences? As I scanned the previous entries, I realize that my style of speaking may very well be feminine, in the sense that I pose more questions, rather than actually making statements. I am taking a risk here. Maybe no one checks this forum anymore, maybe it is not a useful form of communication. But I think I am ready to communicate, and I will start here with this very question? ARE WE TALKING ABOUT IT ANYMORE? I want to be filled in. I don't even know where to start. First, I want to know if there is a group on campus which fights racism. I do not know what it is we have here on Bryn Mawr's Campus but it is not a community. Perhaps there are segregated pockets of "community", sure, you could argue that. But are we unifed as a Bryn Mawr Community?????? I guess before I attempt to use words like community and racism, I should define what I mean and where I am coming from. Off the top of my head, community is a place where people support and join together in whatever said goal or endeavor may be present. When we sent in the acceptance letter to bryn mawr, with reluctance or with joy, I thought, that just maybe for one second, we had one thing in common, we wanted to take advantage of this higher education, whether or not we spite it, whether or not our goals within this system may vary. There is a common thread. Instead of, this game of "you are not like me, I can not understand you, let alone carry on a conversation with you. " I feel as though there is too much of this angst, or apathy on campus. And it pains me because I thought I had left that world behind in high school... In any case, I would like to talk more about this, because I am a hypocrite and as much of a racist and an apathtic fool as anyone else around. And I think it is appropriate for a vibrant and colorful explosion of self-expression to take place here at Bryn Mawr or on this forum, because DIVERSITY WEEK is next week. And I am very excited to see what may result from these discussions and confrontations, so to speak.

on difference, and talking about it
Name: Paul Grobstein
Date: 2005-03-25 09:43:47
Link to this Comment: 14004

Thanks, Natalie. Share sense that differences, making sense of diversity, is indeed what we need to be talking about, in particulars and in generalities, both at bmc and worldwide. And that to do that, people need to be willing not only to listen but also to talk, to take the risks of telling their own stories in places where other people can hear and react. Thanks for taking the risk. Hope others will as well.

breaking the silence ... on "mental heath"
Name: Paul Grobstein
Date: 2005-04-15 13:50:03
Link to this Comment: 14591

Thanks all for rich, moving, constructive conversation. A couple of things that most stick in my mind: Hope we can keep the breaking of silence going. Some perhaps relevant references for further conversation ....

Name: orah minde
Date: 2005-04-16 07:55:05
Link to this Comment: 14613

thanks maria and paul for talk yesterday ... was thinking: i agree with ms. bell (?) when she said that she noticed that a lot of mental health issues on campus were tied in with/exacerbated by/caused by a perfection for which many students, here, seem to strive. perfectionism, i think, is an impulse to seperate oneself out from others, to step above others. perfection, however, in terms of the living human being, is absolutely relational (right?). so i can only be perfect if you are less than perfect. if the 'you' is taken out of that sentance than the 'i' can keep moving toward, keep acheiving. similarly, if the 'i' is taken out of the sentance than there is no strandard by which the 'you' is deemed less than perfect, and therefore, too, may keep acheiving. therefore, we, in societies and communities, are bound tight by competition, and depend on competition so we DON'T run ourselves into the ground. relation, therefore, is absolutely vital. BUT, this relation, it seems, keeps us so far from each other (to put it nicely), deems us all enemies (to put it sorrowfully). ((bc of all this i strongly agree with ms. bell that perfectionism is so tied with the sense of lonliness that seems so common to those with (and without?) instabilities of the mind.

some questions regarding these assertions: what are some other power structure models that people have in their minds? what would a group look like that was NOT based on this preventative competition ? is there are way of curtailing the impulse to acheive? IS THIS IMPULSE A HUMAN IMPULSE? i'd say, no, this is not an impulse that is innate to humans, but i can't think of any situations that are not governed by relations of power. any suggestions?

thanks, again, to paul, maria, and all.

define perfectionism again please
Name: natalie
Date: 2005-04-16 19:18:03
Link to this Comment: 14617

Perfectionism. My perfectionism has nothing to do with other people. What other people produce may affect me, inspire me, destroy me, not affect me at all. But I feel as though it is moreso a battle within my bi-partite nervous system. That I need to perfect everything I do, that it needs to be deemed by myself as GOOD. And honestly if other people were perfectionists it would be a challenge, it would be my competition.(perhaps this is all a contradiction, if so, someone please enlighten me) But it would not put them in an inferior position. I suppose if people were not perfectionists, they would not be trying hard enough and therefore they would not be of interest of me. But I personally do not want to feel a sense of superiority over others. Actually I suffer from an acute sense of inferiority. The origin of this, I have yet to determine and to battle. I speak in first person, because I know that someone else might respond and in doing so state something in complete opposition to my stance on this whole game of perfection. I see the eagerness to perfect oneself is, deeming oneself a failure at the prelude of the intrigue. It is not that the ego is inflated by the satisfaction of reaching a “higher” place than the humans around them, but rather the state of being eternally unsatisfied. Maybe this is why we have religion? So that, an “organized group of people” can tell me not to feel so utterly rotten all of the time? Or maybe it is merely the voice of my depressed self? And to seek validation from others, that is a whole other ball game, so I won't go there. For me this “competition” as you call it, Orah, is such an impulse I cannot even control it. But I feel as though this has something to do with the location of the planets in the universe at the time I arrived on earth… Because honestly there are people out there where the impulse to compete or to perfect themselves is just not there. My condition, and this is the case for others I assume, which I shouldn’t do in the first place, but I would like to say that I am not alone… is to control, to dominate and to have power. Now, over what arenas in my life, I am very uncertain. Over the past five or six years I have been so disgusted with rings of power and politics, that I rejected institutions which, from my perspective, are not out for any humanitarian good, but for their own self-interest, at the expense of innocent populations. I feel as though, due to constant witness of the destructive repercussions of this perfectionist impulse, I have rejected myself. I have been unable to reconcile my nature to compete or to perfect myself, in a way that is positive or helpful to me and to others.

not shrinking
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2005-04-17 14:07:23
Link to this Comment: 14633

Orah, Natalie--
I write as another perfectionist, one who spends way too much time beating up not only myself but others for their failure to do what (I think) needs doing say that I believe (not to say I've learned to enact the belief) that an/one answer to clinical perfectionism really is a kind of pragmatic diversity--an awareness of the multiple ways there are to be and to do in the world, and refusal to measure them all (outside or in) on a single standard.

Today's (4/17/05) New York Times Magazine has an article by Peter Kramer called "There's Nothing Deep About Depression," which argues that it is "disease simply and altogether," a mood disorder that (contra the conventional romantic notion that it "spawns creativity," actually) diminishes the self, and should be eradicated. I'm not convinced. My own depressions seem to me necessary counterweights to (somewhat manic) flights of engagement and creativity that need periodic "rests," periodic reminders to both myself and others of...

the importance of variety--in moods as well as accomplishments.

And--very importantly-- the need not to over-value the latter.

