A Message From President Nicola Pitchford

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Dear campus community,

I write to express Dominican’s solidarity with Maia Kobabe, BFA Studio Art ’11. Maia has been making unwelcomed national headlines recently, as politicians and school districts seek to ban Maia’s award-winning graphic novel/memoir, Gender Queer.

At Dominican, Maia, who is nonbinary and uses e/em/eir pronouns, was a talented and intelligent student, committed to eir work as an artist and respected as an advocate for others.

Maia worked in the Library while a student and for several years after graduating. Ethan Annis recalls that as an employee, Maia led efforts to make the Library's single-use bathrooms gender neutral. Maia also authored a section of the grant initiating our laptop lending program and later devised the idea of semester-long laptop loans.

Art faculty member Lynn Sondag predicted several years ago, just after Maia was hired to illustrate a historical novel, The Jericho River, that we would hear more about Maia and eir success as an illustrator in the future.

Not long after its 2019 publication, Maia’s Gender Queer: A Memoir, earned both attention and praise from the literary world’s most influential publications. Gender Queer tells, in images and words, the story of eir experience growing up nonbinary and asexual. Maia has said e wrote the book to help others who are struggling with gender identity to feel less alone.

The American Library Association recognized Gender Queer with a 2020 Alex Award – an honor presented to books written for adults that have special appeal to young adults, ages 12-18. The Alex Award noted that “Readers will recognize a kindred spirit in Kobabe and/or gain insight into what it’s like to identify outside of the cisgender/heterosexual ‘norm.’”

In a starred review, the School Library Journal (SLJ) praised Gender Queer as “a great resource for those who identify as nonbinary or asexual as well as for those who know someone who identifies that way and wish to better understand." SLJ also included Gender Queer in its “Summer Best Reads” series, noting Maia was the “reassuring older sibling that many LGBTQ teens will wish they’d had.”

In recent months, amid an intensifying culture war across the country that has focused on challenging the identities of transgender and nonbinary young people and undermining or even criminalizing the few existing support structures available to them, Maia’s book has been subjected to particularly negative attention. Gender Queer briefly represents a sex act honestly and visually, in the careful context of a narrative of self-discovery, and this has been seized on as the basis for concerted movements to ban it from school libraries and curricula. The governors of both Texas and South Carolina have singled out Gender Queer for public denunciation.

Maia continues to maintain an active schedule of readings and public appearances, doing work that speaks caringly and supportively to some of the most at-risk and embattled teens and young adults – creating space and stories for those who may never yet have seen their experiences recognized, named, and held up as worthy.

In my own past as a scholar of literature and gender, I’ve had occasion to research and publish on particular episodes in the history of anti-obscenity campaigns. My findings, like those of previous researchers, showed that while such censorship is always invoked in the name of protecting children or other vulnerable readers, it nevertheless disproportionately harms the least powerful among us (both writers and readers). Again and again, the first books to be banned are those addressing the experience of those marginalized by race, gender, and/or sexual identity. It speaks volumes (pardon the pun) that along with Gender Queer, one of the books most often targeted for removal from school libraries in 2021 is Toni Morrison’s beautiful novel The Bluest Eye, which gently centers the lives of impoverished Black girls while addressing sexual abuse and mental illness.

For all these reasons, I felt compelled to use what power I have to make a public statement of solidarity with Maia Kobabe and to affirm how much the Dominican community values Maia, the direct contributions Maia has made to expanding equity at Dominican, and also eir art and its positive impact in the world. I hope we might welcome Maia back to campus to showcase that work, once eir busy schedule allows.

If you are seeking support or education on LGBTQIA+ advocacy, I encourage you to explore the Diversity Action Group's resource guide. I am so grateful to my colleagues for their expertise and effort in assembling these materials.

My best,
Nicola Pitchford, President

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