College selects 12 members of Committee on Student Safety and Accountability

The College has chosen the 12 members of the Committee on Student Safety and Accountability, chaired by Dean of the College Charlotte Johnson and dedicated to “improving student safety and well-being” by combating the issues of hazing, sexual assault and binge drinking, College President Jim Yong Kim said in a press release. The committee includes students, faculty and staff and will develop both short-term and long-term recommendations over the next year.

The four student members of COSSA are Hannah Decker ’13, Duncan Hall ’13, Tyler Melville ’14 and Chelsea Suydam ’14. Spanish and Portuguese professor Rebecca Biron, Native American studies professor Bruce Duthu, sociology professor Kathryn Lively and biology professor Rob McClung will represent College faculty. Three staff members Director of Safety and Security and College Proctor Harry Kinne, Athletic Director Harry Sheehy and Assistant Dean of Undergraduate Students Lisa Thum will also serve on the committee.

COSSA will “take an integrated approach” and work with existing College initiatives and multiple administrative offices, Kim said in the release. The Dartmouth College Health Improvement Program and the Student and Presidential Committee on Sexual Assault will both be involved in COSSA’s work. COSSA will also serve as an “advisory body” to the Dean of the College Office, the Provost’s Office and the President’s Office, according to the release.

“The committee will draw on the latest research and evidence-based prevention and intervention strategies by consulting with leading experts in student safety,” Kim said in the release.

Hall said that he hoped COSSA would include a wider range of voices from the Dartmouth community.

“[Dartmouth] has a lot of organizations in different sectors, which is great, but it kind of means that once you’re involved you only learn about that particular sector,” he said. “It’s really just a matter of staying up in other areas if you’re involved in the Greek system, for example, it’s still important to stay educated on inter-community issues.”

Hall formerly chaired the SPCSA and stepped down to serve as moderator of the Greek Leadership Council. He is also a member of Psi Upsilon fraternity.

Decker, who is the president of Kappa Delta Epsilon sorority, agreed to participate in COSSA because the issues it will address are pertinent to the communities of which she is a part, she said. Fostering individual accountability is important to making “cultural change,” according to Decker.

“A lot of the three issues stem from a lack of accountability in some ways,” she said. “There’s a Dartmouth code of conduct, and it obviously doesn’t include perpetrating sexual assault, hazing or binge drinking.”

A lack of accountability among students precludes the ability to effectively address issues that are so closely linked to students, Hall said.

“I think people throw around blame in very generalized terms,” he said. “They say, Oh, it’s the Greek system, or it’s men, or it’s women,’ but you can’t actually create cultural change if you don’t know who to blame.”

COSSA should interact with faculty members and the entire student body, Decker said.

“I would want to see it as a collaboration between students and faculty who are really an untapped resource in the whole debate surrounding these three issues,” she said.

In order to be effective, COSSA should avoid forcing reforms upon the student body and should instead implement change in other ways, Hall said.

“I would hope that there are ways of communication and relaying information back to various groups,” Hall said. “I would like to see feasible and tangible ways in which we can effectively foster accountability so we’re not mandating things. I wouldn’t want bylaws or anything like that I want to come up with creative ways in which we can help individual organizations.”

Kim said that the group will “reach out broadly” to different sectors of campus to gather input about hazing, sexual assault and binge drinking on campus.

“I encourage you to seize those opportunities and contribute your voice to this vital discussion,” he said in the release. “The harmful behaviors that affect our campus are no match for the power each of us has to shape the Dartmouth experience we wish to enjoy.”

Hall and Decker said that Johnson approached them directly about joining the committee but that they were not given further information about COSSA’s selection process. Hall said he has not yet been informed of how COSSA will function or when it will begin meeting.

Wheelan finds inspiration for ‘10 1/2 Things’ after Class Day

Charles Wheelan '88, who gave last year's Class Day speech, published his new book

“10 1/2 Things No Commencement Speaker Has Ever Said” by Charles Wheelan ’88, author of “Naked Statistics” and “Naked Economics,” was inspired by his 2011 Class Day speech at the College. The book, released on Monday, contains the advice that he wishes someone had told him upon his graduation from Dartmouth 24 years ago.

