Isabella Arrieta is a final year B.S. student In Psychology, minoring in Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, and Queer Studies. Arrieta will graduate in Winter 2021, and plans on pursuing graduate studies clinical psychology with an emphasis on LGBTQ+ counseling. She is passionate about working with LGBTQ+ youth, specifically queer and trans youth of color, and working toward providing mental health resources for them. Arrieta has worked at Oregon State University’s Pride Center as a leadership liaison for SOL:LGBTQ+ Multicultural Support Network where she did mentoring work, and helped organize the Queer History Month event, and Trans Awareness Week.She has also volunteered and worked as a Student Success Peer Facilitator at the Hattie Redmond Women and Gender Center on campus.
In her future work, she intends to create a community that she had while here at OSU, to help QTPOC youth out with resources before they get into college so that they don’t have to experience the added stress of looking out for those resources.
What was your journey that led you into the Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies program?
I was a biology major with a pre-med option and during my second year I decided to change that major because I was not really fitting in with the biology and pre-med cohort. I felt like the only woman of color in a lot of my classes where it was a majority of white cisgender folx. I felt very left out and excluded from certain conversations, especially when we talked about the healthcare system. A lot of people talked about it as being so good, whereas in reality there are a lot of disparities specifically for queer and trans, Black and Indigenous folx, and people of color. I started volunteering at the Hattie Redmond Women and Gender Center my first year. I also started my social justice journey, because I came from a very conservative high school in California, and we didn’t really talk about social justice and inequalities. The HRWGC gave me the words I needed to describe my experiences. I decided to take my first Introduction to WGSS class in my freshman year. At the same time, I was taking Introduction to Psychology as a BACC core course for my pre-med option. My sophomore year I decided to switch my major and add WGSS as a minor and then I took Introduction to Queer Studies, and fell in love with that class. So, I added QS at the end of my sophomore year. It really just started with me needing to find a community where I felt like I fit in, and felt like my feelings and identities are validated.
What were some of your favorite WGSS classes and why?
The first class that came to mind was WGSS 280: Women Worldwide. I took it my sophomore year and I thought that was one of the classes I fell in love with because we usually talk about feminism in such a white, Eurocentric, Westernized way. This class let me be able to focus on feminisms worldwide and how there is not one way to do feminism, which is the master narrative for feminism, specifically white feminism. This class let me be able to do research and write papers about social inequalities and systemic issues and oppression going on outside of America. I feel like that is one of the big things that influences my work. And then, I took Serving LGBTQ+ Communities my junior year, and it was amazing because that is when I saw that broader connection between psychology/counseling and LGBTQ+ counseling and how my positionality, my identities will influence the work that I am doing. It also made me realize the disparities between mental health and the access to mental health needs for QTBIPOC people and communities. The Introduction to WGSS and Introduction to Queer Studies classes have been amazing because they have great instructors.
What were some key connections that came up for you between WGSS and your major and how has it informed your work?
Learning about trans folx, trans theory, nonbinary and gender nonconforming folx and Queer Studies in WGSS made me think of the ways in which the psychology and psychological sciences have medicalized trans folx and nonbinary folx. The health care system, specifically mental health, puts up so many barriers for trans and queer folx to get the health care that they need, whether it is hormones, gender affirming doctors, or surgeries. Having these psychology courses and how they talked about psychology in a very gender binary way, and then having this background in WGSS and Queer Studies and thinking of the intersections and the ways we are not in a gender binary society and how it is enforced through the master narrative, made me realize how much queer and trans folx are erased from the narrative.
How do you feel to be a part of the WGSS community and how has it influenced you as a person?
There is always someone in WGSS-- faculty, staff, students-- always someone willing to support you and help you get through the readings. Even now being all the way back home, I still feel connected with the program.That is something I love about the WGSS community. I am very self-aware now. I have all these readings, I have all these experiences and learnings from the program that I take into my everyday life with me. It gives me the words to express these oppressions and inequalities that I face and that I see others face. WGSS and QS have made me realize my own worth within this higher education system that was built for me to not feel like I am worth it.
Who are some of your biggest feminist influences and why?
Before WGSS, my biggest feminist influences were my mom and my grandmothers because they have been through so much, so, learning from both of them and from their own resistance and their own resilience. Coming into the WGSS program, those who I felt like I really connected with in terms of how they write, and how they talk about their own experience and their own theories would be Janet Mock, Cherríe Moraga, Audre Lorde and bell hooks. I read them and I understand what they are saying, and then I take that theory and I realize how it works in the real world. I take a lot of what I have learned from This Bridge Called My Back, because it was one of my first feminist readings that was inclusive of women of color, and queer women of color.
How has it been being in school at this time, in the middle of a pandemic, without actually being on campus and doing remote work?
It is so difficult. The first few months when we transitioned into spring term it was so difficult to stay focused in these Zoom meetings. I had to move from Corvallis back home to California so there was a lot of unstableness that I felt in the first few months. With Summer coming on I was not able to relax like I usually get to because of the pandemic going on, and then the talks of election coming in. With the start of Fall term, I feel like everyone gets so easily exhausted because we don't have that physical connection, that physical support that we get just being next to a peer, or someone in our classes and learning together. It feels so isolating because we have to do all these readings and a lot of them are heavy, and talk about trauma, and are hard to process and you don’t really get that discussion that you get if you were to talk to your peers. There is a lot of disconnect and uncertainty, even now.
What are some things that you are doing for self-care, and some activities you are engaging in during this time of self-isolation because of COVID-19?
For me, self-care is taking a day off. I also work and go to school and so taking a day off in the week where I can just sit and relax, whether is binge-watching Netflix shows or just being able to go run errands for my mom. I have a dog so I enjoy walking him. Self-care is also exiting hard conversations that I have with family, and being able to stay and be with myself.
Interview by Sharadha Kalyanam (she/they), WGSS PhD student, QS Minor, Media Outreach Coordinator, Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies,Oregon State University.
Photo by Ridwana Rahman (she/her/hers), Media Designer, Ettihad Cultural Center, Oregon State University.