Undoing Social Constructions – The Quinnipiac Chronicle

Faculty members of Quinnipiac University led a discussion on the sex spectrum at a presentation hosted by the College of Arts and Science’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee on Nov. 29.

“While many recognize that gender and sexuality are on a spectrum, we often still discuss human biological gender as binary,” read a MyQ announcement for the Nov. 18 event. “In reality, sex is also on a spectrum that is having profound implications for the way we administer healthcare, enact policies, and respect one another.”

Presented by Jaime Ullinger, Professor of Anthropology, Director of the Anthropology Program and Co-Director of Quinnipiac’s Bioanthropology Research Institute, the Biological Sex Is a Spectrum seminar dismantled the social construction of binary gender.

Anthropology professor Jamie Ullinger spoke at the November 29 presentation about how sex is a spectrum, not a binary. (Aidan Sheedy)

“Biological sex itself is not as simple as we try to make it,” Ullinger said during her Nov. 29 presentation. “There are a number of factors that go into the nature of the construction of how someone may identify biologically in terms of gender.”

Ullinger discussed several chromosomal conditions related to intersex that transcend mainstream binary gender boundaries. About 1.7% of Americans are born with intersex traits that “do not fit within the binary medical definitions of male or female sexual or reproductive anatomy,” according to the Center for American Progress.

“Estimates of people who may be intersex are around 1.5 to 2 percent, which is pretty low,” Ullinger said. “Nonetheless — we think of the population of QU — 1.5% to 2% is a significant number of people.”

Although viewing sex as a continuum rather than a binary has its advantages, Ullinger pointed out that a spectrum of social constructions “still privilege a binary”.

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“We know that the underlying biology is relatively complex,” said Ullinger. “So how can we look at developmental processes and pathways, rather than a spectrum of deviations or norms, to represent multiple genders?”

Dawn Colomb-Lippa, senior biology instructor and co-chair of the CAS DEI committee, told the Chronicle on Nov. 29 that the seminar on sex was intended to be the first in a series of collaborations titled “Undoing Social Construction.” by the committee.

“Actually, we’re trying to dismantle ideas about definitions that have been socially constructed,” Colomb-Lippa said. “And in this particular attempt to take biology out of the notion of binary gender.”

The series “bloomed” out of a separate initiative aimed at promoting inclusion in the classroom, Colomb-Lippa said.

“We noticed that we hadn’t addressed gender integration,” said Colomb-Lippa. “We realized, wow, we have a lot of ideas about how biology relates to categories that we put people into, and they’re not true.”

Marcos Scauso, assistant professor of political science and co-chair of the CAS DEI committee, said the initiative seeks to break down other “prejudices that create frameworks that limit our perspective.”

“Thinking so complex in biological terms then allows us to reconsider that maybe it’s not behavior related to having a penis,” Scauso said during the question-and-answer segment of the Nov. 29 presentation. “The critique of the limits of thought allows you to break down those very limits in order to think of things differently.”

Colomb-Lippa said dismantling social constructions at the university level will require “a lot of work”, but added that “individual trainers with knowledge” are the key to progress.

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Though the next installments in the Undoing Social Construction series aren’t planned yet, Remi Sheibley, a sociology sophomore who identifies as non-binary, said they look forward to attending future presentations.

“I think Quinnipiac needs to do a lot more promotion and support events like this going forward just to pass knowledge on to students,” Sheibley told the Chronicle. “All I know is that there needs to be more awareness and acceptance, especially from the higher-ups in the school.”

Genesis Paulino, a sociology and Latin American studies junior who attended the presentation, said she views the series as an opportunity for the university to engage in a broader discussion about diversity.

“I think Quinnipiac is trying to have a conversation about inclusivity and diversity,” Paulino said. “To have this conversation, we need to include all voices.”

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