I must admit that I initially could not help but roll my eyes at the title of the Wheelan’s book, expecting a stream of cliched, cookie-cutter remarks often heard in college graduation speeches. I was unfamiliar with both Wheelan, an economics professor at the College, and his Class Day speech, so I skeptically pondered what he could have to say that would be different.

But after reading the first chapter, I quickly realized that Wheelan’s book contains a unique collection of witty, insightful pieces of advice that unlike so many other empty platitudes heard this time of year “Reach for the stars!” or, “Dare to dream!” or, “You are tomorrow’s leaders!” actually reflects practical, meaningful and applicable counsel for college graduates about to enter the real world.

“10 1/2 Things No Commencement Speaker Has Ever Said” begins with a description Wheelan’s own Class Day at Dartmouth back in 1988. He writes that Class Day either takes place “in a clearing in the middle of a pine forest” or in the field house, which he describes as “oddly intimate for a gathering of a thousand people in a space designed for indoor track meets.” He describes sitting on the ground with his then-girlfriend, now his wife of 19 years, and invites readers to imagine the wail of traditional bagpipes, another Dartmouth Class Day tradition, and hear his thoughts.

What immediately grabs a reader’s attention, however, is the clever prose with which Wheelan illustrates his humorous thoughts. At the beginning of the first chapter, titled, “Your time in fraternity basements was well spent,” Wheelan writes, “Seriously, you can Google that. No Commencement speaker has ever said it.” In the fourth chapter, “Marry someone smarter than you are,” Wheelan jokes that his wife, whose academic performance earned her membership in Phi Beta Kappa honor society at Dartmouth (Wheelan was not a member), sometimes wears her pink and blue ribbon Phi Beta Kappa around the house. In chapter five, “I’m sorry,” he apologizes for the disservice his generation has done to ours: “We have thrown a big, expensive party on your dime; you will have to clean up.” These droll quips are peppered throughout the book, making it an amusing, digestible and relatable read.

In “10 1/2 Things No Commencement Speaker Has Ever Said,” Wheelan shows off not only his sharp sense of humor but also his economics and public policy prowess. Rather than relying on vague generalities, Wheelan incorporates robust research to support each of his claims. In his advocacy of guilt-free fraternity time (although he staunchly censures alcohol abuse: “Bear in mind that I am promoting fraternity basements because of the camaraderie, not necessarily the libations”), Wheelan cites Harvard University’s Study of Adult Development, which began in 1937 and followed Harvard sophomores for 70 years. This longitudinal study revealed that meaningful interpersonal relationships were the number one predictor of happiness throughout life.

In “Marry someone smarter than you are,” Wheelan also uses research findings to assert that marriage plays an important role in economic success. He presents his favorite quiz question “True or False: Dartmouth is the kind of place where assertive mating is going on” to prove how having a healthy marriage to someone with shared economic values will likely result in financial liquidity and personal happiness.

While some of Wheelan’s pieces of advice, though presented in interesting and intelligent ways, deal with common topics such as marriage, financial success and our generation’s leadership responsibility, some of Wheelan’s wisdom shows truly remarkable insights into the 21st-century lifestyle. In his chapter “Help stop the little league arms race?,” Wheelan details the problem of intense competition and ridiculous pressure to overachieve that now plagues kids beginning at a very young age. He mentions the increased incidence of Tommy John surgery, a ligament-repair procedure, among teenagers seeking improved athletic performance, as well as the tendency of Dartmouth students to break down upon receiving an A- instead of an A in their courses.

By contrast, Wheelan advocates for simpler pleasures such as pick-up street hockey or “kick the can” in the backyard. Hyper-competitiveness and fear of failure, Wheelan argues, impede younger generations from taking risks or loving learning for learning’s sake. In “Read obituaries,” Wheelan explains how those who ultimately become interesting and successful people rarely do so by following a safe, prescribed path. He writes, “I defy you to find a single obituary that begins, Jane Doe won the Nobel Prize in large part because she was admitted to a prestigious, highly selective preschool. After that, everything just kind of fell into place.” He discusses how truly enriched human beings are passionate, engaged, persistent and often lucky.

