My experience with a “diversity officer”
February 16th, 2022
The class started while I was in a particularly good mood. I had found a few friends to sit by, and I had prepared all of the materials for that class, so I felt confident and relaxed.
I already knew that this man (my lecturer) had his role as a diversity officer during our first class when he spoke at length about this new position, essentially to tell us he would be busy with his obligations and that he values diversity. Sounds fine, right? He goes on to say a few things that made me feel iffy, but I decided to move on from that and hope for the best in the future sessions.
Fast forward to yesterday when we were positioning to begin our plenary discussion about the texts we had read for this week.
He starts our discussion by saying that he hoped our class would provide space for people who may be more likely to stay quiet and not voice their thoughts, which I think is a perfectly reasonable thing to say as we want to provide a space where people are given the space to speak. He then says that, since he has now taken up his diversity role, he wants to discuss how gender plays a role in whether people speak up. He then asks, “Who is more likely to stay quiet or to not speak up in a discussion like this, men or women?”
That’s all I feel racing through my veins as I try to comprehend the elementary-level, gender binary-reproducing, impossibly rhetorical question that just came out of this diversity officer’s mouth.
Nobody says anything, so I raise my hand and say, “Well, female-presenting people are more likely to stay quiet or not speak up since they haven’t had the space held for them or haven’t been taken seriously in their lives,” etc. Basically, that our behavior is a result of the social experiences we’ve had in regards to our gender expression.
He nods and says something meaningless, giving the impression that he doesn’t like my answer much, and turns to the rest of the class. A couple other people said some things, and I raised my hand again.
At this point, my heart is racing. My arms are buzzing, my adrenaline is spiked, and I feel myself in full defense mode. Why is this man just saying women don’t speak up? Simply, just like that. With no explanation of the gendered social processes that go behind the development of a person, solely the insinuation that women are “just less likely to say things.” They “just don’t speak up as much, so we should provide space for them as men.” Yes, you could argue that this is a good point. Well, it is a good point. Men should be aware of their impact on other gendered people around them, but not due to some half-baked notion that women just speak up less than men, period. Since this class is filled with people from different disciplines, it’s integral that we start from a shared understanding of what constitutes gender.
And, in case you are wondering why I had such a visceral reaction to this conversation, it’s because it reminded me of every experience that I’ve had with a man in authority who thought he was worthy of respect just because of his position. Of every man who has looked at me with a humorous grin in the middle of a serious talk or debate to show just how little he thinks of me. Of every instance where a man hasn’t given me the space to be my full self or the respect to even consider me a full self.
Further into the conversation, one of my classmates raised her hand to say that you can’t forget the biological differences between men and women (when talking about whether they are likely to speak up or not). In one breath, she completely demonstrated what I was trying to prevent, an inaccurate understanding of gender as based in biology; yet, the professor did not acknowledge it once. He didn’t correct her, he didn’t separate sex and gender, he just said that this was a great example of how people from various disciplines view things in different ways.
It is astounding to me that a man who so frequently mentions his diversity position still holds space for and believes that there are biological components involved in gender. In sex? Obviously. In differences in how to treat diseases? Obviously. In certain psychological illnesses? Yes. In gender? A completely socially constructed, human-made aspect of identity that involves expression of self and varies widely across cultures? No. No, motherfucker, no. Open a book. Read some gender theory. Hold space for people in your life who are trying to teach you things.
But, I digress. For now.
March 2nd, 2022
I feel abused. Lacking completely in energy.
Last night, to start off our fourth class of the course, we were discussing the war in Ukraine and its effects on us personally. I didn’t quite understand its purpose as this man continued the conversation past its end, even saying “I haven’t heard anything about fear,” trying to drag a deeper conversation out of us. A student then mentioned the ongoing war in Yemen that European people haven’t shown nearly as issue with as the war in Ukraine. The point of this comment was to draw the conversation to the ongoing racism in the media regarding the war as well as the discrepancy in the care for white people in Ukraine compared to the lack of care for BIPOC refugees in Ukraine and elsewhere.
In response, the lecturer blamed this lack of care on distance rather than racism- that European people are only worried now because the war is so close. Distance has never mattered when it was about white people, and I say this, analyzing this situation as a white person. This supposed diversity officer has already demonstrated that he has minimal knowledge on gender, and now he shows a complete disregard when it comes to matters of race. There was not a single mention of racism, nor was there space held for a discussion about it. We have never changed topics so quickly- and he is normally one to wax on and on because he loves to hear himself talk.
At this point, I have no idea how this man could even attempt to do his job regarding diversity. He's who we’re supposed to go to when we have issues regarding our marginalized identities? A man who allows discussion for biological components of gender and absolutely no discussion of race?
Following this embarrassment of a discussion, we were lined up by discipline to describe to what extent we study gender. We were then essentially pitted against each other to debate whether there are biological factors that play into gender. Again, what our lecturer seemingly fails to understand is that gender and sex are two different things. This was made obvious when I asked to clarify whether he was talking about women and men or people who were assigned female at birth and male at birth. He responded that they’re the same. That the results of the study that he was discussing would be the same, with no recognition of the differences.
Not at any moment did he validate our discussion about gender being a social construct, he only furthered the so-called debate with “What do you think? And you? What about you over here?” speaking to the students in the class who did not study gender as my fellow peer and I do in Sociology, constantly.
As if there is an unlimited amount of space to discuss the experiences of gendered bodies, of which he evidently has minimal experience with. He consistently spoke of gender as a binary and, to our comment about nonbinary people’s existence, he responded that it was something very new in the “West.” To be perfectly clear, nonbinary people have always existed, and even if these patriarchal and heteronormative academic institutions didn’t consider them until recently, it does not mean that they are not worth recognizing and discussing. In fact, why would it matter when these studies began? These studies have been done, these people have been spoken to, these leaps have been bound, and I’m tired of hearing people speak about things they have no idea about.
Honestly, I felt like puking. We stood there discussing gender as if it was something to debate for an entire hour. There was not a single mention of the text or the theories we were supposed to be learning in that hour. Only the relentless beating of a dead horse about something that has been studied. We know that gender and sex are different, we know this. But we continued to talk about it because one old cishet white man wanted to sear something into us: that science is discourse. That everything is worth talking about and weighing as if it isn’t questioning our entire existence (unless it’s racism, of course). What will he say next? That there are biological differences that signal variance between people of different races? That transgender people don’t exist? That I am just reacting this way because I am female and, therefore, more emotional?
He ended the conversation with “I want to keep this conversation open. We will come back to this.”
I will not be put on the stand to give an entire gender studies class to a man who does not want to understand.
In conclusion, I asked to be switched to a different tutorial via email. His response was filled with gaslighting, condescension, a complete disregard of my academic qualities, full questioning of my gender knowledge (concluding that it lacked nuance and complexity), and a final “that is not an option.”
I am once again reminded that I am a woman. That I don’t understand my experiences more than a man does because I am a woman. My opinions are worth less than his because I am young and a woman, even if my studies deal directly with his topic of choice. I am a radical student that needs to learn about gender from people with less understanding of gender than I do. I need to suck it the fuck up.
Well, I won’t.