Flexner Book Club Blog

2011 Mary Flexner Lecturer: Judith Butler

Inclusive Progress Includes Doubts

A new day has arrived (272). That’s what we were proclaiming this week when I moderated a student panel comprised of leaders in interfaith and intercultural dialogue. Speaking to a robust gathering of alumnae and other guests, the students described a campus where people of different races and cultures are members of each other’s affinity groups, diversity conversations happen in dorms on a regular basis, and interfaith and intercultural dialogue coalesces in new and surprising places such as LGBTQ Bible study. The event was spectacular, and it felt wonderful to have had a role in presenting it.

So why, ever since this successful event, have I been haunted by the image and sound from a video of Judith Butler addressing the crowd at Occupy Wall Street? Do I feel guilty being here in such a safe, comfortable space? (We just said at the alumnae event that we create safe and comfortable spaces at Bryn Mawr—it was seen as a good thing.) Is it because I am on a tree-bejeweled campus by day and home in my bed by night—and not out in the elements without the comforts of running water? Is it because I see her, my contemporary, getting out, standing up and addressing the occupiers, when I am working on inequalities in cozy lounges and living rooms?

Sure. Of course that’s all a part of it. But as I reflect on Chapter 10, “Competing Universalities,” I think I’m also troubled by the notion that Bryn Mawr, for all its unique wonderfulness, represents the norm. It’s not far from that realization to the troublesome thought that, while we have made great strides in diversifying our student body and having honest dialogue about our diverse community, those matriculating at Bryn Mawr could be seen as assimilationist. From there, it’s not hard to conjure up the shudder-inducing notion that, rather than seeking and supporting a diverse student body as acts of inclusion—a true embrace of people from minority cultures, sexual and otherwise—the College is hegemonic in its intent. And I am crestfallen if the result is that prospective students “question the value of being included [here]” (271).

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