Wheelan’s book thus represents a refreshing and witty take on the graduation speech that still manages to be inspiring and useful. His sharp critique of several aspects of modern life, as well as his emphasis on both lived experience and quantitative research, will prove valuable to the many college students who will surely receive copies of “10 1/2 Things No Commencement Speaker Has Ever Said” as a graduation present.

Wrobel’s rotunda exhibit aims to create peace from dualities

The abstract expressionist artwork of Natalia Wrobel '11 will be on display in the Barrows Rotunda until May 20.

Natalia Wrobel ’11 is much more than just an abstract painter. She is also somewhat of a peacemaker, mediating the uneasy tension between dualities such as order and chaos; dark and light; and matte and metallic, Wrobel said of her exhibit, currently on display in the Barrows Rotunda in the Hopkins Center. In her exhibit, Wrobel displays her ability to reconcile these contrasting ideas on two canvases, titled “Forgotten Wings” and “Untitled,” which will be featured until May 20. Using broad brush strokes and vibrant colors, Wrobel’s paintings symbolically highlight the conflicts of daily life, she said.

Wrobel who was a studio art major while at Dartmouth and currently works as a studio art intern with pulled-back hair hugged by a thick knitted olive scarf, does not give off the impression of the chaotic mental world depicted on canvases.

“The world and life are already chaotic,” she said. “I’d prefer them to be just a part of my paintings.”

Wrobel said her art-making is a form of liberation. While working on her craft, she uses her creativity to not only bring out the issues that trouble her but also the issues with which everyone grapples, according to Wrobel.

Before she begins working on a piece of art, Wrobel first establishes the “parameters of chaos,” she said. These are the catalysts that lead to discovering a resolution and eventually forming her finished piece, Wrobel said.

In “Forgotten Wings” whose title is an allusion to Pablo Neruda’s poetic musing on artistic expression Wrobel found the balance between opposing forces by contrasting patches of warmth and coolness in her artwork, she said. Parts of Wrobel’s painting seem to merge into an infinitely dense black hole, but she relieves this tension by interspersing it with blank spaces, which she called “rooms for the painting to breathe.” The finished work is thus a delicate balance between different colors.

“When I’m painting, there are all these things going on: finding peaces,’ finding resolution [and] finding a positive end,” she said.

On average, Wrobel spends eight to 40 hours on a single piece of artwork, holding an interrogative “conversation” with the canvas, she said. A fervent speaker of the language of abstraction, she sets herself and her painting in tandem by “[throwing her] whole body into it,” she said.

“You put down marks and you see it,” Wrobel said. “They speak to you, and you respond to them. At a certain point, you take control and you finish it.”

Such an artistic approach mirrors notable abstract expressionist painters like Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning, who pioneered the gestural method of painting, which relies on using the entire body. When asked about such a comparison, however, Wrobel said her only commitment is to her own unique and personal style.

“Art history exists,” she said. “But in the end, you just have to do it.”

Although she is unwilling to attribute her stylistic influences to a single artist, Wrobel cited Cecily Brown, a British contemporary painter whom she met at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, as the most important figure in providing her with ideas for abstract compositions.

When she painted “Untitled,” which is viewable from inside the Hopkins Center, Wrobel was influenced by Belarusian artist Chiam Soutine and British artist Francis Bacon, she said. For the more “earthy hues” seen in this painting, Wrobel said she was influenced by the style of French post-impressionist Paul Gauguin.

In the end, Wrobel’s ultimate goal is to make artwork that “people can look at and meditate on,” she said.

“If people feel something from it, that would be awesome,” she said.

The chaotic artwork on display complements the hectic, bustling life of students at the College. As people enter and exit the Hopkins Center, the various shadows cast onto the convex glass of the rotunda resemble the fluctuating forms in her artwork. Although initially self-conscious about putting her work on display, Wrobel said that the unexpected harmony between the display and campus life contributed to her appreciation of the rotunda exhibit.

“Everything that exists in your own mindset comes from your own perspective,” she said. “These are the things that shape your reality and I try to be positive about them.”

Wrobel is currently a special instructor for the studio art department and is working on six more abstract artworks under the guidance of professors in the studio.

