In college I was an RA for a year for an all-freshman dorm. Our team of RAs organized a handful of events during the year. One was called Crossing The Line. The purpose of the activity is to allow people to publicly declare how they self-identify with certain ideas and labels.
Here’s how it works: A long piece of tape is applied to the middle of a large room, and everyone in the dorm lines up on the same side of the room. No talking is permitted during the activity. A moderator reads off a list of identifying statements or prompts, and if you agree with the statement, then you walk across the line. If you disagree, you stay put. The effect, is you can visually see both individuals and approximate percentages of people that agree or disagree with the prompts.
The prompts start out very easy:
- I’m from the South. (about 20% crossed)
- I’m a dog lover. (most of the room crossed)
And then ramp up towards controversial:
- I hope to find my future spouse while at college (about one-third crossed).
- I believe racial profiling can be useful. (nearly no one crossed)
The purpose of this post is to mention one specific prompt: I am a feminist. Roughly one-third of the women crossed and 2 guys crossed (I was one of them). By coincidence I had had a conversation a few weeks earlier where a friend explained to me that being a feminist was working towards the belief that men and women should have equal rights. It’s a no-brainer for me that I self-identified with that statement. In a post-activity discussion, it came out that so few people in the room crossed the line because most of the freshmen had a very different idea of what it means to be a feminist. To them the word evoked activism, bra burning, Eve Ensler, etc… After a post-event discussion (remember, no talking during the event), all the freshmen agreed they believe in equal rights for women. I wonder how many of them would self-identify as feminists today? It was an indelible moment in my mind from my college experience; one that I remember as clear as a bell now 12 years later.
I’m sharing this story today because yesterday’s trending hashtag #leanintogether was a nice, positive public conversation to follow, and this moment from my past is my contribution to the topic.