NABOR: For five days in July, geeks come from all over the world to downtown San Diego for Comic-Con International. This year, two of those geeks were UCLA staff members. They represented UCLA as program participants in a panel discussion on Thursday called “Bringing Geek Back to Higher Education.” According to the panelists, colleges are often challenged with creating a sense of community for students that fosters their passions, develops their leadership skills outside the classroom, and retains them through graduation. But universities don’t always engage everyone.
MACDONALD: Historically, universities are great at engaging folks where, the things that come to mind are student government, fraternities and sororities. A lot of those where the folks that maybe you see at San Diego Comic-Con, they might not feel that community at a college or university.
NABOR: That was Brian MacDonald, the director of residential education at UCLA. As a self-proclaimed geek who sports a tattoo of Yoda on his arm and has attended San Diego Comic-Con for the past nine years, MacDonald knows from experience what happens if you try to repress your geekiness, or the ways you can be extremely passionate about certain things.
MACDONALD: Growing up and realizing suddenly that I was a target and I was getting picked on, I buried all of my passions as a kid.
NABOR: After high school, he realized that burying his passions put him in a miserable place where he would pretend to be passionate about other things.
On the scenic ninth floor of the public library in downtown San Diego, MacDonald moderated the panel of students and staff from various schools. The panelists discussed the successful examples of engaging students by encouraging their geekiness. Representing UCLA as a panelist was Patricia ChauNguyen, the senior director of diversity programs in alumni affairs. She spoke about her experience organizing the Nerd Girl Panel held last April at the first UCLA Geek Week.
NGUYEN: If someone wasn’t feeling super feminist, we let that narrative really shine. For those that were super duper feminist, we let that shine as well. I think being able to open the door for anyone to be who they are, that’s truly what we’re trying to do, right? ‘Cause we’ve been on the outside many times. So why do it here?
NABOR: Nguyen has been to Comic-Con since 1998 and enjoys cosplaying as her favorite Marvel superheroes. She has allowed her geek identity to intersect with the work she does at UCLA because she believes it is valuable to the students and alumni she interacts with.
NGUYEN: If you’re passionate about anything, that’s what the true definition of a geek is. You often hear, “You know I can’t really identify as a geek.” And you start talking to them and you’re like, “No, I’m sorry but how much you’re going to geek out on pickling? I’m sorry, that geek identity is for you to own.” And I think that’s something that we’re really trying to do, offer a more accessible definition of what the word “geek” means.
NABOR: Nguyen wants people to realize that being geeky about things should be accepted and encouraged. She believes it would help change attitudes about higher education.
NGUYEN: I think so many students are motivated to get a job after college. The conversation around passion has been lost. And so when you offer that space for someone to truly express their passion, leadership comes out. Because we’re tapping into that instead of saying college is just a means to get something. Let college be the process for you to realize who you want to be and what gift you’re going to give the world. So I think that’s what geekdom does, because people’s passions are expressed so profusely in those spaces.
NABOR: At Comic-Con, passionate people come together to celebrate the comics, toys, video games, television shows or films that they love. They celebrate creativity and find community in shared passions. Through their panel at Comic-Con, MacDonald and Nguyen hope other geeky parents, faculty, staff and students do the same at their own universities.
MACDONALD: So with this panel it really is: Despite the bureaucracy, despite how much it costs, despite how stressful it is, can we make college a time where every single day students feel the same connection that maybe the people who come to Comic-Con feel?
NABOR: As staff, MacDonald and Nguyen hope to bring the same excitement and magic of Comic-Con to the UCLA campus throughout the school year. For Daily Bruin Radio, this is Dariane Nabor.