About this time last year, we were having a conversation in the Graduate Idea Forum about what Natalie identifies as "the eagerness to perfect oneself"/what Orah calls the "impulse to separate oneself out from others" (and the inevitable counterimpulse to "fuse"), when I came upon a reflection from Thomas More's Care of the Soul:

psychologically we have many different claims made on us....It is not possible, nor is it desirable, to get all of these impulses together under a single focus....In a polytheistic morality we allow ourselves to experience the tensions that arise from different moral claims....the most rewarding quality of polytheism is the intimacy it can make possible with one's own heart. When we try to keep life in order with a monotheistic attitude--do the right thing, keep up the traditions, and be sure that life makes sense--our moralism against ourselves can keep certain parts of our nature at a distance and little known....An attitude of polytheism permits a degree of acceptance of human nature and of one's own nature that is otherwise blocked by single-mindedness...We do not care for the soul by shrinking it down to reasonable size...

Many thanks to Paul and Maria for beginning to break the silence around such questions, to invite open discussion about our many varieties of internal instabilities.

Name: orah minde
Date: 2005-04-17 17:35:37
Link to this Comment: 14650

both of your stories help me form my own and i thank you for that. some ideas, maybe related (maybe not) : last semester i read freud's "beyond the pleasure principle," in which he hints at a drive toward death within us. i am inclined to think of my perfectionism as strangely tied with freud's "beyond principle." are we striving beyond ourselves? tring to escape the natural ability of the self? is self perfection a form of self denial? self negation? i say that my perfectionism is hinged on my desire to be superior to others. natalie says that hers is bc she feels inferior. strangely, i don't think that these two stories are as different as they sound. both (tell me if i'm wrong, natalie) seem to hint as a self-loathing of sorts. i know that i am not better than anyone else and so i seek to set myself above. natalie feels inferior so she tries to rise from her perceived lower place.

since last wed./thurs ubar/butler i have been thinking more consciously about gender / sex / feminism ... i wonder how and if this perfectionism is experienced by males ... that's a tangential thought ... that i do not have time to scurry after ...

ps i would like to ask mr. kramer what exactly he considers "the self," that is so diminished by depression, to be. is the self a noralizer from where chemicals in the brain diverge, or, are chemicals A PART of the self. i'd think (and hope) the latter. the trend of "breaking the silence" i will say that i am mentally unstable, but i'd like mr. kramer to know that i would never trade in my mind for a more stable mind, and i do not regret the months of instability that i have experienced; rather, despite the self loathing, i like myself better unstable (though those two emotions cannot make sense to anyone else): i think i see more, know more and, therefore, am living myself more fully... which, is my goal today. thanks anyways, mr. kramer. i am, however, genuinely thankful for this conversation. hoping for more.

Name: natalie
Date: 2005-04-19 09:54:09
Link to this Comment: 14727

right... that makes sense. the origin does come from a self-loathing process. But I do appreciate the way you stand up to Mr. Kramer. And although I don't know this man very well, I would like to stand there with you, saying the same exact thing.
Also the "polytheism" quote that you gave Anne, is monumental, to my life right now. thanks... I am glad that the door has been opened about mental health issues. I have been hiding, maybe I still am, but at least not to myself. I am more aware, more alive, more sensitive to my "insides".

pedagogies of self-realization
Name: orah minde
Date: 2005-04-19 17:12:18
Link to this Comment: 14735

as i have expressed in other forums, one of the reasons i find the subjective so loathsome is that i find any act of misunderstanding to be an act of violence. bc we just can't fully understand each other's minds, bc we just don't have that kind of access to each other, we are making constant offenses against unknowable minds. i am right now inclined toward theories that speak of the quest for self-knowledge as a looking outward from the self to the REFRACTED image of the self in the other. this seems to alleive some of the pain of misunderstanding. these theories make misunderstanding the key to coming to self knowledge. but, there is something that is telling me, a echo that originates 20years down road of my life, maybe, that there is a point where the quest into the other becomes sinonymous to the the quest for self. and maybe at some point even more a quest beyond self. what is in your heads those of you who have dedicated your lives to teaching??!?!? what could you, so far ahead of us, be gaining with us? what are you watching for? i can tell you that your watching stabalizes my intentional movement: my actions: my learning of self. but at some point the gaze of the older generation will flicker, and my learning of self will no longer be held together by my teachers. i guess, then, that i will stabalize myself by gazing at those who are finding the self. is that why people have kids? the watching of the teacher/parent stabalizes the student/child, weaves her into the world, and then the student weaves others by encouraging the finding of self.

i started this post intending to paraphrase blake, but got sidetracked. Blake: and for all eternity i forgive you and you forgive me. maybe that is the key to living in the subjective, along side all mental complexes. the act of weaving together is an act of constraint and restriction, of offending and affecting each other. in the absolutely political world it seems the ability to forgive is important.

Hello to the forum
Name: Arshiya
Date: 2005-04-19 21:01:00
Link to this Comment: 14738

Imagine how pleasantly surprised I was to find a whole other "inside" right here on Serendip !

Nat, Orah and Anne - I think my sense of perfection is quite different from you guys. I find mine really quite external, driven by forces that have no origin within myself. Most of the time I beat myself if when I find myself being upset, angry or over-sensitive in response to someone else.

After our conversation on Friday - I left thinking a lot about my friendships, relationships at Bryn Mawr. I don't understand why there isn't any room in my relationships to talk about the "insides", the real stuff. And I don't buy this "no time, too much homeowrk". I don't think that's good enough reason for me to have spent 4 years here having related to people based on what they're eating, what movie they're watching, where they bought their earrings !

! Carpe Diem !
Name: Arshiya lo
Date: 2005-04-19 21:15:10
Link to this Comment: 14739

And to be more productive - what is the source of wanting to push people away, not wanting to talk about the "insides"? Isn't this what lasting relationships are founded on? There has to be some sort of heavy cloud hanging over this campus - what is it ?

As a senior, I'm so so sad that I'm leaving this year not having shared my insides. So,carpe diem people !

a few things...
Name: nat
Date: 2005-04-21 13:50:21
Link to this Comment: 14767

first, I am interested in hearing more or learning more about these theories of self-knowledge that you speak, Orah.

and second, Arshiya, we should talk about "insides"... It does seem superficial and drab to me the sort of talk that presides over bryn mawr. And I feel that is why I am driven to go to these talks, no matter my state of being, because I know that people are willingly adressing issues that are significant yet hidden.
I am curious for those who are able to see the Spring Dance Concert... there will be a piece titled "Bone Structure", there is something about the evolution of this piece, while choreographing it, and working on it, that I never knew would emerge now as I dance it fully aware and fully embodied in the experience. What I am curious about though, is if my "insides" during the performance are visible externally? I feel as though there are interactions between the three dancers which are undeniably affect how we each react and move forward through the dance. I feel alone, I feel free, I feel connected, I feel a mixture of so many divergent sensations during this piece. Is this apparent, do you sense it as well, as the viewer?
Having to perform all semester, for my self, for my teachers, for my friends, for my family has been a challenge, particularily because I am at a point in my life where I do not feel like performing at all. In the sense of carrying out my day, getting my work done, accomplishing things, having something to show for. My desire for a mental health day has also been denied, I refused to aknowledge at first that anything was wrong. I had to prove to myself that I was in control, that I could fix my life. It turns out that the "interdependent" nature of people, as Grobstein put it last friday, is something I have been unable to escape despite my efforts to say I don't need anyone's help. I do realize I need to talk, express, feel as much, or as little as I can in one day in order to survive and make it to the next day.

