October 3, 2018
Despite being described as “intelligent, motivated, and caring” by her sister, being a flier for George Mason University’s Division I cheerleading squad, and being involved in clubs and volunteering, college sophomore AnnCatherine Heigl—who has Down syndrome—was rejected by all eight sororities on campus. While both the university and the Panhellenic Council issued statements defending their commitment to diversity, many view these statements as perfunctory. Cate Weir, program director of Think College, says that even though it’s a positive step forward that George Mason allows students with disabilities to rush, university and Greek life leaders need to “halt misinformation” and push back on the misconception that “these students would be disruptive or ‘wouldn’t get anything out of this.’” Kevin Kruger, president of NASPA: Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education, says that sororities and fraternities should “analyze their promotional materials and campaigns and figure out if there is an ‘unintended message’ coming through,” because students with disabilities may feel dissuaded from rushing if all the promotional materials only feature able-bodied people.
To begin to address the fraught relationship between Indigenous communities and western scientists, the Summer Internship for Indigenous Peoples in Genomics (SING) trains Indigenous scientists in genomics “so that they can introduce that field’s tools to their communities as well as bring a sorely needed Indigenous perspective to research.” The SING program aims to build trust among Indigenous communities following a long history of gross disrespect from western scientists, which includes stealing human remains of Indigenous people for study and display in prominent museums. Even in recent years, Indigenous people have had their DNA samples used without permission and their customs disregarded, only to have their samples, family remains, and data not returned to them. Organizers of the SING program stress that “intense community engagement” by scientists is crucial if they want to continue their work with Indigenous samples. One student from the program expresses what it feels like to finally be able to engage in genomics work in a respectful and understanding setting: “You can exist as your authentic self, as both Indigenous and as a scientist, without having to code-switch all the time. It’s like coming up for air.”
Growing up in a “time and place…when gender roles were binary,” Andrea Bennett found herself living on the margins until she discovered the word “tomboy.” Although she didn’t completely see herself within the thin, white image typically associated with tomboys, she says that identifying as a tomboy provided her with her “first out.” She finally had the space to renounce traditional girlhood and begin to “build a relationship with [her] body and [her] selfhood that wasn’t based in self-negation.” Later on, when she began identifying as queer and finding solace in the various ways people can identify themselves—“butch,” “masculine of center,” or “genderqueer,” for example—she realized that feminism’s desire to move past gender stereotyping might mean erasing the in-between space that is so important for many genderqueer and trans people. She asks, “If the world has told us for much of our lives that we are not quite women…is it our responsibility to forcibly expand girlhood and womanhood until it grudgingly accepts us? Can I not just be woman-adjacent in peace?” While Bennett understands why some people question the need for labels, she thinks of terms like “tomboy,” “butch,” and “genderqueer” as both hopeful and communicative. She explains, “If I can’t describe who I am in this world—I am who I am, whether or not I can describe it—then I can’t seek out others like me.”