Best read of the week: Nonconforming

Laurent Dubreuil is a professor in Cornell’s College of Arts and Sciences, so I tweeted this essay of his in the September 2020 Harper’s from the college account. It was tricky in this case to promote, as is my job, both the college and the professor. In the first paragraphs, he questions one of Cornell’s darling—and I would argue, important—initiatives: support for first generation college students.

Nonconforming: Against the erosion of academic freedom by identity politics.

It’s complicated. Dubreuil is complicated. Every person on a college campus is complicated.

It’s not the support but the label Dubreuil resists in this excellent and hackle-raising (if you work in academia) essay, arguing that a plethora of intersecting identities do not free us:

“We all should have the right to evade identification, individually and collectively,” he writes.

“What’s more, identity politics as now practiced does not put an end to racism, sexism, or other sorts of exclusion or exploitation. Ready-made identities imprison us in stereotyped narratives of trauma. In short, identity determinism has become an additional layer of oppression, one that fails to address the problems it clumsily articulates.”

Dubreuil reintroduces the college campus as a place one comes not to fit in but to stand out—to eschew comfort, to welcome challenge, and to grow. For me, this is a refreshing restatement of the reminder I frequently need: to get out of my own head.

1 Comment

  1. Laurent Ferri on September 6, 2020 at 3:28 pm

    Short yet excellent review. LD is not “against” identities or against policies supporting minorities, he’s against social media-based identity politics and cynical identity-based political clientelism. Why? Because they imprison us in stereotypes of trauma, strip us of our individual personality, and result mostly in resentment and the eternal repetition of the same antagonisms and calls for vengeance (not the same as reparation and reassessment). As it says at the end, we should try not to swallow the venom and spit it back in the face of others if we still want to live together in diverse and tolerant societies.