Where is Tufts, in terms of diversity?

6 03 2009

Lisa Coleman, who deals with issues around equal employment and diversity at Tufts, came to the Women’s Center First Friday lunch today to talk about issues around race, gender, and overall diversity at the Tufts campus. She mentioned many interesting facts about diversity at Tufts, like how at the vet school most entering students are women (I think somewhere around 88%? I don’t remember the exact percentage) while most faculty are men, and less than 1% of the student body here have physical disabilities (Tufts isn’t quite the most disability friendly campus).

One of the things she said that resonated most strongly with me was about diversity and how people seem to think that the approach to diversity on campus centers more around “feeling good” than actually knowing about power differentials, privilege/enfranchisement, etc. So if I have friends of different cultural backgrounds – if I have a friend from Chile, a friend from Turkey, a friend from South Africa, a friend from Korea – and if I go to different cultural groups’ events and eat their food – the Carribean Culture Club’s events and eat Carribean food, or the Pan Asian Alliance’s dumpling night – then I am diverse enough and don’t need to worry too much about it.

Wrong. You can have diverse friends, and that’s certainly good, but you can’t just stop at that. You can go to different cultural groups’ events, but you can’t just stop at that either. Diversity is not just having friends from different cultural backgrounds, of different genders, of different sexual orientations, etc. Really understanding diversity issues means learning about how you are enfranchised or disenfranchised because of an aspect of your identity – your ethnicity, the gender you identify as, your sexual orientation, your socioeconomic status, whether you’re able bodied or not. It means learning about privilege and the ways in which privilege has helped you get where you are today. It means learning about how the playing ground is uneven because of the interaction of the various ism’s: racism, classism, sexism, heterosexism, ableism, etc.

Diversity training is so essential but undervalued because people seem to think that we are beyond that. Especially here at Tufts, when we’re known for having a good International Relations programs, when a large percentage of the student body is international, when we’re so into volunteering and “active citizenship”. Coleman mentioned how many alums have complained about not having had sufficient diversity training at the undergraduate level and therefore being unprepared when they emerged into the “real world” and started working.

But the question is, how do we integrate diversity training into daily life at Tufts? How do we make it an issue that people see as important enough to do extensive and sustained trainings on? How do we convince people that we have to push ourselves further out of our comfort zones and challenge ourselves even more to confront and truly understand diversity issues?

Sexy Dora the Explorer

6 03 2009

Dora the Explorer is getting a makeover. In Fall 2009 Nickelodeon and Mattel are going to launch a grown up, sexier Dora – the Dora Links fashion doll. The doll is interactive and is supposed to be plugged into a computer where girls can customize their doll by changing her hair style, eye color, clothing and jewelry. Gina Sirard, vice president of marketing for Mattel, says:

The doll really taps into a tween’s love of fashion and empowers girls to influence and change the ‘lives’ of Dora and her friends. The instant gratification that girls receive as they change Dora online and watch as the doll magically transforms right before their eyes is groundbreaking in today’s toy market. What’s more, parents can feel comfortable knowing that Dora’s online world provides a safe and wholesome play experience for their children.

Assuming that all female tweens love fashion just plays into gender stereotypes and gender socialization. Also, excuse me but how does the doll “empower girls to influence and change the ‘lives’ of Dora and her friends”? First of all, girls only change Dora’s appearance which is superficial and helps to perpetuate society’s overemphasis on appearance. Girls are already bombarded and overloaded with all these imposed unrealistic beauty standards.

Secondly, why should girls be focusing on “empowering” a fictional character in a fictional world instead of empowering themselves and their own lives? Empowerment is not about changing your physical appearance and trying to dress sexier. It is especially not about changing the appearances of other girls.

These Dora dolls are also going to be expensive (they’ll be priced at around $59.99). The hypersexualization of Dora is quite unsettling. Her sexier silhouette reflects a lot of ideals of femininity: long hair, extreme thinness, and wearing miniskirts to show off more leg. Dora is also supposed to be Latina but sexed up Dora embodies a very western, white standard of beauty.

Dora, the Sexy Explorer?

Dora, the Sexy Explorer?

This speaks to the hyper-sexualization of chlidhood and how girls especially are so forcefully ushered into sexy teen-hood or adulthood, completely bypassing childhood. From such an early age, girls are indoctrinated into hypersexualized femininity. Dora is not the only child cartoon character who has been revamped into a grown-up and sexier character. Look at how Strawberry Shortcake morphed:


She’s become skinnier, more feminized (longer hair, longer eyelashes) and posed in a sexier position. She used to be innocent and cutesy looking but morphed into a flirtatious, more femininie, and sexy character. Care Bears have also been made over to be skinnier and have less round bellies which sadly shows how even cartoon bears have to conform to such harmful, hegemonic beauty ideals of thinness.

The hypersexualization of cartoon characters is disturbing and it’s damaging to children. Where are more positive role models for girls if real life celebrities and popular cartoon characters are all sexed up and make it seem as though what’s on the outside matters most?