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Anissa Tanksley '14: On Discomfort and Discovery

Posted Nov 16 2012 - 7:15pm

 

Hometown? San Jose, California

Major? Russian

 

So this year you’re involved with the rugby team, the women’s resource center, and you work at the library? Any other activities filling your time?

 

That about sums it up.

 

Tell me how your role as such an integral part of the women’s rugby team has shaped your Bowdoin experience?

I think rugby was the best part of my freshman year. It gave me a nice escape from the rest of the Bowdoin bubble. It was a really accepting, awesome, weird group of people, which is exactly what I needed at that time. I think that being around such confident and carefree crazy ass women really gave me the freedom to just explore Bowdoin with no shame and no regrets and that’s exactly what your freshman year should be.

 

And since then?

Since then I think rugby has given me an opportunity to have some structure in my life, to stay active and healthy, and to give back to the team what it’s given me. Certainly, it’s not always perfect but as in every team you’ll ever be a part of, you give a little, and you a get a lot.

 

How do you like working for the women’s resource center?

It’s definitely been a learning experience. I first got involved with working for Melissa last semester as a proctor in Moore. I was hanging out in my room with my freshman women and we started talking about how they were never really taught how to have good sex. They were obviously taught the basic anatomy, but in general, women are never really taught how to have enjoyable sex. In heterosexual relationships, its more about the sexual pleasure of the male and that’s how women are introduced to sex. I think that’s extremely unfortunate and I wanted to do something for them to try to bridge that gap, so I approached Melissa and I told her that I wanted to do a type of good sex education programming. I got in touch with Sandra Hayes and we put on Sex with Sandra, which was an awesome and extremely informative event. That’s how I started to work for the Women’s Resource Center.

 

I have mixed feels about it now. I think that our presence on campus and what we strive to do is nothing short of awesome. However, the social scene on this campus still has a long way to go in terms of gender equality and female empowerment. I think that we forget sometimes that we have been socialized into a largely patriarchal society. We forget that those same social norms we have been socialized to believe, were developed in this society a long time ago, and they clearly shape how we view ourselves and the world today. They literally seep into every aspect of our daily lives, and so we see them as normal. That’s why I do what I do. The reason why I wanted to work for the Women’s Resource Center is because I want to empower women on campus, I feel that women are pushed aside or not addressed in the social scene at Bowdoin, and do not have the same agency as men in certain situations. It really saddens me to see the lack of confidence and the lack of female role models on this campus who choose to do their own thing and toe that line between what is socially acceptable and what is right. I was lucky enough to have role models who embodied these elements and I hope that I can do the same for those around me.

 

So with this in mind, what are your specific goals for this semester with the Women’s Resource Center?

I would really love to do programming with women of color and relationships on campus. It’s rarely talked about but there are very few bi-racial couples on this campus, and women of color rarely have positive healthy sexual relationships at Bowdoin. I get a lot of shit for saying this but women of color are not what is considered beautiful here at Bowdoin. They don’t fit into the socially acceptable standards of beauty that dominate this campus and I don’t think people really understand what that means. Every day, women of color at Bowdoin walk through a world that was not really made for them and yet they dare not complain about the lot they have been given for fear of being labeled as an angry stereotype of their race. It is quite a different reality than most people on this campus can imagine. I think that there needs to be some acknowledgement of this and that is what I would like to do.

 

Next semester you’re heading off to St. Petersburg, Russia.  How/why did you choose this location?

Russian was a random choice for me. Honestly, I needed a forth class my sophomore year and I wanted to take a language so I took Russian. I have a lot of difficulties with my hearing and so learning languages has always been really difficult for me, and I almost dropped out of Russian after my first semester but then I had a moment of intense determination and decided that I was going to do something I never thought I could do, so I continued with my Russian. I didn’t think it would ever take me to Russia, and I was actually going to go to Copenhagen until the end of last semester. I was feeling extremely stagnant in my life and my place at Bowdoin, and I felt that I needed to go somewhere that was going to have a significant impact on the way I look at the world. I wanted to go somewhere that was going to challenge me, somewhere that I was going to feel uncomfortable, somewhere I was going to have to overcome adversity. I still question my choice, and I’m scared shitless to go there, especially being a person of color because that is certainly a rarity in Russia. However, when I came to Bowdoin I I firmly believed that I would never study abroad because it was stepping way too far outside of my comfort zone and now I feel like I’m ready to go off into the world and deal with some bigger questions of who I am in relation to it.

 

After Bowdoin?

I know it’s very naïve of me given the current economic climate but I’m trying very hard not to worry what’s going to happen to me after of Bowdoin. There will come a certain point when I will have to deal with those decisions, but at the moment I have larger fish to fry. Right now I’m focusing on what I am going to do while I am here. Having one of my closest friends, Nylea Bivens, leave and seeing  how many lives she was able to touch while she was here, has inspired me to look beyond myself and to see what I can do to help other women struggling to find their place at Bowdoin. Bowdoin has not always been the happiest place in the world for me, but that being said, it is here that I have become the strong confident women I am today. The journey I went through to get to where I am is something I feel inclined to share with other women.

 

What do you want your legacy to be?

Firstly, I am not so pompous as to assume that I will have a legacy at Bowdoin. That being said, I think the one thing about Bowdoin that frustrates me the most is that there are certain things that just never get talked about. They’re taboo and people feel very uncomfortable when you bring these subjects up. I’ve always been the person to make people feel uncomfortable, anyone can attest to that, because I think its imperative for us to be constantly questioning the world around us and what we perceive to be normal. This is the single most important tenant by which I live my life and whenever I feel settled in a mind set or comfortable where I am, I question why it is that I think the way I do and what experiences have lead me to those conclusions. I think this is the only way by which we can reach full understanding, and I think that this method of thinking is completely overlooked at Bowdoin in our interactions with one another, and the way that we look at the broader social structure on our campus. We rarely take the time to look at the way that our backgrounds have shaped our own biases, and how those biases are perceived by others in our daily lives. I know that the power I have to make any type of lasting change on this campus is extremely minimal; however, I know that in the personal relationships that I’ve formed at this school, I understand and utilize empathy fully. If anything, I would like that to be my legacy.

 

 

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