Indian-American activist and author Rinku Sen last night gave a presentation titled “We’re All Accidental Americans: Gender, Immigration & Citizenship” in honor of International Women’s Day.
Sen is the president and executive director of the Applied Research Center (ARC) and the publisher of Colorlines.com. The ARC investigates racial consequences of local and national government policy initiatives through media and journalism.
International Women’s Day, which was established in 1909, is held on March 8 every year.
The lecture focused on the experience of being a person of color in the context of American society and institutions. Sen described how immigrants in America are often framed as foreigners, terrorists and freeloaders, frequently evoking images of illegality.
“Those frames are about arousing in Americans a fear and an image and a sense of division,” she said. “Part of our job as activists doing this work is to change that image in the public debate. We have a cultural reframe that we need to get done.”
Sen discussed the differences between justice, diversity, equality and equity. Ideal equity, she said, would lead to a situation where everyone’s needs and abilities were viewed with equal weight, leading to treatment that was just and fair but not necessarily identical.
“Start at the margins rather than at the center and you’ll be a long way forward towards being inclusive,” Sen said. “The way that change happens is the oppressed people stand up and refuse to take anymore.”
In line with the strategy of the ARC, Sen provided several case studies of people in situations of structural or institutional discrimination, such as domestic laborers being denied workers’ rights and immigrant parents being legally separated from their children.
“Our real goal was to humanize immigrants,” she said. “Stories are key to triggering new frames
[and] motivating emotions.”
Sen discussed the different types of bias and oppression in society, ranging from individual biases and power struggles to institutional policies and structural practices. She spoke about the different lenses through which one can view these issues, including race, gender, class, sexuality and disability.
“Part of privilege is not having to see all the ways in which you get helped by the rules and the arrangements,” Sen said.
Planners of the event felt that Sen’s lecture would be relevant to the Tufts community because of her focus on global social injustices.
Director of the Women’s Center Steph Gauchel, Interim Director of the Women’s Studies Program Sonia Hofkosh and Director of the Asian American Center Linell Yugawa were instrumental in planning Sen’s lecture.
“[Sen] writes and speaks on many topics, such as racism, feminism, immigration, economics and organizing, raising consciousness about injustices in our society,” Yugawa told the Daily in an email. “And given what she speaks on, we felt that she would be perfect for International Women’s Day.”
Hofkosh agreed that Sen was an ideal speaker to bring to campus in honor of International Women’s Day.
“Sen’s work speaks directly to the issues whose history International Women’s Day commemorates: the social and specifically labor activism of women workers in the early 20th century, many of whom were immigrants, at least in the U.S. context,” Hofkosh told the Daily in an email. “This lecture is relevant given [Tufts’] investment in global citizenship and active community engagement at many levels.”
The event was highly anticipated by the Tufts community, according to Yugawa.
“Last spring, when I approached faculty and administrators about bringing Rinku Sen to campus, I was so pleased by their extremely positive response.” Yugawa said. “Everyone was eager to have her come.”
The lecture was funded through the Arts, Sciences, and Engineering Diversity Fund and was co-sponsored by the Asian American Center, the Women’s Center, the Women’s Studies Program, the American Studies Program, the History Department, the International Center, the Office of Intercultural and Social Identities Program, the Peace and Justice Studies Program, the Political Science Department and the Sociology Department.
“[There are] programs happening in dozens of countries around the world on March 8 to recognize the work of women, the importance of transnational organization for human rights, and the global connections among social activism efforts,” Hofkosh said.