Vann Island

If you were walking around campus last weekend, you didn’t need 20/20 vision to notice that it was an exciting if not somewhat wacky time for our school. The scene signified that 12S is officially in full swing 70 degrees and sunny, dudes running around campus covered in mud, girls flaunting their elegant Derby hats and Collis Ray doing his thing at Pigstick. So with midterms over (for the most part), I hope you were out and about letting off some steam.

Because of the flurry of campus activities, you might have skipped out on some equally exciting yet wacky events happening in the world of sports, though I’m sure you were checking your ScoreCenter and Twitter feeds to see how your hometown teams were doing in the NBA and NHL playoffs or to find out who won the Mayweather-Cotto bout.

The sport that most closely resembles Dartmouth’s spring mindset, however, is baseball. I’ll begin with a question: How does a typical 19-year-old spend a weekend in early May? Here’s what Bryce Harper has been up to: After one week in the bigs, he’s already batting third in the order for the first-place Washington Nationals; he’s hitting a cool .308, with a .424 on base percentage; and, oh yeah, he stole home plate for the Nats’ only run against the Phillies on national television Sunday night after being intentionally plunked by Cole Hamels.

Putting Harper’s ability in perspective is nearly impossible, but let’s give it a try. In Dartmouth terms, Harper is that ’15 on every fraternity’s pre-rush list. If there were a, he would have a five-star rating and receive more offers than Terrelle Pryor did back in 2008. And when the ’15 steps foot in a frat basement, he does not receive the “Eric Stratton, rush chairman, damned glad to meet you” treatment. No, everyone drops whatever they are doing to make sure he’s having a good time. And you better believe that the ’15 copped a Derby invite this past Saturday.

While the presence of such a freshman might have a negative impact on the Dartmouth social scene, no one is making more noise in baseball right now than Harper. He is the complete package on the field, the definition of a five-tool player. But what impresses me the most about Harper is his energy. I know it’s early in his career, but his motor seems to be running on a level that few, if any, can match. The only things Harper can’t yet do are rent a car or take his teammates out for a round of beers after a victory.

Harper has the potential to put up Albert Pujols-type numbers very soon. I’m talking about the career .326 hitter who hit 30-plus home runs in each of his first 11 seasons in the pros with the Cardinals, not the guy who just snapped a 110 at-bat homerless streak and is hitting below the Mendoza-line for the Angels after signing a $254-million contract in December.

Pujols, unlike Harper, reminds me of the senior who had his Goldman-Sachs job locked up before Winter term was over. But now he’s a ’12 that plays pong every night of the week and even though he shows up to class, he’s not there mentally.

The day before the homerless streak ended, Angels skipper Mike Scioscia benched Pujols. The Scioscia-path was not likely to sit the $254-million-dollar man for an extended period of time, but maybe the short absence sent a signal to Pujols. It’s the same type of warning that a senior receives when he fails his English 47 midterm and starts to realize that the fine line that is the C- NRO limit is being negotiated ever so slightly. At this point, the ’12 gets locked in, as Pujols likely will, and shows why he was worthy of that early Goldman-Sachs offer.

If Pujols is on your fantasy team, I understand your frustration I’m an owner myself. However, I advise you to stay patient. Just like dealing with weather in Hanover, you can’t panic at the beginning of Spring term when it’s raining every day and you can still see the snow left over from spring break. You have to stay calm, embrace the nice weekends and cross your fingers for more to come.

My expectations for the rest of the term are for this exciting, wacky atmosphere to keep on rolling. Just don’t mistake the pink bat that Matt Kemp uses to launch his league-leading 15th home run on Sunday (just a guess) for part of the wackiness pink bats mean Mother’s Day. So here’s a friendly reminder to take some time out of the 12S fun and get to CVS by Wednesday to send home your Mother’s Day card before it’s too late.

Club water polo finishes seventh

Lisa Rennels '14 defends Lindenwood University's Meghann Kopecky in the women's club water polo's game on Sunday.

The Dartmouth women’s club water polo team placed seventh at the National Collegiate Club Championship in Tallahassee, Fla., upsetting the University of Notre Dame in the first round and defeating Lindenwood University in its final game on Sunday. It was Dartmouth’s eighth appearance at nationals in the past 10 years, and the team’s seventh-place finish marked the program’s best since a second-place showing in 2005.

