This year, instead of venturing out into the marketplaces and public spaces of Indonesia, the 10 Puget Sound students and 10 Indonesian students paired up via video call once a week for five weeks. Separated by nearly 8,000 miles, they read about and discussed one of five topics: religion, gender/sexuality, ecology/environment, ethnicity/identity, and power/politics. The topics allowed for students, both American and Indonesian, to articulate their own viewpoints and discover others’.
In her conversations, Kiara Kramer ’21, a sociology and anthropology major with minors in biology and studio art, was struck by the cultural similarities that arose while discussing gender and sexuality. In Indonesia, light skin and long, straight hair fit conventional beauty standards, she explains, while the dark skin and curly hair of people who live in Papua is looked down upon. “This reminded me of the ‘Black Is Beautiful’ movement that started in the ’60s to expand past racist definitions of beauty in mainstream culture,” she says. She and her class partner also discussed how, despite Indonesia’s deep-rooted history of accepting gender fluidity, the Suharto regime’s suppression of transgender identities from 1967 to 1998 had long-lasting effects still felt today. “It made me wonder about the long-term consequences of the Trump administration’s proposal defining gender and sex as homologous,” Kramer says.