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Essay: “Please, condemn me!”

Please, condemn me! 

Writing in Pacific Lutheran University’s student social justice journal, The Matrix: 

Without creating the environment for people to say what’s on their mind, people keep their guards up. And without letting slip (or just directly stating) whatever homophobic ideologies that have been so that it can be caught, they miss out on learning about the full breadth of human life.

You can view the entire essay here.

Essay: “Belonging” and universities

ABCs of PLU: U is for University

I was the co-editor of a Matrix edited volume that, in the fashion of a child’s alphabet book, used a different university/social justice word for each letter of the alphabet as a jumping off point for further reflection. My contribution was “U is for University,” which I have replicated below. You can read the whole volume online here.


“I think that every student, every faculty member, and every administrator should ask her or himself everyday, ‘what is a university for?’ […]

I always thought what was supposed to happen was something called ‘education,’ which is a kind of transformation and (from educare in Latin) a ‘leading forth’: [your teachers] lead you out of your state, and you leave University different, as someone else, other than theyou who came in. […] We may be shifting to an idea of universities as ‘expressive’ spaces, where students come in and try to discover and express their identity in a supportive environment. […]

I tend to think that’s a fundamental misunderstanding of what a university can, let alone must, be in a free society.”

– Dr. Teresa Bejan, Associate Professor of Politial Theory at the University of Oxford

(Virginia Review of Politics, April 2017)

I have had a few professors laugh at me recently when I mention that Ithink I have changed a lot since starting at PLU. It’s a knowing laugh, a “no shit” laugh, a “thank god” laugh. It’s an acknowledgement that I take longer to think before I speak and that the words come out a little slower, a little quieter. It’s a recognition that some of my impatienceand insecurity was left on the hairdresser’s floor with the faux hawk that accompanied me that first September.

This laugh is also their awareness that I have only reached an early benchmark, foreshadowing much more learning and changing and transformation.

I think it is tempting to think about a college education (following Wendy Brown’s Undoing the Demos) in a neoliberal way: how much more incomecan I make because I took these four years off from the labor market? Following this line of thought, the growth I found in my four years atPLU only mattered if it resulted in a boost to my lifetime income.

I want to explore a concern I have about this impulse as it intersects with the popular word “belonging” on campus. Surely, it would be easyfor a university simply interested in turning profit and pedigree through students to emphasize belonging as a feeling of comfort — a lack ofunease, a lack of discomfort with the status quo.

But at an institution that cherishes “thoughtful inquiry,” this proves difficult.

Inquiry, especially self-discovery, is incredibly uncomfortable. To echo Molly Munsterman (see “O is for Outing”), self-directed inquiry requires the uncomfortable, active, critical look at what dominant narratives we believe about ourselves and our growth. As I step out of the closet, I pickup a rainbow flag, a pronoun pin from the CGE, and an application to the Lavender wing: my pre-packaged identity can comfortably rest largelyunchallenged by folks who understand similar marginalization. I learnlittle about myself and those around me, satisfied with all the trappings ofmy new identity.

But if we want to stick to that mission statement, our sort of belonging must require the willingness to “know nothing,” critically examining our positionalities and the entire system of identity labels. It requires feeling deeply uneasy because of our awareness about how much more growthwe have yet to find.

This is not to argue that marginalized groups — especially students of color — should be ignored when they seek changes to fight issues of systemic inequality. Instead, the sort of belonging that counters the prejudices of the outside world should help address racism in ways that go beyond simply accommodating any of the racial, gendered, or sexualized codes that enable all the “isms.” That’s why we must be careful that when we say “belonging”: we don’t mean creating an environment where any student can enter and leave without questioning the ideologies they brought with them.

How can we make belonging about feeling accepted, valued, and supported while questioning exactly what one wants acceptance, value, and support to be attributed to? How do we conceptualize a belongingwhere the personal and social qualities required to fit in aren’t tied to whiteness but to questioning the status quo? How can we resist categorization that limits one’s ability to explore their wholeness without invalidating people experimenting with new ways of being?

Let’s make a community where we can all laugh with one another while we transform.

Journalism: “Announcing the Center for Washington Cultural Traditions”

Announcing the Center for Washington Cultural Traditions: celebrate at a free all-day party in Seattle on Saturday, March 3. 

I wrote some corporate journalism for Humanities Washington as a part of my internship in the communications office. In this announcement story, I was tasked with explaining the concept of “cultural traditions” and “folk art”—and representing their importance. You can read the whole story on their website.

But what are cultural traditions? While the name “folk and traditional arts” or “cultural traditions” may evoke a dry, historical connotation for some, [anthropologist Kristin] Sullivan insists that is not the case.

“I think of cultural traditions as any practices or objects/material culture that are reflective of the life or identity of a community, and that are practiced over time—often generations,” she said.

While a focus on cultural tradition means highlighting traditions that originated in Washington State, that’s not the CWCT’s exclusive focus. The CWCT also hopes to conserve “all traditions that are carried on in Washington—those of immigrant populations, both long-established and more recently arrived.”

ArtsWA executive director Karen Hanan explains that these traditions are a part of everyday life for everyone. For her, that’s what makes the work of the CWCT not just exciting, but a priority.

“Everybody has come from a culture. Everybody has things that they are carrying on and passing on, regardless of where they’re from. They’re all valuable: they’re the richness of our different lives all woven together in this wonderful tapestry that makes a state like Washington as alive with history and stories as it is,” she said. “It’s fundamental, and supporting it is critical.”

Journalism: Q&A with PLU alumna and activist

There’s more to ‘Tell’: Margaret Witt ’86 on fighting homophobia and being tokenized

Writing in Pacific Lutheran University’s student social justice journal, The Matrix:

News flash: there were gay people at Pacific Lutheran University before there was a Center for Gender Equity, a Queer Ally Student Union, or any celebrations of a pride week. Major Margaret Witt, who will give the Meant to Live Lecture at 7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 9, in the Scandinavian Cultural Center, is one of them.

…Her queer experience differs from mine. I came out at PLU with joyfully little fanfare: I announced my queer identity, and my friends said “Great, but… Duh?” and we moved on.

The first time Margie heard the words “Major Witt is gay,” it was from her attorney’s mouth in front of the press…

Read the whole Q&A here.

Scholarship: “Lighting it up” in CMR

Lighting it up: Journalism as a conversation at the private university

Dr. Joanne Lisosky and I are pleased to announce the publication of our article, “Lighting it up: Journalism as a conversation at the private university,” in College Media Review Vol. 54. You can read the article in its entirety at CMR or at my page as a PDF. The abstract is reproduced below:

Student journalists at private universities do the hard work of turning the lights on in the darkened, pseudo-public spheres on their campus. Without a clear idea of who is obligated to be the teller of unsavory truths on the private university’s campus, student media must often take up the torch. Building on Jurgen Habermas’s and Alexander Kluge’s work on the “public sphere” and Doreen Marchionni’s “journalism as a conversation,” student media publications can be examined for their coorientation, informality, and interactivity. Using two stories from the student media of Pacific Lutheran University as a case study illustrates how a robust student journalism outlet is a vital component of initiating important conversations in the public sphere of the private university. This investigation includes suggestions for implementing these strategies at other private universities.