Dartmouth entered the tournament unranked nationally and seeded 11th out of 16 teams. The team encountered No. 6 Notre Dame in the first round of the tournament. Dartmouth previously faced Notre Dame during the team’s spring training trip to California in March and lost by a score of 14-2. Dartmouth has improved tremendously throughout the season, according to co-captain Haley Carstensen ’12, and the improvement showed in Dartmouth’s 11-8 upset of Notre Dame at nationals. Carstensen, who was named to the All-Tournament second team, said that Dartmouth planned to “seize the first and fourth quarter” against Notre Dame.

“We wanted to jump on them in the first quarter because they were not expecting anything from us,” Carstensen said. “We wanted to get some quick goals. The fourth [quarter] is always our strength because of our conditioning.”

The team stepped up its conditioning this year with the help of new head coach Jim Wilson. Wilson, who received the tournament’s Outstanding Coach Award, is also the head coach of Dartmouth’s men’s and women’s swimming and diving teams, and he incorporated more challenging swimming workouts into the water polo team’s practices.

Dartmouth accomplished its goal of seizing control early and jumped out to a 5-1 lead after one period. Notre Dame worked to inch its way back into the game, but the Dartmouth defense held strong while the offense continued to come up with clutch goals. Dartmouth never led by fewer than three goals the rest of the game and went on to win, 11-8.

Carstensen led Dartmouth with four goals, and Grace McDevitt ’14 and co-captain Elizabeth Kamai ’12 each had three goals. Margaret Rollins ’15 rounded out the scoring with one goal.

“We knew if we forgot about the past and focused on our team now and how hard we’ve trained that we could beat them,” Kamai said. “They’re a really good team, and it was really an upset. It was awesome to know we were a good enough team to play at their level and be on their level.”

Next up for Dartmouth was a quarterfinal matchup with No. 2 University of Michigan. Michigan eliminated Dartmouth in a close 7-4 affair, beginning the game by scoring two quick goals. Dartmouth fought back to even the score, however, and took the lead when Carstensen scored her second goal of the game with 19 seconds remaining in the first half. Dartmouth was in the lead until 3:18 remained in the third quarter, when Michigan began a 5-1 run to secure the win.

In Saturday’s second game, Dartmouth faced No. 7 University of California, Santa Cruz. Carstensen scored the first goal of the game, but UC Santa Cruz rebounded to take a 5-2 lead heading into halftime. After a scoreless third quarter for both teams, UC Santa Cruz scored three more goals to Dartmouth’s one and defeated the Big Green, 8-3.

In its final game of the tournament on Sunday, Dartmouth faced No. 18 Lindenwood University in the seventh-place game. In its fourth game of the weekend, Dartmouth took advantage of its conditioning to secure a 2-2 record for the weekend and claim seventh place with a 5-4 victory.

“It had been a long weekend, but we knew because of training so hard that we were a strong enough team to win [the game],” Kamai said. “We wanted to win and come out of the tournament with an even record.”

The game was intense from the start with Lindenwood coming out aggressively on the offensive end. Goalkeeper Shelley Wenzel ’14 was up to the task, however, recording 10 saves for Dartmouth. After battling all game, Lindenwood scored with 2:59 remaining to tie the game at four. Needing a goal to end her senior season with a win, Kamai drove in with 11 seconds left and sliced the ball past the opposing goalkeeper’s arms to score the game-winner for Dartmouth.

“Elizabeth just had this look in her eyes, like the ball was going in no matter what,” Carstensen said. “It went right through the goalie’s arms.”

Lindenwood was extremely physical, and the game was “probably one of the toughest games any of us had ever played,” according to Kamai.

“[The win in the final game] was just the best way to finish the season when we worked so hard,” Carstensen said.

Kamai added that she was pleased with the team’s success despite the Dartmouth program’s modest origins.

“I’m incredibly proud of our team,” Kamai said. “We don’t have a history of a varsity team like a lot of the other schools. They’re also huge schools with a much larger pool to choose from. We’re a tiny little college in New Hampshire and we got seventh.”

