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My Rutgers University Legacy

06 Oct Posted by in • Guest Writers | Comments Off on My Rutgers University Legacy
My Rutgers University Legacy

Last Friday, Rutgers President Richard McCormick stated that the school had a “strong history of social activism on behalf of diversity” Epochalips received this story just a few days prior to the tragic suicide of Rutgers student Tyler Clementi. Kim Reed was one of the first women to join the Rutgers Gay Alliance in 1979.

I met a younger woman at library school. Her extensive skin scrollwork of tattoos, circular nose ring and love for lightweight feminine dresses define a style that is popular with a younger generation.  My new friend identifies herself as queer, coming to the lettered community from third wave feminism, a punk rock riot grrl.  I think I know what all of this means.  I have watched women younger than myself rock out, leap into space by every conveyable line, machine and device.  They embrace a dizzying kaleidoscope of styles and cultural fusions, often engraved in their own skin as memorial, decoration or modification.

In the late 70s a lesbian dressed like a “dyke” without shame in jeans, men’s jackets, maybe trousers or dress pants.  Athletes dressed like beach boys.  Leftist feminists cloaked in hand woven, village designed cotton clothes. Working women liked team jackets, leather bomber or cycling jackets.  At Rutgers and Douglas Colleges from 1979 to 1983, I never met a woman with a tattoo.  Being naked together was the hottest radical act.

The Rutgers Alumnae office caught up to me in Chicago just after my correspondence with the younger riot grrrl. The office sales representative contacted me to confirm that my information in the new alum directory was accurate. Out of curiosity I found the website through the link she sent me.  I scroll down past my current address and contact information.  There were three empty lines where I could add student organizations that I belonged to in college.

I remembered that I was in the Douglas Feminist Collective, The Rutgers Gay Alliance and the Demarest Hall Women’s Studies Section. The act of belonging, choosing to be open in a society that was hostile and hateful to lesbians, was worth a memorial. To claim these activities as part of my adult identity involved reclaiming a long and constant battle with the world over who I am as a person and how a human being has to be defined in order to make sense to other people.

Rutgers University allowed women to enter the men’s college just a few years prior to my freshmen class.  The first week of classes I looked for a place to belong. The Gay Alliance was an all male organization that attracted few women in 1979.  A crisis of identification in my day occurred when a male member of the Alliance, showing a new man around, looked into the office and said, “This is our office; these are our chairs and desk, and this is our lesbian.”  Gay did not automatically mean sensitive to women’s issues. No one remembers the two or three people who opened the breach for a change in our language and innovations in our understanding.  Today, encompassing so many letters and articulations of identity and experience, the group is just called The Alliance.

The motive behind forming Demarest Hall Women’s Studies Section was to have an alternative feminist sorority.  Our members were all women, lesbian, bisexual, heterosexual, who loved and studied together.

I think veterans of the earlier gender wars should have a special tattoo, like a coat of arms.  It would signal that we lived through sad language, threats of compulsory heterosexuality, violence and political rape.  I have seen discrimination and nonsense you would not believe.  I wouldn’t wear it on my sleeve.  It might freak out my new post punk queer friends.

I almost erase the three lines of memory.  I let it stand.  The real memorial will have to remain in me.  I hit the submit button to my college association directory.

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