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Intersectionality in Bryn Mawr

Bryn Mawr College is a diverse, multinational, historically all women’s institution that is the home to hundreds of dynamic individuals. The school proclaims its liberal ideals and presents students with the tools to form a moral conscience as well as values of respect and sister/brotherhood among its members. During the previous month, these open-minded and compassionate goals have, for the most part, held true, but the divides in race, sexuality, and nationality, unfortunately, have not been completely eradicated. The evidence of these differences has created barriers between subgroups of students creating a sense of isolation. How do students as part of the Bryn Mawr community transcend these distinctions of identity through the contact zone and form relationships with the “uncommon friend.”  Through intersectionality and a reformation of the community as inclusive and supportive, students can create an environment that fosters a social setting involving all of its students. 

Investigating three aspects of the communities identity, race, sexuality, and nationality, we will seek a deeper understanding of the students attending Bryn Mawr and awareness of Bryn Mawr as a contact zone. The Social life (friendships) in the campus based on these factors of identity as well. Marginalized for decades of the school history, student of color have often found resources within a sub-community such as Sisterhood, Las Mujeres, BACaSO, etc. These groups offer students a “Safe House” defined by Pratt as a “homogeneous, sovereign communities with high degrees of trust, shared understandings, temporary protection from legacies of oppression.” For example, faced with micro-aggression a queer woman of color can find safe haven, in a group like Zami and Rainbow alliance, and be unburdened with the knowledge that there are other queer women of color who are accessible and eager to offer advice. Something libertarian about the students at Bryn Mawr is that upon meeting people the courtesy is to ask the preferred pronouns that the individual identifies with. Similarly, twenty five percent of the school demographics are composed of international students from 59 countries with unique cultures and customs. Affinity groups like AIS, CCSA,  and South Asian Students.  

Four key question will be used to acquire this understanding: How does Bryn Mawr affects our identities and vise versa? How do international/queer/other students feel within the community? Why do contact zones even at a liberal arts, progressive institution tend to cause culture clash? How does the contact zone in Bryn Mawr reflects the contact zone in the world at large? 

The methodology for our project will be conducted primarily through interviews with leaders of affinity groups, randomly picked people with different aspects of identities: races, nationalities and sexual orientations about their feelings and lives in Bryn Mawr. Questionnaires will be designed and handed out to students. By analyzing the interviews and datas from questionnaires, we can obtain the answers for the four key questions mentioned before, which will be the true means of our project that aiming to define a tangible way in which Bryn Mawr students can form healthy relationships with peers and come to understand and appreciate the differences.



Anne Dalke's picture

Cathy and Toni--
I’m struck, first, by your description of the “uncommon friend.” What does that mean, and what does it gesture toward? I’m struck, second, by your claim that “the divides in race, sexuality, and nationality, unfortunately, have not been completely eradicated.” Do you feel they can be? That this should be a goal? I’m intrigued, third, by your identifying the cultural groups as “safe houses.” I’m wondering how safe and how inclusive these groups are. (Does ASA welcome Asian and Asian American students equally? Does BACaSO attend equally to African and Caribbean students? Does AIS address the needs of all international students, or is it directed mostly towards one group?) And what about intersectionality? Where are students who are working on expressing all of their identities finding comfort? Are organizations focused on racial identity equally welcoming of all sexualities? Do religious groups discriminate on that basis? Why do you think it “libertarian” to begin all conversations here by asking for preferred pronouns? Mightn’t that fix us, gender-wise, insisting that this one particular dimension of ourselves be attended to first and foremost, perhaps making some folks uncomfortable to have that foregrounded in such a visible/audible way?

Your four key questions are pretty general; I’d like to nudge you to make them more focused on individual experiences (rather than the too-large-@-this-point “Why do contact zones cause culture clash?” I’d say that Pratt says that contact ones presume culture clash, which is why we need to develop “arts” of negotiating them, of translating across difference). I’ll be interested to hear how you plan to select your interviewees (random can translate into folks you happen to know—how generalizable will that knowledge be?). I’m also wondering if you might talk w/ either Vanessa or Stephanie @ “The Pensby Center for Community Development and Inclusion,” which is tasked with implementing “programs and activities that address issues of diversity, power and privilege, including but not limited to race, ethnicity, country of origin, class, gender, sexual orientation, religious affiliation and disability.” It might be interesting to compare the experiences of various students with the ways in which these administrators see, and attempt to address, the questions that interest you.