“When you go to college, do something that you can’t do in high school.”
This was a piece of advice that one of my high school teachers gave me towards the end of my senior year in high school. I had zero clue what they meant. My understanding was that college was school just like high school was school.
I hadn’t realized that college courses required more than rote memorization, but also active engagement with class materials and in discussions. The only difference I expected was a difference of course topics, So I signed up for classes in topics that my high school did not cover, thinking that everything would be relatively similar to high school. One of those classes was Gender and Sexuality in the Middle East and North Africa, which was listed under the Women’s Studies department.
You see, I had no intention of seriously pursuing Women’s Studies. I entered Duke thinking that I was going to study neuroscience. However, as someone who has always identified as a feminist, I thought it would be interesting to learn about feminism in an academic setting. I didn’t have any particular expectations, I was just doing something in college that I couldn’t in high school.
Fast-forward to today. I, Sally Tran, am a rising senior majoring in Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies (the Women’s Studies department was renamed) as well as Psychology. Neuroscience isn’t in the picture anymore, and my primary major wasn’t in the picture when I entered Duke.
In those fourteen weeks of my first semester in the Gender and Sexuality in the Middle East and North Africa class, I learned about a different kind of feminism than the one I had understood before. From Jarrod Hayes’ Queer Nations: Marginal Sexualities in the Maghreb to Shahrnush Parsipur’s Women Without Men: A Novel of Modern Iran, I learned about third-world feminism. I learned about how different people at different periods of time in different places understood sex and virginity. I learned about the dangers of having the standards and expectations of today’s society bias my understanding of practices of the past. I was challenged to think differently.
And frankly, I wasn’t very good at critically analyzing texts from class and my own personal experiences. But challenging and changing the way I understand the world was eye-opening. I wanted to learn more about how my understanding of the world was limited, and that’s how I found myself investing in Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies.
This summer, I’ll be working with the National Domestic Workers Alliance in New York towards gaining dignity and fairness for domestic workers in the US.
What does this mean?
I’ll be putting my efforts to show that the individuals who work with our families and our homes deserve basic labor rights because they do real, demanding, and quality work. In other words, I hope to challenge the way people understand domestic work and domestic workers.
Although I have some understanding of how race, class, and gender have played a role in today’s status of domestic workers, I can’t wait to gain more experiences that affect how I see the world. Perhaps… no, most likely, I’ll once again learn a different kind feminism than the one I currently understand.
While I’m in New York, I’ll think back.
Back to that old advice for new experiences.