Brooks: Learning from Tragedies

On May 2, Junior Seau took his own life with a gunshot to the chest. His was the third in a string of suicides by former NFL players, and his death brought national attention to the subject of traumatic brain injury in football.

I grew up on the border of California in the town of Yuma, Ariz. Yuma is not only the home of many San Diego Chargers and Seau fans, but also of a Marine Corps Air Station. Seau himself resided in Oceanside, Calif., which encompasses the Marine Corps base Camp Pendleton. Upon hearing the news of Seau’s suicide, I couldn’t help but think of our military’s festering problems of brain injury and suicide. The parallels are striking.

The multiple concussions sustained by football players have led to increased research of chronic traumatic encephalopathy or CTE, which is caused by concussions and activities marked by repetitive head banging. Of the 18 NFL players posthumously tested for CTE, it was found in 17 of them

CTE is marked by dementia, memory loss, aggression and depression. Former NFL quarterback Jim McMahon’s short-term memory loss is so severe that he keeps his GPS auto-programmed with his home address in case he forgets how to find his way home. Dave Duerson, McMahon’s former teammate, repeatedly told his family that he felt he was crazy and became increasingly depressed until his suicide. He texted his family to donate his brain to scientific study and, like Seau after him, shot himself in the chest.

The military is now investigating rates of CTE among veterans. Blasts related to improvised explosive device attacks have resulted in many veterans sustaining brain injuries. In a recent study, 46 percent of veterans from the current wars screened positive for traumatic brain injury. CTE is difficult to diagnose, so it’s hard to know how many veterans may be afflicted with this disease. However, post-traumatic stress disorder, aggression and depression among veterans are well documented. One can imagine that CTE is the cause of some of these cases.

After Seau’s death, many athletes commented on the difficulty of life after sports and its contribution to feelings of depression. During their careers, athletes had a shared sense of purpose. There was camaraderie that doesn’t translate to life after retirement. Athletes retire in mid-life and often have trouble adjusting to the idea that their careers are over.

Even as a non-combat veteran, I can attest to the trouble adjusting to civilian life. In the military, my friends were people who would fight alongside me. I was part of a family that shared triumph and hardship and had a definitive purpose. It’s impossible not to miss that. Readjustment is even harder for combat veterans. The day-to-day affairs of life back home can seem trivial next to severity of combat. Many veterans never make the military their career, but the ones that do also retire in midlife.

Suicide rates, however, don’t tell the whole story. We will never know how many military deaths may be linked to depression or brain injury. Suicide rates and potentially suspicious motorcycle deaths have also been on the rise. Combined with elevated levels of alcohol abuse, increasing military fatalities might be more linked to brain injury and depression than is currently known.

Preventing traumatic brain injury is going to take a change in culture in both the military and the NFL. In both places, there is an incentive to hide injury. You have others counting on you, and no one wants to be seen as letting down their fellow teammate or soldier. Peyton Manning once joked about cheating concussion tests. Whether he was serious or not, there is no doubt that athletes play while injured. In the military, visiting the medical facilities is often seen as weak and is met with derision by superiors. Mission accomplishment will always trump troop welfare in the military. But soldiers and NFL players should be encouraged to seek help when they need it. Senior leaders need to see past the next game or mission and look to the long-term effects on their teams and units.

CTE often manifests itself in later years, so we have yet to see the last of its effects on athletes and service members. Junior Seau’s suicide is a tragedy, but hopefully his suicide will not only shine a spotlight on the effects of brain injury in the NFL but also in the military.

Yang: Performing Gender

We are categorized into a gender before we are even born, squeezed and confined into tightly defined conceptual boxes for the sake of easy identification. Expectant mothers are often asked, “Is it a boy or a girl?” There is an assumption of a binary system of categorization that assumes the child is either a boy or girl. This harmful practice constrains our potential for understanding ourselves and others while also othering those who fall outside its bounds. As members of a progressive society, it is our responsibility to question and challenge this construct.