life on skin
Name: orah minde
Date: 2005-04-21 21:55:18
Link to this Comment: 14776

what you say resounds so much with what i have been feeling this semester / year and though what i feel is absolutely different than what you feel (your insides being absolutely different than my insides) it's comforting and interesting that i am inclined to use similar compressors (i.e. words) to convey the expansivness of your insides. the difficulty of performance is something i am struggling with ... performance, i think, is an act that requires audience: it is an act that depends on the other to see, hear, read etc. it depends on, and is defined, to a certain extent, by the gaze of the other. bc this dependance on other, the performed act risks losing its grounding in/sight of self ... no? as you know from other conversations, i feel that at some point i lost setness in self and am trying to backtrack (or, even better, forward-track) to a knowledge of, or, at least aerial view-of, selfness. no longer do i resent my own dependance on other, on the gaze, but, i would feel more comfortable knowing that i would still exist without this gaze, without (as jessica said two weeks ago) being actually held together by the gaze.

this idea of performance seems to be related to our talk of acheivment. maybe what we are ultimately striving to acheive is permanence of the gaze. we are naturally (?) inclined to try to escape death (?) and we think that if the gaze holds us here now then if it is prolonged death will not be able to tear us away. (i am inclined to say that idea is wrong ... that the mythology of immortality is actually not so attractive even to us youngsters ... ). but life CANNOT be about acheivment. "you can't take nothing with you but your soul" and who knows if you even get that. so it's about living YOUR life NOW and for no other time or self. maybe we spend our whole lives figuring out what that means. (it could, for some, mean finding an other who refracts you in a way that makes you more apparent to yourself.) and while we are social creatures, woven together, and therefore performers, to be able to end my life knowing that it was MY life, i think i will have to figure out how to slip from the adornments i wear for you all, leave them on a bedstand for a while. maybe that's why i toy with the idea of being pure energy ... bc body without self is adornment for other .......maybe i'll learn some time what life feels like against unadorned skin.

i can't tell you how important these refractions between us are to me ... thank you.

Date: 2005-04-21 21:57:52
Link to this Comment: 14778

usually ignore types but this one is bad:

it's comforting and interesting that i am inclined to use similar compressors (i.e. words) to convey the expansivness of MY insides.

sry bout that

on seeing oneself articulated--from the inside
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2005-04-24 18:53:02
Link to this Comment: 14800

I saw “Bone Structure” at the Spring Dance Concert Friday night, and I felt (felt, didn’t think) that I was seeing my skeleton performed. I felt as though my bones were on stage, articulating their movements. I felt them move, I felt them stretch, I heard them crack. I felt as though I’d been manipulated, had had an “adjustment.”

I was blown away by the performance: not a masquerade (in the sense we’ve been discussing in the Beauty course), as a cover/resistance/revision of the social script, but rather an expression of what we “really” are, from inside through the outside: material bodies, growing and moving. Not ”gazed” at, but rather refracted between us. Thanks, Natalie!

mental notes
Name: natalie
Date: 2005-04-25 02:01:05
Link to this Comment: 14839

I was thinking of a way to escape loneliness today… Could it be to have a gaze of “self”, which is focused, as appreciative or critical, however it may be. To be completely absorbed into the other, another person, or living thing would be empathy to the nth degree. But what if we could remain as much conscious of the self as we are of the other at the same moment in time? Would that not decrease the amount of tension we feel instinctually between structures of solitude and community?
I feel as though this bout with immortality has more to do with a society’s manner of instilling fear into the hearts of children, for they are initially fearless, invincible you could say.
And furthermore, I must ask, what is your soul then, is it a finite entity, which is unchanged? What is the point then, if we do not improve upon ourselves in this life? If we begin this life with nothing, and end it just the same, what is the purpose of a soul? How random, how purposeless is this life? We make ourselves purpose-driven out of thin air? We fathom, create greatness, strength and weakness. Does the soul hold emotion? Does it hold the emptiness of loss, and the gigantic nature of love? Or is the soul that which transcends, and therefore death in and of itself? I perused definitions of the word soul, and it varies quite a bit.
I have been given words such as “sick” or “depressed”, I have been told something is wrong. Asked, moreso “what is wrong?” After numerous incidences of my inability to explain, I say, I feel worthless, hence everything I do, produce, take part in, is worthless. Am I lying to myself? Because I don’t always feel worthless, and I don’t always “seem” worthless. But this state often fazes me. I am full of contradiction.

On Performing
Name: Arshiya
Date: 2005-04-25 15:52:57
Link to this Comment: 14850

I've been trying to wrap my head around this conversation between your guys, Orah and Natalie and I couldn't at all until Orah you said the word "performance".

Sometimes I feel like doing, saying totally inappropriate things in the most controlled environments, just because I'm curious to see how people will react. And over the years I feel I have gotten a lot closer to actually doing those things but of course there are all these things hanging over my head that prevent me - this notion that I have to "perform", behave in a way that makes me blend into the decorum of the classroom I am sitting in or eat in a way that conforms to the rest of the dining hall.

Why is it so difficult to simply let yourself go? I realize that obligations, family - those are some things but something seems to stop me even when I feel free and cut off from all obligations. It's as though there's this ROUTINE and PREDICTABILITY that keeps tying me down to my performance.

I wonder, what would it look like if we did just whatever the hell we wanted?

realizing soul now
Name: orah
Date: 2005-04-25 19:11:41
Link to this Comment: 14856

would anyone be interested in an follow up "breaking the silence" informal talk? ubar-ish style? i am.

i am also interested right now in natalie's comment on the soul (that 'smy first link try- wonder if it'll work) ... i'll suggest that there is a slight difference between 'improving the self,' self molding and 'attainment:' a clothing of the self. since life is all we know of then is it too assumptive to say that life is valuable ? at least for us, who know of nothing else. while attainment is, i think, a waste, bc it does nothing but obscure direct experience of life, there is a worthwhile molding of the self that effects the way life is experienced: the self can be molded (maybe?) in order that life can be experienced more intensely... which, i think, might be a worthwhile goal (?). this is dangerous terriotory bc one could say that there is an objective shape that the self might try to emmulate: a Good to reach. but i am not fond of objectives right now, and will assert, rather, that the self can be molded into the shape through which one experiences the world. while we cannot chose what life hits us with, we can mold ourselves to absorb its pitches in ways that will maximize the way we want to receive that which life gives. so, when i say that i am striving for a 'self perfection' i am not desiring an objective perfection, but rather, am trying to shape myself into the form through which i want to experience. is the difference clear at all???? i, too, feel FILLED with contradiction, and i am trying to untangle those contradictions so i can eventually reweave them into a patterned veil through which i intend to experience life. (yes, a loaded statement that i don't intend to unpack here and now.)

have, of late, been falling deeper and deeper and deeper into ts eliot;s mind and, as always, find him quite relevant to all discussion, or, at least, always relevant to my mind, which is this. eliot strives for absolute purification of self. he strives to step out of personality (something that obscures self from life) and veiw, from the focal, still neucleus, to which each constelation of experience relates, the pattern of self. if this pattern can be perceived then perfection can be realized in life: bc every experience is an acting out of the self and therefore is a perfection of self: each now is, therefore, also a perfect constelation of self. do we, do you think, develope self, recreate self, or eternally return in every action to that which is (and always is) self? if self is continuously recreated, i am inclined to think that there is no such thing as a self. if aspects of self are always changing than who is to say that orah at 21 is the 15 year old orah or the 80 year old orah. however, if the self is something that is acted and re-acted over and over, pattern upon pattern, throughout life, then there is something that remains through life that is orah. and THAT is what i am trying to figure out. what is it that holds me together through life. ritual is a performance of pattern. ritualistic detachment from personality might bring one to realize a purified self. as meta as all this sounds it is, i think, and eliot demonstrates, possible to live a physical life according to this philosophy, one might call it a depressed life: "sick" nor "wrong" nor "worthless"

i want to purify myself so i stop regretting and start living in the now (which is Now). i feel like i am loosing perfect life with every moment that i am kneeding myself into that which will be able to realize beauty. but it is, i know, i know, i know, too too too much for the mortal life: to realize the eternity packed into the now (which is Now), the perfect self that lives in the now (which is Now). and the perfect self passes with each passing now. (and i wonder why i can't seem to get a grip!)

