This past weekend was LLC weekend, meaning all LLC’s spent the weekend talking about their unifying passions and getting to know their cohort better. For those of you who do not know, an LLC stands for a Living and Learning Community. It’s a housing option that allows students to live together based on a common interest.
When I applied for housing, I picked the Social Justice LLC as my first choice because a. I am passionate about social justice, b. my friends Mira and Jacob lived in them when they were DIS students and absolutely loved it, and c. they have amazing locations within the city. Luckily, I got my top choice, so I live with 11 other students who also care about social justice. Beyond just living together, we spend every Thursday with our coordinator Gry and talk about different social justice issues here in Denmark.
Our first week, we met up with lawyer and activist Asrin Mesbah, who is representing asylum seekers and refugees in Denmark. Not only was I inspired by the work she was doing – seeing that she and her team are the only lawyers doing this type of pro bono work – but I also learned a lot about how the Refugee Crisis has impacted Denmark.
The following week, we met with Front, which is a group of students who are speaking up on behalf of minorities in the Danish university system. Tara, who is the current leader of the group, told us that pointing out feelings of exclusion is discouraged by Universities. By focusing on this, the school doesn’t have to address the content of the complaint. As such, Front works to enforce a formal system in which complaints can be filed, handled, and addressed properly so that students who do feel uncomfortable are able to seek out this resource. I really appreciated this systematic approach to dealing with discrimination. Since targeting the content of these acts would be very difficult to do, establishing a clear process allows students to address their concerns in a transparent procedure.
This movement has gotten a lot of opposition and hate. I was shocked to hear this since it seemed like common sense for there to be a formal complaint system set up. However, the opposition does not understand that some people take offense to certain language or material used in the University; instead, they view these individuals as being too sensitive. From this session, I learned that Danes really value free speech. Feeling excluded or uncomfortable with language or material would be seen as an attack on free speech since addressing the issue would require a change of language.
These first two sessions were really eye-opening and got me familiar with important politicians and local social movements. I was excited for our LLC weekend since we would be able to go more in-depth into a new topic, as well get to bond more with Gry and the cohort
On Saturday, we went to the local student coffee shop and met Marc. Marc works to help create safe and healthy learning environments for elementary and middle schoolers. He is also a drag queen. I wish I could provide a transcript of our conversation because it was truly incredible. Not only was Marc a funny, understanding, and welcoming human being, but he was also so articulate about his experience as a gay man in Denmark that I felt his pain. He discussed how there is a discrepancy between Danish laws and Danish society; Denmark was the first country to legalize gay marriage, but the term “gay” is still being used as a slur and is stigmatized today. Because of this, Marc is using his role in schools to help educate students about gender and sexuality. Rather than doing this in a one-hour workshop, Marc has created a program that uses storytelling and personal experiences to demonstrate these big ideas over the course of several sessions. He has realized the importance of building relationships in order to humanize himself and his identity so that students feel more comfortable and take what he has to say more seriously. We then discussed how drag is a form of activism in that it challenges the rigidity of gender roles. This was a fun topic as the LLC is comprised of a lot of RuPaul’s Drag Race fans. We ended the conversation with plans to see Marc perform as his drag persona – and I am so excited for the show!
Marc brought up a social rule in Denmark that I had never heard about: the Jante law. While not written down in any laws, nor signed by parliament, this social rule is just as binding as any legitimate rule. The rule says something along the lines of you are not special and you should never believe you can do better than others. Basically, it is seen a bad thing to do something special or be special. This means that sharing other narratives or criticizing the system is a violation of this rule. As such, social justice activism is severely impacted by this rule because social justice is inherently disrupting the status quo by pointing out injustice and inequity in society. This violation was obvious when it came to Marc’s experience, Front’s efforts, and Asrin’s fight since they were all pointing out that the system was not meeting the needs of minorities.
From these experiences, I have learned a lot about Danish culture and politics in a way that can’t be taught in a classroom environment. Moreover, I get to engage with Danish culture by meeting with activists and groups who see the flaws in their country and want to make it better. This really resonates with me, since I also see what’s broken in the USA and want to improve it through policy and advocacy.
The next day, the LLC went to Gry’s house for brunch. We were greeted with stacks of pancakes (Danish pancakes that Americans would consider crepes), freshly baked rolls, cheeses, fruits, and spreads. I was in heaven. Once we piled our plates full of delicious food, we sat in a circle and talked about our families and what “family” meant to us. It was really great to learn about my friends’ families and childhoods as it hadn’t really come up yet. After our sentimental conversation, the tone of the brunch changed when Gry’s twins decided to entertain us. They played games with us and shared their toys – well, one did, the other was a bit more protective of his bear – and everyone was laughing and enjoying this change of pace.
It’s moments like these that I really appreciate my LLC. I love how we can have deep discussions about identity and politics, but also share stories from back home and laugh about silly things. While everyone in my LLC is so different and interested in various fields, we are all united by our commitment to social justice. What’s more, we can spend time together without having to focus on this unifying cause, meaning we can easily either go explore the city or sit in our lounge and discuss gender for three hours.
If any of my fellow LLCers are out there, thanks for being awesome!
Until Next Time,