Reducing gender to an either/or linguistic proposition that a person can be either a woman or a man but not an amalgamation generates false distinctions that define and demean non-heterosexual individuals and those who do not identify as one gender or the other as outsiders to the realm of “acceptable” society. Applying this heteronormative standard to all sections of society makes sex, gender and sexuality unassailable monoliths, insensible to the plight of those who exist outside a narrowly defined set of norms.

American philosopher Judith Butler argued that the apparent coherence of the categories of sex, gender and sexuality constitutes a set of “regulative discourses,” making gender a more insidious concept than merely the answer to the question of what color to paint a nursery. Rather, gender is a culturally constructed prison that, despite our unawareness of its presence, pre-limits our experiences.

As a mechanism of control, gender is remarkably effective and is hardly ever singled out as a cause for concern. Apart from gawking human-interest pieces or athletic controversies (the case of South African runner Caster Semenya comes to mind), intersex and transgender individuals are shunned or ignored by society at large. While the “gay rights issue” is a perennial election season topic, public debates on same-sex marriage and the theology of homosexuality miss the core issue: Why do these things matter so much? If everyone has equal rights, why should one’s sexuality or gender identity affect one’s treatment under a system of laws purporting to hold equal rights as its theoretical foundation? Furthermore, given the shift toward “gender-neutral” language (for example, “police officer” instead of “policeman”), why is the acceptance of gender-nonconforming people so much more difficult to achieve?

The answers to these and similar questions reside in our concept of gender itself. Our binary understanding of gender blinds us to the existence of non-heterosexual sexualities and non-binary gender identities. A world where we can ask, “Is it a boy or a girl?” without recognizing the inherently problematic nature of such a question is one that fails to leave conceptual space for those whose identities subvert the status quo.

This is where parody comes in to expose gender as a performative practice. Parodies destabilize gender by subverting and re-appropriating normative expressions of gender in new contexts. They blur the distinction between inner and outer psychic space, mocking both the expressive model of gender and the notion of a “true” fixed gender identity. Drag in particular is a double inversion, allowing one to make the contradictory claims of feminine appearance and masculine persona or vice versa, with the first character set embraced during the act of drag and the second embraced when out of drag. These concurrent contradictory claims reveal gender as more than a matter of choosing between a male or female identity. As an imitative practice, drag reveals the imitative structure of gender itself. By separating sex and gender, then combining them in an “unnatural” way, drag dramatizes their fabricated unity, revealing them as distinct.

Parody destabilizes the very concepts of sex and gender, showing the absurdity of a binary gender economy. It undermines sex and gender by mocking the notion of an original predetermined gender-signifying economy, leading to the realization that there is no original. The realization of this fact propels the movement away from the gender binary.

Because parody reveals gender’s constructed nature, it establishes the political nature of the very terms “man,” “woman,” “male,” “female” that define sex and gender identity. By revealing gender’s construction, parodies liberate us to move beyond limiting questions such as “Is it a boy or a girl?” to a society that can not only comprehend, but also embrace, those of non-heterosexual and gender-nonconforming identities.

Daily Debriefing

Several Ivy League institutions have begun hiring retired military officers as faculty, according to The New York Times. Yale University currently offers a popular leadership seminar taught by Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who was fired by President Barack Obama after Rolling Stone magazine reported that he and his staff made “dismissive comments” about White House officials, The Times reported. Princeton University and Columbia University will both offer seminars taught by military officers in the fall, according to The Times. In the past, Harvard University has frequently invited military officers, such as the director of the Central Intelligence Agency and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to give lectures on the university’s campus. McChrystal expected more protest when he was hired, but Yale history professor John Gaddis attributed the lack of contention to “almost no antimilitary bias among students,” The Times reported.

Last week, Brandman University, a private, non-profit institution in California and Washington, and University Ventures Fund, a for-profit investment group, launched Ameritas College, an initiative aimed at serving underrepresented Hispanic students, Inside Higher Ed reported. Ameritas will offer affordable, accelerated associate and bachelor’s degree tracks and will include in-person classes and additional online coursework, according to Inside Higher Ed. Ameritas aims to “crack the code” with the problem of college completion in the Latino population and will target working adults. Both the fund and Brandman will jointly control Ameritas College and will combine for-profit and non-profit elements, according to Inside Higher Ed.