on being international in the US (part 1 !!)
Name: Arshiya Ur
Date: 2005-04-26 22:56:24
Link to this Comment: 14883

I’ve wondered about which forum to post this on – first I tried the US’s role in World Community but changed my mind so here it is…

I’ve been thinking a lot about my experience as an international student at Bryn Mawr. Before I came I told myself to be really blasé about this big change I was going to just chill – it would work itself out. My first semester, I did whatever I could to run away from all the Indians on campus – I told myself I had adapted completely, I was now American in Philadelphia and Indian in Calcutta. No big deal. I had a good sense of humor and was going to laugh off anything strange that people who were curious about me were going to say. I must say that it has worked so far. I’ve never really been that angry or isolated from the rest of the Bryn Mawr community, but there are some things that I just don’t get. Most of the time, it’s humor that’s the problem! People just don’t seem to get my jokes. And jokes that everyone’s laughing at, I never find funny. As someone who relies on getting through life by laughing at it, this has been somewhat of a problem! And it’s gotten me thinking about my perceptions of Americans and their perceptions about me.

Lately, with the whole SGA/Plenary drama I started questioning whether there was something that I should be aware of, as “colored” or as a “minority”. I thought maybe there was something that all the other colored people were feeling/seeing and I was just telling myself that I had adapted. I thought a lot about the perception of my own country by people outside it. I thought about the stereotypes, talked about it in class as a case study, discussed it's socioecology and what not. I wonder how many people here have wondered about the way that the US is perceived by outsiders. I'm sure that it’s a lot of you but still let me uncover some of my confusion about my feelings about the US.

First I think that I'm faced with two (generally) kinds of people. Those that know nothing at all about the world outside this country and those that know a little, think they care and wish to romanticize. I don't really care about the people that don't know anything. But this is for those people who think they know...

I don’t want you to romanticize about my country, because I don’t. My country even, doesn’t need your romance. But my country does need you. Like all of our countries do. We need each other not only for "peace" and "joy" and "world caring" but to make sure that our borders are not infiltrated, our economies are growing and my acid rain isn't being dropped on your forests. And that’s that. This doesn’t mean that we can’t be interested in each other. I still want to talk about myself, where I am from, what fruits I like most but I’m tired of the filler questions. Let’s get on with it.

I’m also tired of the feeling I have sometimes. The feeling that makes me use/manipulate my country as a tool to get out of stuff. I’m tired of writing papers about “Indian” things simply because that’s what my professor probably knows least about and therefore can’t help but grade me well. I’m tired of describing India in my creative writing classes even though I know that my class can’t seem to get enough of it. I’m tired of the professor scribbling, “elaborate on the cultural aspect” when my story is actually about two little kids and their trip to the sweet shop.

Can we ever reach a state where I’m Indian, you’re American but we relate to each other just as people?

in response to Orah
Name: natalie
Date: 2005-04-28 00:54:20
Link to this Comment: 14926

I feel as though my response is scattered here and there, but they are thoughts nonetheless…
Funny you should mention perfecting the self through each experience. And detachment from personality, I don’t understand how that would be humanly possible and/or desirable?

I just wanted to paste a bit from something I wound up connecting to on Serendip today. It is from a lecture given by Paul on Fundamentalism and relativism

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Bendict XVI, was quoted in a New York Times article on Monday, 20 April 2005, as saying in a homily prior to his election as Pope that

"A dictatorship of relativism is being built that recognizes nothing as definite and which leaves as the ultimate measure only one's ego and desires ... Having a clear faith, according to the credo of the church, is often labeled as fundamentalism. Yet relativism, that is letting oneself by carried here and there by winds of doctrine, appears as the sole attitude good enough for modern times."

Maybe I am mentioning this because you used the word, “meta”, orah to describe your thoughts. And I wanted to reinsert some bit from the “real” world. Actually I don’t know that I really want to get into this. Because it seems to me that a person, his/her personality and the evolution thereof is a very personal thing. And the primordial soup that we witness day in and day out is people adhering to their desires and ego, regardless of external authorities.

I think I understand the difference between objective perfection, an object to which one strives to attain, or evolving perfection based on your “self” and all the inputs and outputs of the brain.
When you say ritual is a performance of pattern and that a perfected self may come about through ritualistic detachment of the self. I understand that we see patterns about our behavior which can give it reason. But if there is one thing I have been struggling with, it is detachment, the more and more I try to detach, the more intrinsically aware and closer to who I am I become.

On being international in France
Name: nat
Date: 2005-04-28 02:01:22
Link to this Comment: 14927

And in so far as continuing the “breaking the silence” talk on mental issues, I would definitely be up for that.

As for this international business…. It’s not so international when you break it down. More, inter-relational. How you relate to yourself, relate to the world, to the “other” that may or may not figure in your head. What is a nation anyway, but a large large, large, group of people relating to each other in some way, shape or form?

On being International in France

I didn’t look American, so they did not ask me about America. They asked me if I was Arab… And I was glad that I could hide this facet of me. I hated my country. I hated its policies, I hated its religious conservatism. But it is my country. Because what is my native tongue? Where did I grow up? Here in America. I am an American. An American who will move to the other country, that is New York City, Canada, Senegal as soon as possible. You can call that a cop-out if you wish. But I have a lot to sort out, and what I have been enlivened to, while abroad, in relation to and in thinking on the rest of my life before this, has been of such an impact that I am still responding is such a guttural way. An emotional way, a feminine way, a non-“constructive” way. WHAT HAVE YOU. But at least I am responding.

Arshiya I am glad you chose this forum, mainly in part because I don’t check the other one…
When I think of myself today at 1:05am on 4.27.05, I think first, where does my identity lie? Because there are planes, in which I exist today and planes tomorrow where I am not visible. I will never, or at least unless I were to cut out a piece of my heart, be able to rid myself of the history that is my family. I am a first generation Middle Eastern American. And it took me a long time for me to express this, right here in this moment, as well as throughout my past. I would have preferred to think I’m not different. There is nothing which sets me apart; I fit in just like Goldie Locks who lives next door. I beg to differ at this moment in time.

