Gabrielle Miller is a Master’s student in the Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies Program at Oregon State University. Their research is focused on the role and significance of solidarity and collectivism between communities of people who identify as being mixed-race and/or of non-binary gender and sexuality to enable the emergence of hidden and obscured knowledges.
Their thesis is titled "Bridging Non-Binary Knowledges.” It explores the possibilities of those solidarities and collective knowledges and how it could disrupt power imbalances in feminist theory, praxis, and consciousness, particularly in practices of space-making and world-building for non-binary folks, according to Miller. Their work is situated within ongoing discussions in and around mixed-race philosophy, Indigenous feminisms, and queer of color critiques.
After completing their Master’s degree, Miller hopes to pursue a doctoral degree in the future, focused on Women, Gender and Sexuality studies program, Feminist Philosophy or Black Studies.
What was your journey like that led you into women, gender and sexuality studies?
My bachelor’s degrees are in liberal studies and biology. At first became interested in Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies while I was taking an American Studies class at my first institution, Oklahoma State University, and just so happened to stumble across a WGSS professor that I met at an event. Their name is Megan Burke and they were in the Philosophy department/Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies department. I ended up signing up for one of their classes which was a transnational feminisms course.
I kind of fell in love with it then in that class and then the rest of my semesters at Oklahoma State I took women, gender and sexuality studies courses. I really like that the program [at Oregon State University] focuses on queer and trans of color perspectives and theories.
Who were some of your biggest feminist influences and why?
Megan Burke, my professor at Oklahoma State definitely. They were the one who introduced me to it all. I really enjoy Sara Ahmed, Hortense Spillers, Christina Sharpe and Audre Lorde.
What do you like the most about teaching and what inspires you to teach?
I enjoy having interactions with my students. I really like teaching. I think it is fun when you are teaching something that a student might not have ever heard about and they have that "ah-ha" moment. Like the connection between colonialism and slavery, for example. And they become super interested and committed to learning more about how that works. Of course, it is not every student that will enjoy our classes as much as others do, but I really do enjoy working with students.
What excites you to be a part of the WGSS community and how has it influenced you as a person?
I think these conversations that we are having are really important and it not only pertains to my own life but also the lives of people that I care about and love. But even beyond that I hope to do something with what I am learning. I don't know what that would look like. I think I might get into teaching, whether or not I go on to get my PhD. Recently I learned that I like teaching in person. I haven't taught in person before this term, so that is something that has become an interest of mine that wasn't in the past. It is changing my mind around what the future might look like around what I do and how I choose to engage with the field in the future.
Would you call yourself an activist? What does activism mean to you?
I don't know if activist is something you can name yourself, maybe it is--I think I’m still working through that myself. But I would strive to be someone who does activist work. I see the Coalition of Graduate Employees, our graduate student union, as a place where we can do activism and put the theories and the frameworks that we are learning in the classroom and through our research, into practice as graduate students (there are countless ways).
I think activism can be broadly defined and should be broadly defined because it takes many different forms: Taking intentional actions through different kinds of platforms, such as the internet, teaching in person, online or holding a placard for a cause that means something to the communities and peoples you are responsible to and/or speak with.
What is the best career advice you have ever received?
A lot of times there is a general idea that you can't do anything with Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies, but our field attends to the stories and material realities of humans in the world, particularly marginalized and targeted peoples. Moreover, on a general level, WGSS discusses and analyzes how systems of power are working, which is applicable to essentially any job as power dynamics are playing out everywhere, all the time.
What are some of your learnings as a teacher?
I am trying to learn that trying different activities in the classroom and finding out what works and finding out what doesn't work, and tweaking that. Also, that if you make a mistake in class you can go back the next day and address it. Things that feel like disasters in the classroom usually aren't actual disasters and that you can go back the next day or every other day and address what had happened. Figuring out the dynamic of the classroom and what works with each set of students. I think it is something that we will always be learning.
What were some misconceptions that you have come across about feminism?
That feminism is one giant movement for all women and that it doesn't differentiate between how contexts, social location, geographies, and time have created different movements. Also that "different kinds of feminisms address the needs of different kinds of women." I've heard what people think - there is the feminist movement, or the LGBTQ+ movement, but lots of times those are really cis-normative and whitestream ideas about what feminism is. It doesn't really address intersectional identities.
What are some challenges you have faced as a researcher and how did you overcome them?
When I first got here I didn't really know what I wanted to do. I was just taking the classes, reading the readings. Just learning how to cope with some of the heavy stuff we read, that may or may not affect me but might affect actual people's lives is a challenge. I am reading about material issues and so just learning to take a step back and take care of yourself and find things that you can do that feel good. Because sometimes what we do does not feel good, but taking care of yourself is important in the process.
Story and photo by Sharadha Kalyanam, PhD student, Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies, Oregon State University.