As a gay, black male from Connecticut, I have to say I was disconcerted by Will Ehrenfeld’s April 7 “Stuff Tufts People Like” column, entitled “Cliques.” Half-expecting an exposé on a resurging epidemic of “Mean Girls” (2004), I was surprised by what I read. He starts the column out recounting his curiosity at the messages from Group of Six Centers that appeared next to his “painstakingly” crafted name tags. He decides not to pass judgment on their presence since he felt that he cannot identify with, which I will read as an inability to sympathize with, these groups. Fair enough, as some people never learn how to sympathize. Our Daily- (and self-) appointed expert goes on to announce that Tufts people love belonging to minority groups, particularly a group “that at one point” — apparently during some distant, far-gone era — “has been discriminated against.” He calls this a “thirst for victimhood,” which, despite his hefty searches, as a straight white male from Connecticut he finds himself, to his mock disappointment, excluded.
Mr. Ehrenfeld is partially correct: I do love belonging to the minority groups with which I identify. I love being of African descent and I love my gay identity, two aspects which have required quite a bit of effort on my part to accept about myself in a society where racism and homophobia are still issues people face. This is not just an “outside” issue. Tufts students still get called “n—-rs,” as some students were so unfortunate to experience outside the Africana Center the night Barack Obama was elected president. Tufts students are still called “f—-ts,” as a group of my friends and I rediscovered one evening when we were returning to the Rainbow House from a fun gay night out.
Yes, I went out with my gay friends. Sometimes gay people like to hang out together. Sometimes gay people like having a safe space where they can talk about stuff gay people like. Sometimes gay people like having a safe space where they can talk about stuff gay people dislike, such as various manifestations of homophobia or the heterosexism which means that straight people can take for granted privileges that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) folk do not have. Similar situations apply to many members of the various racial, ethnic and religious groups, which I don’t have space to discuss. Mr. Ehrenfeld, to his credit, seems to understand this desire. Does this mean we revel in our victimization, let alone thirst for it? Why is Will Ehrenfeld, on the flip side, implying that minorities at Tufts are pathological?
I’d also like to address Mr. Ehrenfeld’s use of the concept “self-segregation.” Claims that people of color or LGBTQ people are “self-segregating” are a dangerous twist on American discrimination, as the term segregation has historically been used to refer to practices — legal, illegal and social — that do not just enforce separation but also confer privilege to one group and prevent equal access to the rights or privileges which the dominant group enjoys, often without a second thought. In America, the dominant group can in nearly every instance be understood as white, heterosexual, non-Jewish, etc. Segregation is not just a matter of people separating themselves; it is a mechanism of power, reinforcing privileges for some, and effectively punishing others by exclusion. In order for someone to show that the Group of Six Centers promotes self-segregation, a claim which Mr. Ehrenfeld never argues to completion, one would need to show that the Centers and their events construe some sort of unfair advantage to the students who participate in them. Such an argument would have to take into account the prejudice and discrimination directed against these groups, the most common attempts being that racism, sexism or homophobia is over or irrelevant, and simultaneously ignore evidence that these societal poisons cause added stress to members of these populations. Instead, we see “self-segregation” thrown around almost as if the intention is to punish dominant groups for years of oppression and, when legally ended, their aftereffects.
Why is the Group of Six Centers specifically being targeted as promoters of cliques? It’s true that some of the Group of Six Centers do host events intended to provide a space specifically for particular members of the Tufts community. For example, Queer Men’s Group is intended only for males who identify as gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning. These meetings provide a safe space and help foster a sense of community for students to meet with people who may have gone through similar experiences, or perhaps have experiences under consideration, such as coming out. In my experience, this sort of peer network allows for a low-stress environment for discussing matters that can be life-altering.
Conversely, some Center-related groups and events are there primarily for the benefit of the larger Tufts community. Team Q, which is also based out of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Center, is an LGBTQ speakers’ bureau dedicated to promoting awareness of LGBTQ issues to Tufts and the surrounding area. Team Q events are open to the public, and are advertized to emphasize that everyone is welcome. Nevertheless, straight community members rarely take the initiative to attend. In pointing this out, I am not condemning the “self-segregation” by omission of the straight community, but I am attempting to bring to light the tendency to place blame on the minority groups and institutions in place to facilitate group members’ stays at Tufts. People rarely think to ask why there aren’t more straight people at Queer Straight Alliance meetings, yet think that because they can (often) visually mark a group of black friends, black students at Tufts are self-segregating.
I don’t disagree with everything Mr. Ehrenfeld says; I even recognize the irony his column attempts to convey, although there is a fine line between comedy and mockery. Most importantly, I agree with his point that diversity is meaningless without social interaction among groups. Wondering how to engage in a diverse dialogue is a reasonable progression of that concern, as there is more to diversity than sampling each others’ food. Instead of pursuing this route, the overall narrative in which he frames this particular column is wrought with a twisted, half-mocking sense of envy, and an ignorance of the disproportionate privileges that come with being straight, white and male (and if he is like most Tufts students, reasonably well-off) that augment the privilege of a Tufts education.
Gregory Chambers is a senior majoring in American studies. He is a co-facilitator of Queer Students of Color and Allies.