Did you post Part One of your thoughts because you are so sick and tired of explaining who you are and where you come from? It is this diversity among us, which allows the curiosity (“romanticizing”) of the “exotic” to fade, and the revelation of hard, cold reality to hit. So hard, I think it creates this feeling, the one I think you are expressing, Arshiya. My perspective is different. I know of Syria and Turkey. But I do not carry them with me, nor do I fully understand these places or the religion which dominates, or the authoritative structures which inhibit the occasion for progress. You carry India with you, and for that I think you are thankful. Furthermore, it is not innate to participate or choose to accept the confines of “minority”. But that is what you become here. I would like to say that I share that minority status with you on some level, but others would say that I am trying to relate upon flimsy claims. It is in my nature to empathize, what can I do? But I think what you want to do, is eradicate the mind of majority and minority all together? What was it, when you stood up at the discussion after the Tongue, Smell, Color dance performance on race, gender and interracial relationships, you asked the most vital and perplexing question. If we were to erase it all, erase all the conflict, memories… could we or would we be able to fathom a world without racism, without boundaries, without segregation? I probably bastardized your question, so correct me if I am wrong. I am curious with a consciousness to the past, could we eradicate these categories which demand that the exhausting terms of racism, bigotry, hypocrisy to be empty meaningless words.
I feel privy to the sorts of catch phrases, such as “race is a social construct”. Am I to infer that as an agent I am a vehicle for social change? Since we are ever-changing and feel compelled to chart this course along some sort of fallible timeline of life-living we have also constructed. Or could it be, race is a social construct and therefore, we are stuck in it, so to speak. We are social beings, as Anne said today, in our last Evolution of Stories class. We live in relation to one another. We are interdependent, as Paul said at the Breaking the Silence talk, a few weeks back. We cannot escape the world we live in, and the “beginning” and the “end” are very sketchy categories, so when we cannot start the story nor end it, we are left somewhere in-between. And as meaning-making machines, (oops, am I not supposed to refer to myself as such?) we do not particularly like “in-between”. Unless you are like Arshiya or I think me too, and you have a knack for masochistic, non-solipsistic behavior.
In any case, referring back to the question of Arshiya’s that I re-posed. I stood up that night, after you left and said no; power and money always get in the way of such idealistic reveries. I think that the cyclical nature of the human condition and the natural world around us would allude to the inevitability of repetition.

Part II
Name: Arshiya Ur
Date: 2005-04-29 01:53:04
Link to this Comment: 14943

Thanks Nat!

First let me clarify some things that I realized I may have mumbled through in my posting.

I do agree that it’s all inter-relational; international is just a political term for describing national boundaries.

I’m not sick and tired of explaining where I come from, but I am sick and tired of wanting to use this “Indian” label as a tool for doing less work in my classes. I don’t know what this means and I think it’s always been a very unconscious part of my academic life. But I guess I realized it this semester because my head is full of stuff that I haven’t pretended to be interested in. This is veering off at a tangent but I’m going to go for it ! I’ve pretended to be interested for such a large part of my academic life. So much has been so uninspired. I’m still in the process of figuring out why that is – perhaps I push myself too hard or perhaps my insides have been too unsettled for me to feel comfortable being adventurous or taking risks academically. I don’t think I created any intentional blocks or closed doors to learning – quite the contrary but still the uninspiration has been there – only gone away recently. Perhaps an analyst wandering through this forum might care to psychoanalyze my behavior!

What I am angry somewhat about is this notion of romance associated with different places. I’ve traveled a lot and I know how romantic new places can be so I guess I sort of identify with this. But it really makes me angry talking about places in contexts where romance is just stupid and meaningless. Like the tsunami – western countries pouring in buckets of money to help poor kids that they will never see. Not for a second do people donating money stop and questions whether money is what people need. It made me sick that Bryn Mawr was having a charity karaoke fund-raiser. I don’t know it seemed sick that’s the only word I can use. The solution seemed so simple. People would sing, people would pay money, the money would go to UNICEF and then hopefully (but by this time the organizers of the fundraiser have no control) go to help some poor kid in some vague way. Why didn’t any one ask whether UNICEF was the best place to give the money? Why didn’t the organizers research to find out that 80% of the money you donate to UNICEF goes to cover administrative costs in the offices and not directly to children. Why didn’t people think that money might not have been the thing that people needed most? Over the winter break when the tsunami hit, a bunch of us started gathering things that the people in coastal areas might need, medicine, blankets, grains... The Red Cross stopped accepting cash donations within a week of the tsunami. There was simply too much money and very little infrastructure to channel it into the right hands. There were inexperienced people handling way way more money than they could manage. Why did the charity fundraiser become something fashionable for people to do on a Saturday night? This is what upsets me. The world doesn’t need people to sit around their dining tables and discuss tragedies. The word doesn’t need unnecessary romance. We need activists – people who will get up and go and find out what’s happening before they decide to donate half their savings account. I don’t see this as a “cold, hard reality”. But I do see it as genuine and informed care for people elsewhere in the world.

I think idealism is different from romance though. I am really quite interested in how the world would be if you erased our brains of memory or history. I realize this because there are so many things that people in this country worry about that I can’t relate to at the same level because I don’t have their histories. I can erase my brain of black-white but can all of you? It’s an idealistic idea, I know. But I think it’s a relevant one. It’s an idea that makes me realize perhaps how difficult it is to let go of history

I can’t help but carry India with me – she is as much a part of my identity as the kinds of books I read or music I listen to. But I do feel this “lack”, this gap that I am annoyed by. I am confused and annoyed because I don’t understand why I feel unable to cross this trench and relate to people beyond me being Indian and them being Japanese. And this makes me question the usefulness/inclusiveness of culture.

This is an unrelated thought – but it’s what I’m thinking of so… A professor once said to me “let it rip”. She was talking about letting my mind wander and really go crazy with describing all the sensory details in a story. But I’ve begun to apply it to my life in general. It inspires me to really just let whatever I’m thinking about “rip”!

Gender and Science
Name: Arshiya Ur
Date: 2005-04-29 16:16:50
Link to this Comment: 14991

Post inspired by Brown Bag:

My education prior to Bryn Mawr has always been co-ed. It was the kind of school where for the most part there were no differences between girls and boys and there were as many "brainy" girls as there were boys (and our brainy-ness was almost always judged by how good the kid was at math, physics something sciency.)

Yet I found myself in situations where I was bullied by the boys - and I gave it back to them as often as I could, but went home feeling defeated. Most of the time it was just kid stuff - making fun of each other - who got the the quiz right - and so on. But I do think that this feeling of defeat has some thing to do with the inherent way that boys growing up think of girls. I am not saying that men need to accommodate women, not at all, but men need to interact with women without any expectations of what she is going to say or do. Just like the way I interact with men - wihtout any expectations.

I always found myself caught right between these gender stereotypes. Everyone could see I wasn't a boy - but I was never the girly girl. I remember being the only girl in the cricket team in the 5th grade. And perhaps it's just me - and that I wasn't good enough - but I remember walking off the field with bruises all over me because I'd been whacked by a cricket ball all morning. I don't know what kind of message I took home with me that day. 1) The boys are mean and arrogant and treat girls badly 2) I'm really not as good a cricket player as they are. Both are horrible. And after a while, it happened with each sport. I could play soccer with the boys till the 7th grade - but after that they made their own team and I wasn't in it.

I'm not sure where I am now with gender differences. In Bryn Mawr it doesn't seem to matter whether someone is male or female. And it's difficult to talk about classes at Haverford because I don't like Haverford in general - and it has nothing to do with boys. But I wonder how I would respond to my old class boys. Would I still feel less able? I certainly hope not. And I don't think I will. I don't know whether it has been Bryn Mawr or just that I've grown up a little and realize that I am good no matter what men think of me. But on my last day of class, I can't help but wonder how my life is going to be from now on.

