To the Hollywood Foreign Press,
I came into college with the mentality that designing your own major only made sense if employment wasn’t something you were concerned with at all; maybe your parents have tons of Wall Street connections, or you have a trust fund because your dad invented clap-on lighting, or you have a foolproof method of alluring a rich, dying older spouse. Point is, it didn’t really make sense to me, so I didn’t really think about it until my junior year. By then, my understanding of the point of a liberal arts education had shifted to one significantly more open-minded, and I began to regret never having considered a self-designed major as an option for me. Truthfully, any B.A. is equally worthless if you don’t develop a skillset and learn how to market it. Your major is only one part of the game, and if you play the rest of it well, what you major in doesn’t really matter as long as it’s something you’re passionate about that helps you grow as a thinker. That’s how I ended up designing a second major to complement my primary major in Marginalized Community Studies, or MCS. Abbreviations are a fun and exciting way to alienate all of your friends and relatives. (note: I’ve since rebranded this major to the much less wordy “Social Exclusion!”)
I came up with my second major when I started thinking about all of the classes I’ve taken throughout college, and I noticed that many of them touch on ideas of Otherness (in regard to majority versus minority identities), erasure, and intersectionality (the interconnectedness of seemingly separate social categories like race, sexuality, class, and ability). So I found an advisor, wrote up a proposal, and voila! I’d like to add that I was told that getting a self-designed major approved in your second-to-last semester is challenging because the committee has to be confident you aren’t just coming up with something random comprised of a bunch of classes you happened to take, so I was pretty geeked it worked out. I’ve explored these aforementioned themes through courses in linguistics, gender, sexuality, and women’s studies, English literature, government, Africana studies, Arabic studies, and Italian studies. While doing so, I’ve studied films, novels, poetry, artwork, textbooks, academic papers, blog posts, personal essays, and probably other mediums that aren’t coming to mind at the moment. Throughout taking many courses completely separate in theme and style, I’ve found ways to draw connections between them that have contributed immensely to my understanding of marginalization in its many manifestations.
For example, I learned a great deal about environmental racism in Environmental Politics, which I hadn’t been exposed to very much at all beforehand. The effects of environmental racism can be seen in how low-income, minority communities often bear the brunt of eco-unfriendly practices due to disproportionate distributions of nearby eco hazards like landfills and toxic waste sites. Neighborhood placement is also a factor: for example, the pre-existing racial segregation of neighborhoods in New Orleans made it so minority residents were more likely to inhabit low-lying areas, which left them in greater danger of Hurricane Katrina’s effects back in 2005. Add the fact that minority populations are less likely to own cars and consequently struggled to escape in comparison to majority white communities, and suddenly the city’s failure to provide sufficient transit for evacuation reads as racist, regardless of intentions. I’m fascinated by the less obvious ways that systems of oppression manifest themselves, like this one, and now I can’t think about the often neutrally-labeled, abstract issue of ‘the environment’ without considering how it relates to marginalized peoples.
So yeah, interconnectivity is my jam. I guess it makes sense since my own identity has never felt simple to me. I can’t just be black, or queer, or Latino on any given day. We discussed this a lot in Queers of Color Critique, which was a life-changing course for me in which all of the readings were by and about queer people of color. My identities interact with one another in affecting how people perceive and treat me, and when you try to see me as only one thing, you aren’t really acknowledging the complexity of who I am and how that’s been shaped by societally ingrained forms of hatred like racism, anti-Blackness, homophobia, and misogyny; and yes, misogyny affects us all, because hatred of women extends to hatred of all femininity.
What I’m saying feels simple and logical to me, but I’m also pretty aware that a lot of people both outside of and within academia don’t understand it, and that’s okay. I want to make it easier. That’s why I write poetry and posts like this. I think we learn about people best by hearing them out, observing their art, and engaging. So many people insist that issues like racism do not exist despite the fact that A. its existence is backed by data, and B. many people everywhere tell the exact same stories of racist encounters, as if that type of data isn’t as valuable as any other type. Or, they dismiss concepts like microaggressions as PC nonsense rather than actually damaging acts that add up over time. I don’t believe that. I believe people. I believe that a lot of social injustices are in place that make living life harder for some people than others by virtue of the body they’re born into. But I also think we can change these things if we fearlessly try to deconstruct systems of inequality, consider the interactivity of all things, and try harder to really understand those who endure oppression. Oh, and if someone tells you they’re being targeted unfairly, just listen. Chances are they aren’t making it up, and they probably also aren’t the first person to be targeted in that way.
Here’s what I’ve taken for the major so far if you’re curious (41 credits):
ARAB 150W: Understanding the Arab World Through Film
ANTH 202: Intro to Cultural Anthropology
GSWS 290: Intro to LGBTIQ Studies
GSWS 390: Queers of Color Critique
AFST 311: African-American History to Emancipation
AFST 321: Women in Africa & the Diaspora
ITAL 316: 20th Century Italian Women Writers
ENGL 416: Transgender Fictions
ENGL 417: Portuguese India: Lost Texts, Found Worlds
LING 308: Language and Culture
LING 406: Language and Society
GOV 391: Environmental Politics & Policy
GOV 391: Race & Politics
PHYS 481: Gender & Race in the Physical Sciences
CRWR 482: Independent Study in Poetry, with a Focus on Marginalized Poets
Buy A Seat at the Table on iTunes,