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Redefining Kinship for On-Campus Mobilization at Kalamazoo College

By Anthony Diep Rosas 

Anthony Diep Rosas was a student activist at Kalamazoo College. He graduated with his Bachelors of Arts on June 16, 2019.

Kalamazoo College’s (K’s) campus demographic in regards to ethnicity and race has drastically changed. From 2008 to 2009, roughly 14% of the campus demographic comprised of Asian, Latino, multi-cultural, American Indian, and Black students. Last year, from 2018 to 2019, that same demographic body has increased to 34% on campus. Of that overarching percentage, the Latino, Asian, and Black community has grown compared to what they were like a decade ago.

As the racial and ethnic demographic continues to change on campus, I wonder how kinship is constructed. Kalamazoo College is historically and currently a predominately white institution; its whiteness continues to persist and oppress students of color. Students of color have sought their kin, a kinship that seems to be constructed and influenced by their racial and ethnic identities amongst a racially-tense campus (I am drawing this statement from my own personal observations and experiences). In some ways, this constructed kinship might be concerning, as students may solely define their kinship based off their own racial and ethnic identities, and thus, inhibit the creation of a kinship that welcomes all oppressed identities on campus. With divided kinship, we become separated by race, and we fail to combine our energy and effort together to tackle K’s oppression. Audre Lorde offers promising insight from “The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action” from her book Sister Outsider where she says that we can make “the decision to build and maintain ourselves and our communities together and to recognize and solve our problems together.” To marginalized students at K, how can we redefine kinship on campus that transcend our own racial identities? We can seek knowledge from our queer kin in understanding what radical, revolutionary kinship looks like. In addition, we will explore Ruha Benjamin’s analysis on kinship in order to guide us, marginalized students at K College, in redefining and constructing a new kinship, that involves us all in the face of oppression.

Queer kinship breaks down racial and ethnic borders. In Butch Queens Up in Pumps by Marlon M. Bailey, Bailey writes about queer ballroom culture. Here, Bailey describes “three inextricable dimensions [that] constitute the social world of Ballroom culture,” one of which includes the kinship structure in ballroom houses. These “houses are family-like structures that are configured socially rather than biologically.” Each house has parents. The “house parents provide guidance for their “children” of various ages, race/ethnic identities (usually Black and Latino/a), genders, and sexualities, who come from cities and regions through North America.” It is important to recognize that the houses offer a “social sanctuary for those who have been rejected by and marginalized within their families of origin, religious institutions, and society at large.” The kinship structure amongst queer folk in ballroom culture is powerfully revolutionary. In light of oppression towards queerness from racial, biological, and religious domains, the queer community in ballroom houses have formed a kinship and community that transcends these social boundaries. A Black poor mother from New York in a ballroom house can parent a Chinese lower middle-class child from Toronto, Canada. In queerness, kinship is not solely defined by a single social identity like race. Ballroom houses can offer light to K’s campus. If we pursue a queer kinship framework like the ballroom house, different racial and ethnic communities on K’s campus can reconstruct a kinship that welcomes all marginalized peoples that hold different social identities (involving their sexualities, genders, race, and more). With our queer framework, we can seek Ruha Benjamin’s words from Black AfterLives Matter: Cultivating Kinfulness as Reproductive Justice from Making Kin, Not Population in building/redefining kinship.

Ruha Benjamin shares that “all kinship, in the end, is imaginary.” If we imagine kinship as imaginary, we can understand that its construction is malleable. The question is, how might we (students of different oppressed identities) mold a revolutionary queer kinship in the face of K’s oppression? Benjamin shares that “reorienting ourselves towards kinship not as a precursor but as an effect of social struggle denaturalizes what kinfulness means and how to enact it.” When we think of kinship as product of oppression, we can dismiss any inherent presumption of kinship defined by racial and ethnic identities. To my campus kin, I encourage us to take a step back and think about where we stand in defining kinship. Are we currently defining it solely by racial identities, or are we organizing kinship as a product of campus oppression? I believe we are the prior, and unfortunately we are exhausting ourselves. There will be weeks where the Latinx Student Organization, the Black Student Organization, and the Asian Pacific Islander Student Association run their own segregated events across the same timeline that ultimately, and fundamentally, offer the same theme—to create visibility for marginalized students on campus. But who are we creating visibility for? The institution? white folks? Should they not be the ones who should actively see us? We are exhausting ourselves friends. Campus oppression impacts us all. I return to Benjamin’s words. If we can center our definition of community and kinship around campus oppression, we can seek “solidarity across differences” in response to the overarching oppression on our campus. Let us organize and come together. Let us demand as a collective. Let us split the work. We do not need to do this separately. In recollection, I am hopeful that by seeking a queer framework of kinship as seen with the ballroom house and navigating our definition of kinship through Benjamin’s words, our changing campus demographic can immortalize a community of kin that transcends racial and ethnic boundaries to ultimately create a non-oppressive, revolutionary campus.

And so I end…

My kin, let us organize, for our colorful differences combined form an unapologetically-quilted union for transformative change.

Anthony Diep Rosas is a 2019 graduate of biology from Kalamazoo College. In the past few years, he has served as an administrative research assistant exploring the campus’s racial climate, a community organizer, a research fellow investigating how to reduce Black infant mortality, and program coordinator for the Harbor-UCLA Summer Urban Health Fellowship, where he helped co-facilitate and co-develop workshops for social justice leadership in program fellows to reinforce sustainable movements for health justice in underserved communities in Los Angeles. Anthony will be spending his post-graduate year in Chiang Mai, Thailand under the Luce Fellowship, where he will work with migrants through the Migrant Assistance Program near the Thailand-Myanmar border on projects involving community health and empowerment. He finds refuge in hip hop and literary works by his recent influencers, Tupac Shakur, Audre Lorde, and James Baldwin.

Works Cited
Bailey, Marlon M. Butch Queens Up in Pumps. University of Michigan Press, 2013. Web.
Clarke, Adele E, and Donna Jeanne Haraway. Making Kin Not Population. N.p., 2018. Print.
College, Kalamazoo. “Diversity at Kalamazoo College.” N.p., n.d. Web.
Lorde, Audre. Sister Outsider: Essays & Speeches by Audre Lorde. Ten Speed Press, 1984. Print.



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