Social Class in College
Name: alisa
Date: 2005-07-11 12:25:07
Link to this Comment: 15404

i have skimmed through the previous posts, and i hope this isnt dredging up a topic that you all have covered already, but with all the talk about diversity, there appears to be an obvious gap in terms of class. As a graduate student here, im curous if BMC is the type of place where class is openly discussed, or if its treated as a dirty word...

insensitivity to issues of class?
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2005-07-11 22:23:38
Link to this Comment: 15437

thanks for stopping by and asking your question. Social class comes up often in our Friday afternoon discussions about diversity. Our last session this past spring semester was on Interactions Between Race and Class on Campus; you can read an account of that conversation--which addresses, among other things, the "lack of class sensitivity" at Bryn Mawr--@

What are your experiences in this arena, and thoughts about your experiences, as a graduate student at the college?

Name: alisa
Date: 2005-07-14 13:35:11
Link to this Comment: 15513

as a graduate student, i am exploring working class values in my research, but as an undergrad at swarthmore, and coming from a working class background myself, i saw people bend over backwards in order to talk about race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, but never class.

i remember specifically sitting with members of a poverty awareness group, and everyone was asked why they wanted to volunteer. each person had some sort of charitable reason, to help those less fortuntate, which is wonderful. but here i was, the only person who had family on welfare and experience with a mother working three jobs to support me. it was quite jarring.

Greetings ...
Name: Serendip
Date: 2005-08-25 14:41:16
Link to this Comment: 15918

Welcome. Glad you've stopped by. This is a place for public conversation, for informal sharing of thoughts with others. Think of it as a place to notice, celebrate, enjoy, and learn from both our similarities and our differences.

You can find here thoughts and stories by others that might be useful to you, and leave here thoughts and stories of your own that you think might be useful to others. Remember that its "informal"; no one will criticize your writing (that's off limits here). And don't worry if what you have to say isn't your final thought about something. There aren't any "final" thoughts here, only thoughts-in-progress, the kind of continuing exchange that we all need from each other to help our own individual thoughts develop.

Remember also that its "public". Its not only people from Bryn Mawr who might drop by but people from anywhere in the world. Developing rich and supportive communities among diverse individuals is an important challenge not only here but worldwide. So we can learn from what other people's experiences and they from ours.

Curious about what people talked about last year? Have a look. Hope you too are excited about seeing what we can make here together this year.

freedom to not identify...?
Date: 2005-09-11 19:18:19
Link to this Comment: 16090

Thanks to all who came and participated in the first of our Friday noon discussions about "Making Sense of Diversity." You'll now find one summary of the conversation available on Women's Roles 'Round the World, as well as a warm invitation to continue the discussion here. As I completed the summary, for instance, I found myself intrigued with the possibility voiced just at the end of our conversation: that one of the accomplishments of feminism might actually be the freedom "not to wear the identity of woman."

Not identifying
Name: Christophe
Date: 2005-09-13 10:50:34
Link to this Comment: 16117


You commented that "one of the accomplishments of feminism might actually be the freedom 'not to wear the identity of woman.'" While that may be true, it depresses me. I see a similar pattern arise among young queer folk--things have changed so that one does not have to identify with the group in the same way when there was unyielding oppression.

I think it actually helps the power structure for women not to want to see a commonality of fate among all women. Then women will simply themselves as "individuals" and not coalesce to fight oppression.


Name: betsy
Date: 2005-09-15 10:37:46
Link to this Comment: 16164

Hi Chris and Anne,
I see your point Chris and at times I too worry about the next generation sort of spinning into individualism especially with the reliance on instant messaging and cell phones so you stay connected yet "remotely" connected.
For me the statement is more closely tied to gender and the social construction of "woman." If I am a woman then I am female and then I am this or that, but always tied back to what is connected to woman.
If I may indulge at a personnal level. There was a very freeing moment for me last spring after an Amy Ray concert when she spoke of our high school roots and how we come to terms with our gender and sexuality. Driving home the next day my partner said to me something along the lines that she feels that for me it is a struggle to wear the label of woman and all the expectations that go with that label when it is not who I am. I felt like some huge load was lifted from my being. Call me a late bloomer- hey I was born and raised and still live in Lancaster County home of the future creationist museum.
The thought that it was okay to maybe identify with traits and characteristics not associated with the label I had as biological woman was overwhelming. This probably doesn't make sense and sounds a bit wacky, and it is something that I am still processing and looking at yet
it hasn't changed my desire to promote women's rights or equity, or enjoy the company of women, love women, be around women, laugh with women, cry with women...while at the same time not have to wear the social construction of "woman."
It seems that in these "W" times that we are fighting for our existence, especially in the gay and lesbian community, lured out of the closet in the Clinton years and now fearful in the Bush years.
Comic Kate Clinton: "What the gay outsurgency got this election was not the Freedom to Marry, but the Freedom to Mary Cheney - to be cute and mute, and respected back into the closet." But.."That a thirty five year old gay identity movement can so threaten a 2005 year old Christian identity movement, though, is the good news."
And how lucky we are to sit in the multicultural center and multiculturate.
(which may be a word found only in the George W. Bush Dictionary!)

Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2005-09-16 08:50:27
Link to this Comment: 16172


can you explain a little more? I'm trying to piece together the

desire to promote women's rights or equity, or enjoy the company of women, love women, be around women, laugh with women, cry with women...while at the same time not have to wear the social construction of "woman."

Haven't all those things you like to do become what a woman IS? Or are you saying that you want to get rid of the category (the word) altogether, as a description of what-and-who we are, because what it HAS meant limits who-and-what-we-CAN be?

Date: 2005-09-16 14:04:00
Link to this Comment: 16177

hey Anne,
it's more the get rid of or begin to teach a different meaning of the word "woman" to be less black and white...and therefore limiting in what you can and cannot do and or be. It would be the same for the word man.

I dont see MY diversity
Name: Camille
Date: 2005-09-17 09:48:45
Link to this Comment: 16180

I have really enjoyed reading your comments. It is wonderful for me to find a forum where things are really talked about, because of some day-to-day issues slapping me in the face right now. I am trying to understand points of view before acting. I will definitely be back. So many thoughts have crossed my mind as I read, and being somewhat new to forum protocals and basics, my desire has been to jump in verbally right then. But, I follow through the train of thought posted and lose my inspired moment! I awoke thinking of seeds of conflict, and the need for solutions rather than perfectly formed theories to explain! And yes, I understand that there can be steps toward solution in the explanation...sometimes. People, in my life view, have purpose, and as I understand conflict/resolution I must BE my part. Diversity, in my world and purpose now, involves conflict/resolution but must move beyond that. I actually began exploring this site with that goal. But, it occurs to me as a ponder what I have read, that on several levels, large parts of who I am are not represented at all. This makes me very hesitant to risk sharing that information at this time. I wonder, are certain points of view (we are, after all, diverse because of our points of reference) considered too radical, ignorant, or politically incorrect to try to understand without judging the individual evil? To those who are irritated by errors in presentation, my abject apologies!

representing those parts not represented
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2005-09-25 14:52:23
Link to this Comment: 16288

Thanks for coming by, Camille; I hope you know that, in this space, no points of reference are considered too radical, ignorant, or politically incorrect to try to understand, and that you are most welcome to represent here those parts of who you are that are not represented.

