Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
Every sophomore year, there are sophomores complaining that none of the available major fit them. History is too boring, English has that pesky pre-1750 requirement, and Math is just too hard. Recognizing this problem, the administration has finally stepped forward to create “Identity Studies,” where students can tailor a program to satisfy their needs and interests exactly.
Mark Wong ’09, an upper-class Asian-American queer male who plays the oboe, is one of the students who has declared “Identity Studies” as a major. His advisor told us that Wong had been very conscientious in selecting his courses. “I suggested that he take a course on Asian-American literature, and he pointed out to me that lower-class Asian-Americans and heterosexual Asian-Americans have different problems than upper-class queer Asian-Americans, and so he would probably get bored by the third week. We decided that instead, he should do a directed reading that only focused on novels about upper-class queer Asian-Americans.”
Don’t upper-class queer Asian-Americans who don’t play the oboe face different problems than those who do? Wong admitted that yes, this was the case, “but there’s not enough books on those of us who play the oboe… we’ve broadened it out to include all wind instruments.” Wong hopes to write a memoir about playing the oboe as a queer upper-class Asian-American for his senior thesis.
Jane Smith ’09, a middle-class white straight girl from the suburbs of New Jersey, is the first student to declare an Honors Major in “Identity Studies.” At first her advisor had a hard time thinking of classes for her, but it turns out that Smith is a left-handed youngest child whose parents got divorced when she was fourteen. She will be taking courses on divorce in the suburbs and also on the problems faced by left-handed females. Her oral exams will be conducted by people just like her, who will be querying her on her Honors Thesis, tentatively titled “Growing Up in a Rightnormative World: The Dangers of Safety Scissors and Softball Mitts.”
What do Smith and Wong plan to do with their degrees? Wong hopes to use his oboe to inspire other queer Asian-Americans to achieve as much as he has, and Smith hopes to work for a non-profit that promotes equal treatment for lefties in the suburbs of New Jersey. When informed that there was no such foundation, she replied that she plans to start one. “Preparing you to fight oppression in the world… that’s what a liberal arts education is all about.”