When I decided on a college to attend, I chose UCLA because of its diversity and acceptance for people of different backgrounds.
But in just the last five years at UCLA, blatant forms of insensitive ignorance have caused great amounts of offense, outrage and outcry. I remember watching a video entitled “Asians in the Library,” in which a UCLA student mocked her Asian peers. I remember seeing a flier posted in restrooms that directed racial slurs aimed at Vietnamese women. I most recently remember the “Kanye Western” themed raid that occurred just fall quarter which was received as a disrespect toward our black student population.
Even when walking to class on Bruin Walk, I encountered some of the same insensitivity. I noticed some Greek groups will host “coming out shows” as part of the spring recruitment process. At these events, members of the organization announce their coming out to the community with chants, stepping and other traditional rituals.
As a closeted bisexual, this stopped me in my tracks.
The title of such celebration appalled and offended me, and might have done the same for some of my peers. The more popular use of the phrase “coming out” is a figure of speech most often related to a person’s self-disclosure of their sexual orientation, or lack thereof, or their gender identity.
Similarly, I have received fliers for dance clubs on which only male-female couples are presented on the advertisement. In this way, these groups are, even if unintentionally, turning away potential members because of the lack of forethought.
When considering uneducated attitudes on our campus, special attention should be paid to not only themes, but to the more innocuous names and language these groups use when gathering. The UCLA community need to be more active in coaching their members to navigate themselves through our diverse community.
Understandably, this can be difficult. Even within the LGBT community, “coming out” isn’t a solidified term.
Abigail Saguy, a professor of sociology and gender studies at UCLA, hosted the UCLA Center for the Study of Women’s “Coming Out As …” event, detailing the history of the phrase “coming out.” According to her, the closet metaphor was not used by the LGBT community until the 1960s.
“The phrase was originally associated with debutante balls, where young women ‘came out’ as being introduced to society,” Saguy said.
Gamma Rho Lambda, UCLA’s LGBTQ+ sorority, follows a similar new member routine for their new members.
“Most of us see no issue with calling the event a ‘coming out’ show as that is what it is. New member ‘coming out’ to the public as an active member,” said Julie Mejia Plazas, the sorority’s publicity officer.
But members of this sorority are already out and active in the LGBT community and feel more comfortable sharing out their narratives than are other students who might experience more pressure around the topic.
And many are very hesitant to come out. My family does not know that I identify as bisexual. My parents are Mexican immigrants, raised on traditional values and stereotyped gender roles. Coming out to them as bisexual would call into question the ideals on which they raised their family.
But keeping a part of my identity a secret creates anxiety toward the consequences of possibly becoming exposed to the people I care about most. And while their support may stay the same, their reaction and initial discomfort toward the subject would cause an amount of stress I would rather not introduce into my life at this moment. So when I heard about my friends in Greek life attending their “coming out” shows, I felt my heart drop.
It’s true that not everyone feels this way – after all, “coming out” as a certain person is relative to society and what values it deems important. But the phrase “coming out” is more heavily associated with the LGBT community today and not the debutante balls from a hundred years ago. Lack of knowledge and awareness contributes to the perpetual oppression of marginalized groups, but having conversations today reflecting these issues helps remedy the problem.
Recognition that this language may be harmful is critical, especially at this time of the year. About 15,000 newly admitted UCLA applicants attended Bruin Day this past weekend. Among them are students who identify with the LGBT community, as African-American or Latino/a, and a myriad of other marginalized groups who hope to be welcomed into a community that allows them to focus more on their learning rather than the same oppression they may have experienced at home.
These narratives should generate conversation before a group advances with their events in order to consciously be a part of a larger and diverse community. Such a level of critical thought is essential in a world-renowned and progressive setting like UCLA.
Some groups are doing this. This month, members of the Delta Lambda Phi fraternity and Sigma Lambda Gamma sorority hosted “Born to be Alive: Drag Appreciation & Show” to open dialogue around this topic and issues of intersectionality.
“I have had beautiful moments with many (Greek) organizations, however the lack of inclusion is very large,” said Hector Lerma, president of the UCLA Delta Lambda Phi chapter. “The conversations are starting little by little, but we need to make it happen faster and happen now.”
It’s true that understanding the impact rather than the intention of our actions takes grand effort. Simple colloquialisms like “Hey, guys” are easy to use, but this primary interaction may stop a social connection from happening if the respondent does not identify as male and is too tired of being called the wrong pronoun to give the greeter more than a second of their time. These moments accumulate throughout a group’s expansion on campus and form a foundation on which tolerance, knowledge and empathy have no room.
As we continually grow and learn during our time on this campus, we are urged to uphold ourselves to the highest ethical values, including respecting the rights and dignity of others. Themes, phrases and any representation to the outer community directly speaks on the group’s attitudes.
I am Latina. I am first-generation American college student. I am bisexual. When looking for a home away from home, I expect it to be as respectful and empathetic as I had first thought.