That was actually one of the themes of the in-person conversation we held here last Friday afternoon about the experiences of "straddlers," students from blue collar families who cross socio-economic and cultural divides when they come to college in pursuit of "white collar dreams." It was clear in that conversation that the different cultural associations and knowledge of working class students are positive features: potential contributions to, extensions and enrichments of the culture we all share.

speaking like a lady/not
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2005-10-01 10:22:18
Link to this Comment: 16403

What struck me most, in our good discussion yesterday noon about diversity and self-governance, was the sense of exclusion that arises because we have different forms of speaking--in particular, different ways of expressing our hurt and anger. I said, at the end of the conversation, that Serendip's on-line forums provide a particularly good place for thinking-and-talking-outloud, where such different ways of speaking have more leeway (because, on-line, you are not watching other people's reactions to what you say, or how you say it). People can make use of the 'disconnection' of the web to allow new thoughts and questions to arise that might not be in direct contact with others.

Maybe we can use this forum to help us move beyond some of the "lady-like politeness" of Bryn Mawr traditions, into more diverse forms of speaking with one another? Forms that both express and respect a variety of ways of speaking?


disordering food
Name: orah minde
Date: 2005-10-21 16:40:48
Link to this Comment: 16579

thanks all for the talk today.
I appreciate so much the emanicipation quality that these diversity discussion tend to foster. in terms of eating disorders it's important that people who have issues with food to be able to speak. i think, however, that we are inclined to equate "issues with food" to "eating disorder" ... i think, rather, that everyone has a relationship with food and i perpetually find myself wanting to hear about eating relationships that are not categorized in the "disordered" sphere. while it is important to be aware of the manifestations of disordered eating, and helpful to hear recovery stories, i find myself wanting to hear from people who do not consider their relations with food disordered: in such a society how do you relate to food?

while a relationship with food might not becharacterized 'disordered' bc it does not manifest in the ACT of eating, one may still have a disordered relationship with food. i wonder if we are taught anymore how to have POSITIVE relationships with food and calories ... i've been taught to hate calories since the fifth grade ... do i even know how to appreciate them? it's ironic (no?) that calories are DEMONIZED: i don't think there is a more hated character in american discourse ... and, yet, what are calories? energy to live. paradoxical, no?

anyways, while ppl wth disorders are called from the closet to share their stories, I am summon those who do not have disorders to join in the talk ... how is it for you to be an eating creature (=living creature) in this world? society? while you do not identify as having a "sick" relationship with food, would you call it a thriving marriage? what is your life story in relation to food?

I look forward to listening-

diverse kinds of eating
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2005-10-29 16:23:27
Link to this Comment: 16691

The home page for "making sense of diversity" says that the objective ... is clear: a social and political system that...assures that community actions reflect the wisdom inherent in the assortment of perspectives made available by ...differences. The talk given by Becky Thompson last Thursday night, "A Thousand Hungers: A Multiracial View of Eating Problems and Recovery," offered a particularly telling example of this process. Dr. Thompson described the conventional understanding of eating disorders, which have focused on the experiences of affluent white girls, as arising from issues about body image: young women watch themselves being watched. Having conducted interviews with all sorts of different women about their eating, Thompson suggested that eating might better be described as "a sane response to an insane world," a kind of self-care that can be much less destructive than say, self-cutting or getting high. (It is the world, not the eater, which is "disordered.") Shifting the perspective, collecting a wide variety of points of view, changes--and enlarges--the story being told, makes it less about our fears of how we are "seen," and more about ways we are experimenting with acting in the world.

In other words: good diversity work.

all action is political action
Name: Paul Grobstein
Date: 2005-11-13 11:43:46
Link to this Comment: 16944

Thanks all, both facilitators and participants, for rich conversation last Friday. Some thoughts that came out of it for me, and anyone else who might find them useful ...

There are both benefits and costs to the idea that "all action is political action". On the plus side, it is an important acknowledgement of our existence as physical/biological entitities. We cannot act (or speak) without impacting others (humans and otherwise). That action/speech inevitably has consequences is an unavoidable aspect of the human condition, and one worth bearing in mind not only for that reason but also because it is a reminder that we all ARE causal agents in the circumstances in which we find ourselves (cultural and otherwise). Some measure of both power and responsibility is inherent in existence, no matter how much we might at times feels powerless. And no matter how much at times we forget one or the other or both or prefer not to acknowledge them.

On the minus side, "all action is political action" can be experienced as an enormous burden, as an internalization of all those people who are watching one and passing judgement on one, as an inability to get away and be one's self without having to constantly be aware of one's actions and their significance for others. This is not only uncomfortable but itself a threat to the positive features of "all action is political action": being hounded constantly by a perceived need to justify every action one takes in terms of its impact on others is more likely to paralyze one than to enhance one's function as a causal agent.

Hence the argument for a useful distinction between "personal" and "political" (which, yes, I first became interested in because of Anouilh's play about Thomas Beckett and the movie made from it; dead white males are certainly not the source of all wisdom but can nonetheless still sometimes come up with something useful). Yes, all action/speech has consequences but not all action/speech is done with the intention of producing social change. That which is not I would argue is "personal" and should be treated differently (both in ourselves and in others) than action/speech that is intended to produce social change. One should permit (perhaps even encourage) oneself (and others) to act/speak "personally", of/for onself, without it being seen/heard as an effort to alter either others or the social/cultural frameworks within which we all live (despite the fact that it indeed might). Without acknowledgement of the "personal" we would live in a world of watchdogs and be ones ourselves, and both we and our societies/cultures would be much the poorer for the inevitable loss of individual variation/diversity.

In these terms, it is/has always been undesirable for people acting "personally" in ways different from cultural norms to be be treated by others as making a "political" statement. And groups of people facing this problem may well decide that to counter it there is, in fact, a need for "political" speech/action, aimed at changing the behavior of others, because others have made the personal "political". This has happened again and again in human (and American) history, and each such struggle needs and deserves support, both in its own terms and as a part of a broader struggle to bring to create cultures that maximize support for individual variation/diversity.

Its for this latter reason that I think it particularly important not to abandon the distinction between "political" and "personal". One may find oneself compelled to undertake political action in order to defend the personal, but one oughtn't to forget that it IS the personal that created the need for the political, and that the broader struggle is one of trying to create human cultures in which all individuals are able to decide for themselves what is personal and what is political.

Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2005-11-14 23:50:56
Link to this Comment: 16989

Since I was the one who--trailing the 60's in my wake--insisted last Friday afternoon that the personal is political, I want to try and lay alongside the previous post a somewhat different way of understanding the problem--and a different possible (more interactional and relational) answer.

For starters, I take "politics," as we took it in last Friday's discussion about The Politics of Sexual Orientation, to mean "having an impact on others." I agree (of course) that our actions cannot but have consequences. And I would say it follows necessarily that--whatever our intentions--the personal is inevitably political.

What really puzzles me is the insistence, here, on the importance of "intention." I gave over a good part of last month to Anthony Appiah's multiple seminars and lectures about "the end of ethics." Though my sense was that Appiah himself finally "ducked" the philosophical implications of the psychological experiments he described in such detail, he did quite usefully describe multiple examples of our not knowing what we are doing--or why we are doing it. Much of our knowledge is tacit.

So: if we act--mostly--without understanding why we are acting; if we don't know ourselves very well--and can't know others' intentions any better, I'm puzzled by the need to make "intentionality" such an important line in the sand. I might intend to alter others' behavior directly by (say) forming a political action group. But it's certainly possible (I'd say actually more likely) that I will change others' behaviors (not to mention my own) by unintentionally going about my business, tending my garden, engaging in random conversation with whomever passes by.

