By Lauren Drake
In the midst of Back2Bellingham celebrations and festivities, the Marginalized Subjectivities Conference took place. On Friday, May 13, and Saturday, May 14, students, faculty, alumni and community members gathered in the Communications Facility to participate in panel discussions and workshops hosted by the Western Debate Union and the Community Advocacy Support Center.
Organizers of this event aimed to create a space for facilitated discussion, education and celebration of marginalized subjectivities. The conference brochure explains the term marginalized subjectivities as “perspectives that are erased, belittled, or ignored by civil society and institutions.”
Senior Forrest Raine Dimond, a member of the Western Debate Union and organizer of the conference, said he believes that many people can relate to a scenario in which they have expressed an emotional vulnerability about themselves, or an experience they had to another human being who doesn’t respect that experience as truth. He said he hopes that people will be more respecting of other people’s subjectivity after this conference.
“If I was talking to somebody else and was trying to understand their experience, it’s not about what I think their experience is like,” Dimond said. “It’s about what their experience is like to them, their emotions and the things they feel.”
He said that if just one attendee was able to shift their thinking to be more accepting, then he would consider the event a success.
The opening panel on Friday evening, entitled “i to i: The Intersections of Subjectivities,” included the Assistant Director of disAbility Resources for Students Anna Blick, Associated Students Vice President for Diversity Abby Ramos and Western Debate Union members Ashley Tippins and Kenny Torre.
This panel opened with each panel member openly addressing their own backgrounds and subjectivities they identify with. The audience was then invited to anonymously write down questions for them, either as a whole or in regards to a particular panel member’s subjective experiences.
Some of the specific subjectivities addressed by the panel members included those who identify as people of color, low income, queer, disabled or fat. Many of the questions revolved around the issues of how to best address and support the needs people who identify with these marginalized identities, particularly at Western.
Torre pointed out that there is lack of representation for different identities in administration and a distancing between administrators themselves and students. He said he believes that closing these gaps and allowing for better communication between students and administrators would help make Western more accepting of different identities.
“We are all oppressors and we are all oppressed,” Tippins said.
Tippins described how each person experience their own set of privileges, but those privileges don’t negate other oppressions they may also face. Tippins said she believes understanding intersectionality allows people to be rid of their need to fight for a particular cause and instead start a coalition that pushes towards a new understanding of the world as a whole.
Tippins lead a panel of her own at the conference on the subject of Fat Studies. This is an emerging field of interdisciplinary study that is beginning to be recognized in universities across the country according to the conference’s brochure description.
At the Fat Studies panel, Tippins dispelled myths about fatness and gave the audience insight into the microaggressions she faces as someone who self-identifies as being fat. Tippins said she believes calling out this subjectivity helps her to embrace who she is while making others confront their own connotations and use of the word.
Junior Thu Le thought that Tippins’ Fat Studies was one of the most informative talks of the conference because it helped her to dispel personal and societally-held myths about what it means to be fat.
Le said she thought the Marginalized Subjectivities conference played into an important discussion about identities on Western’s campus, but believes more action needs to be taken to change flaws in the system.
“Awareness is good, but we’re circulating just ideas,” Le said. “These things are good but also kind of bad. There’s no suggestions for action. Internalize and think about yourself, but maybe I just want more,” Le said.
Some of the other workshops and panels offered at the Marginalized Subjectivities conference dealt with race in higher education, microaggressions, undocumented students, disability and media coverage of subjectivities.
The conference also included several paper panels in which students had the opportunity to submit their scholarly writing about marginalized subjectivities for the chance to win prize money.
Ultimately, Weyni Haddis’ paper “The Role of The Western Front During the Black Student Union’s Fight for Black Power and Liberation in 1968-1975” won the $250 cash prize.
“Any discussion of subjectivity is a good start,” Torre said. “The point of our conference is not only to have a presentation, but to hold interactive discussions, workshops and panels through which we can hopefully lay the framework for future revolutions, even if it’s on a micro scale,” Torre said.