Panel explores minority fetishes in Northwestern dating culture

Joseph Diebold

Students packed a classroom in Northwestern’s University Hall Wednesday for “We Give You Fever,” a panel discussion on the marginalization that occurs when minority women are fetishized in American society.

The panel, which included two NU professors and three students, was attended by more than 75 students – so many that some students sat on the floor. It marked the eighth-annual panel in the “Reflections” series sponsored by the Alpha Kappa Alpha and Kappa Phi Lambda sororities.

The discussion focused on the historical roots of fetishization, especially of black and Asian women.

Asian American Studies and African American Studies Prof. Nitasha Sharma told the audience about how stereotypes of blacks and Asians were initially used by whites to justify colonization.

She explained how what Sharma referred to as “the Orient” was viewed as feminine, and therefore its women came to be stereotyped as passive and submissive. Africa, she argued, was perceived as masculine and both men and women were seen as hypersexualized.

“The thing about a fetish is that it objectifies people. It embraces these stereotypes that are age-old,” Sharma said. “A fetish is similar to the history of blackface and these racist incidents that have been happening on campus because what it does is it basically reduces an entire group of people, whether it’s women or Asians or black women, down to one essence.”

The discussion then turned largely to the topic of interracial dating on NU’s campus and in society at large. The panel was emceed by several members of the two sororities including AKA members Gabrielle Alves, a Weinberg junior, and Amanda Summey, a Communication junior.

The three student panelists – SESP junior Kerease Epps, Weinberg junior Mariana Ramirez and Weinberg sophomore Amrit Trewn – shared their own dating experiences and took questions and comments from the audience.

Ramirez, who is Venezuelan American, said she had never dated someone who is Venezuelan, while Epps, who is black, said she had never dated someone who was not.

Other students pointed out that implications of fetishization went beyond just dating. Communication junior Jazzy Johnson discussed the implications of fetishes in “hookup culture.”

“Northwestern has a very, very strong hookup culture and the politics of hookup culture are very much different from dating culture,” she said. “When it comes to fetishizing, it is going to become purely on looks with hookup culture. If there is a fetish that exists, that’s what’s going to go first, and so then there’s a wide group of women who are not being fetishized and therefore not being chosen.”

Alves said community conversations like the one on Wednesday are the best way to cast off fetishes.

“Stepping out of stereotypes that people may see and getting to know one another so that people can look past you as an object (is important),” she said.

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