I don't know why I do most of what I do. And I certainly can't know what will influence others to chose one particular action over another (think of all the failed attempts at parenting, of trying to raise children to have a certain character or disposition which happens not to be the one they either possess or desire). In fact, the harder I try to influence someone else to move in any particular direction, probably the less successful I will be.

So: I don't at all think it's the case that, unless we preserve a space for the personal, we will "live in a world of watchdogs and be ones ourselves." Another place to draw the line in the sand (if one need be drawn; I'm still not convinced it's necessary) would be not before politicizing the personal, but afterward. That is: acknowledge that all acts have social consequences, that we are inevitably related to--and have effects on--everything else on this planet, but we can also decide NOT to be bound or guided by anticipating others' reactions to what we do.

To say that the claim that "all action is political" can mean being watched, being judged, feeling the need to justify--and so to be paralyzed--is of course one possible way to experience the inevitably political repercussions of the personal. But there are other ways, explored for the past few decades in particular by feminist scholars who (for instance) replaced an obsession with "the male gaze" with the look of "attentiveness." That sort of work draws on the tacit notion that what we are looking at may not be what we are attending to (how often have you looked in one direction, while actually noticing changes taking place somewhere else?). It's a very different sort of look: curious about what's up, but neither controlling or policing what's happening. And it's a look that, as political beings, we can learn.

stories by a reluctant political actor
Name: Ann
Date: 2005-11-16 10:56:18
Link to this Comment: 17017


How would you define "personal?" Paul's comments seem to define it as "action/speech [which] is [not] done with the intention of producing social change." Anne's comments find the political in the personal, even without intention. So I ask, is the personal the same as privacy? (Recall that the Supreme Court has found an implicit right to privacy which is the underpinning for rulings establishing the right to an abortion and striking down sodomy laws.)

What makes sense to me is defining the personal as privacy: your thoughts, feelings, identity, and what you do and say in your home are personal matters, and should be outside of the sphere of the state. Yet Paul's distinction seems utopian; identity, not just action/speech, IS the business of the state and its laws in the Unites States today:

Story 1: A person loves someone of the same sex. Is that personal or political? I would say personal, but it's ramifications are political so it's a political act too.

Story 2. A person loves someone of the same sex and they have sex in a private home. Personal or political? (This was against the law until 2 years ago.)

Story 3. A person loves someone of the same sex and they try to rent an apartment together. Personal or political? (It's legal to deny renting to them based on who they are.)

Story 4. A person is not in a relationship of any kind, but is gay and works for a living. Personal or political? (It's legal to fire them based on who they are.)

Paul's assertion that there *should* be a distinction between the personal and political is fine, but so long as there is discrimination against a minority, any minority, the personal will necessarily be political for the minority whose *identity* is politicized by the majority. If you are born to a minority, you do not have a choice of what culture you are born to, and what politics you are born to. Your life and your identity, whether you want it to be or not, is defined as political by the majority.

It is a luxury of the entitled majority to live a personal life without it being political (eg life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness). I would suggest to you that yes, the personal/ political distinction is a worthy goal. Tell it to the people who choose to be the watchdogs of society at the expense of the minority.

Getting Honest About BMC Diversity
Name: Annabella
Date: 2005-12-05 19:52:02
Link to this Comment: 17314

In reference to Mr. Taylor's wish that his donation be used to work "for the comfort and advanced education and care of young women or girls of the higher classes of society."

What a fascinating subject.
I am sure that honoring his wish is not something we want to do, and I
think his intent is very clear. So perhaps the first thing we need to
do in order to keep our own side of the street clean on this one is to
aknowledge that we are not interested in fulfilling his dream.

If we simply try to redefine the word "class" and move on pretending that we are honoring his wish through the art of redefinition, we will know that we are not honoring his wish, and yet we will be trying to appear as if we are. This is tantamount to lying; not a good idea for any institution, particularly one that prides itself on integrity.

Reading what Mr. Taylor said, it becomes clear that Bryn Mawr has
roots steeped in specialization, not diversity. So our conflict regarding
diversity is that as long as we are trying to honor those roots, and
be diverse as well, it will never be real. You can not work "for the
comfort and advanced education and care of young women or girls of the higher classes of society" and be diverse at the same time.

We need to come clean about our roots, aknowledge them, be grateful that they grew this fine institution, and proclaim that we are changing direction with regards to them. The proclamation will then clear the way for concise action toward true diversity.

Until we become clear about this, all of our diversity movement will be merely cosmetic, and our minority students will call us on it, as well they should. Once we establish that he came from another place in time, and that our current goals are different than his were, we can adjust how we interpret "class" and use his gift to educate those who stand out, in all classes of socitey, for the betterment of life for all of us. Then we can go forward honestly and make real change without the added weight of pretending to be doing something we are not.

Furthermore until some sort of proclamation is made regarding change
of direction, real change in this area will not take place, because of
our attachment to our roots.

on the need for uncomfortable spaces
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2006-01-23 08:33:55
Link to this Comment: 17745

I want to thank Chris and Nell--and the students they asked to speak about their praxis experiences--for Friday's rich discussion, which for me was very much about the diversity that underlies the best of education. I had attended, earlier in the week, a discussion about "misinformation networks", in which it was asserted that human beings are inclined to seek--not what will expand their knowledge base, not what is new and different from what they already know--but rather simply confirmation for what they already believe. I was disturbed by that claim (and found it cynical); this conversation helped remind me that there are forms of educating going on here, which involve a continuous moving into unknown (and therefore) uncomfortable spaces. As someone said in our discussion, "I have to be uncomfortable in that space--I have to learn it."

against "freedom"
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2006-02-22 18:05:01
Link to this Comment: 18292

I wanted to record here a bit of conversation that took place last Friday @ noon, just before we started talking about whether we are what we do. A number of us who had gathered together for that conversation had also attended, the evening before, the talk given here by Rebecca Walker. I said that watching Walker step away from the podium, listening to her go "off-script," being aware that she was taking the time for long pauses before answering a question were for me awfully effective enactments of the "freedom" she was talking about--

but that actually? I do not believe in freedom. I think we have choices--we always have choices; we can always move. But I think we make those moves within constraints that sometimes are themselves not moveable.

Adaptability. Responsiveness. Responsibility. Yes.
But freedom, no.
We are NOT what we do--AND we can not do everything.
The choices are not infinite.

On the other hand...
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2006-03-15 09:58:30
Link to this Comment: 18533

I was--and continue to be--troubled by the sort of conversation we held the Friday before break, about perceptions of the other. We catalogued that afternoon the wide range of stereotypes we pass around about Haverford--but didn't @ all begin to ask why we so seem to need an other, and/or why we construct our "other" w/ such a particular shape and texture ("trying to get into BMC by the back door," "trying to take HC men," "trying to..."). What are we saying--just what are we doing, when we create foils which reflect ourselves back to ourselves in such a way?

belief--vs. disbelief?
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2006-04-20 23:21:41
Link to this Comment: 19111

I've just put up the summary of last Friday's diversity conversation about "the perils and potentials of belief." I noticed a paired set of claims operating in tension throughout our discussion:

Further thoughts, anyone? Any beliefs to share?

Forum Archived
Name: Webmaster
Date: 2006-10-05 13:01:23
Link to this Comment: 20621

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