Intersectionality was the focus of The Discrimination Advisors’ (DAs) annual Speak Out Week events, held from March 28-April 1 this year. The week’s events highlighted the experiences of transgender immigrants, international students and black citizens in the criminal justice system, all under the overarching theme of “Borders and Boundaries.”
“Typically, from what I remember, the DAs will sometimes choose a specific area of diversity — like one year, [Speak Out Week] was all focused on disability — but I think every topic you choose has to be intersectional because there are people who deal with multiple areas of diversity,” DA Lin Miao ’17 said.
The week kicked off with a panel on March 28 in the Gund Gallery Community Foundation Theater about immigration. The panel comprised of Visiting Instructor of American and Women’s and Gender Studies Gilda Rodriguez, Associate Provost Ivonne García and Assistant Professor of Political Science Nancy Powers, all of whom focus on immigration in their research.
Sewar Quran ’17, a DA, guided the professors through a series of questions about the Trump administration’s impact on immigration policy. All three quickly warned against romanticizing President Barack Obama’s presidency.
“To Latinos, Obama was the deporter-in-chief,” García said. “Even though Latinos supported him in droves, he deported more people under his administration than had been deported before.”
The professors explored the history of anti-immigrant sentiment in the U.S., emphasizing that this is not a new phenomenon.
The next event of the week was a common hour presentation by Karari Orozco-Olvera, a trans activist and writer, on March 30 in Gund Gallery Community Foundation Theater. Orozco-Olvera is the production manager of America in Transition (AIT), a documentary web series and community engagement campaign that highlights “non-white, non-urban trans experiences,” according to the AIT website.
For the event, Orozco-Olvera premiered the third episode of AIT, which follows the story of a trans woman named Zuri from Puebla, Mexico. The episode documents her decision to immigrate to the U.S. After the 12-minute clip, Orozco-Olvera asked for feedback from the audience.
Orozco-Olvera gave this presentation as part of an AIT speaking tour called #GettingOurRoses. She is one of three activists presenting AIT episodes at colleges across the country.
“The idea [behind the name] is that often, trans women of color get roses after we’re dead,” Orozco-Olvera said. “We want our roses now. Give us roses when we’re alive. And not only are we asking that you give us our roses while we’re alive, we’re getting our roses.”
During the evening on March 30, Orozco-Olvera hosted a workshop in Cheever Seminar Room in Finn House attended by two administrators and five students. During this workshop, Orozco-Olvera aimed to “deconstruct the ‘model minority’ myth,” she said in an interview with the Collegian. Orozco-Olvera defined the model minority as someone who has “committed no crimes” and that “our culture has decided deserves to be here.”
Orozco-Olvera led several activities that served to break down the concepts of immigration and criminality.
“Any time we talk about illegal immigration, we have to remember that illegality is specifically relevant to space and time,” Orozco-Olvera said. “It says less about the people engaging in that behavior than it does about the society in which they exist.”
Because trans women of color are disproportionately involved in sex work and substance abuse — both deportable offenses according to federal laws — they are at a greater risk of deportation, Orozco-Olvera said.
Orozco-Olvera told the Collegian she was pleased with her visit, but it was marked by the transphobia that she always experiences. “I can’t say how many times I’ve been stared at since I’ve been on campus,” Orozco-Olvera said. “That’s part of my existence.”
On March 31, Ghada Baqbouq ’19, a DA, hosted a talk about her experiences as a Syrian citizen at Kenyon. She spoke about how she decided to come to the U.S. and the struggles she has faced since coming here, including language barriers, culture shock and isolation.
“My heart is always with the people there, especially my family, my friends, and everyone, but I would like to say that I’m not expecting anyone here to understand how hard this is,” Baqbouq said during the event. “People understanding means that they have gone through this. It’s a blessing that most of the people did not go through this.”
On April 1, to conclude the week’s events, the DAs hosted a screening of 13th, a documentary about the American criminal justice system.
DA Justin Martin ’19 said the documentary sheds light on an issue that is personal to each Kenyon student. “One of the biggest points of the film is that institutionalized prison labor has, in effect, replaced slavery as an economic engine in America,” Martin said. “It’s something, even though we don’t like to admit it, that makes our relatively affluent lives possible. Kenyon contracts with some people that have been involved in incarceration and prison labor before. It’s all connected.”
Martin hopes Speak Out Week answers the question, “How can I help?”
“People, especially on this campus, are aware that these things are happening,” Martin said. “We can admit there’s a problem. Now, how are we going to actually come together and — if not solve it — at least mitigate some of the experiences of people who might be suffering?”