Guest blog by Alison Tracy Hale, Faculty Advisor to Wetlands Magazine, Associate Professor and Co-Chair, Department of English, at The University of Puget Sound
Down the road from Tacoma is an exquisite place, the Nisqually Wildlife Refuge. If you haven’t made it there yet, or experienced its glorious combination of marsh and sky, I highly recommend it. I mention this spot not merely for the somewhat belabored “wetlands” analogy its mention implicitly provides, but because my experience at Nisqually parallels my experience as Wetlands faculty advisor in another way. At Nisqually, you experience nature from a series of elevated wooden boardwalks that allow you to be a part of the refuge, surrounded by the breezes and birdcalls, but keep you at a safe distance from disturbing the wildlife. The boardwalk exemplifies how I understand my role in Wetlands—I’m part of the experience, but from a distance that protects the wildlife. As faculty advisor, I try mostly to stay out of the way; I’m there to offer support and advice when it’s needed, but mostly I try to keep my presence from interfering with a bountiful ecosystem ever in development.
I’m incredibly proud of the dedicated staff and what they have achieved in this publication: in its short history, Wetlands has already emerged as a powerful, provocative voice on our campus. From its inception–the brainchild of three ardent feminists, modeled on publications they encountered on other campuses–Wetlands has succeeded in pushing boundaries, creating controversy, and opening up important conversations about sexuality, identity, politics, intersectionality. It’s also grown from the raw energy of its “virgin issue” of Spring 2012, which emphasized sex- and body-positivity and traditional feminist issues of sexual violence and self-empowerment, into a more thoughtful magazine, one that contributes with self-awareness to the production and distribution of images and ideas and that combines with confidence a wide range of genres: narrative, visual arts, fiction, poetry, critique, and reportage.
One challenge has always faced this publication, and I am proud of how each generation of editors and staff has addressed it head-on: how can Wetlands reflect the variety of experiences, values, and identities of Puget Sound more completely? How can a fledgling publication with a volunteer staff and an abundance of enthusiasm counter the pervasive social forces that work against “difference” and that promote and validate only certain bodies, races, genders, practices? Put another way, how can Wetlands celebrate a multiplicity of identities and experiences on a campus that suffers from the same restrictive and hegemonic notions of value as the world beyond our borders? How, too, can Wetlands avoid reproducing, however unintentionally, hierarchical relations of privilege and disempowerment while remaining true to its submission-based ethos?
Wetlands has been blessed with a series of passionate and talented editors, each of whom has continued to build on the strengths—and to address the limitations—of prior issues. In part to balance the first issue’s emphasis on anecdotal self-expression—and to address concerns that such an emphasis could ultimately work to reinforce the conventional ideologies of race, beauty, size, ability, gender, sexual orientation, etc. that the publication was actively attempting to disrupt–the second departed temporarily from the submission format, and instead focused on politics and staff-generated reportage (Fall ’12) on current progressive topics: sexual violence, reproductive justice, and marriage equality. This shorter issue provided information for the campus community in order to foster further dialogue on issues relevant to them and to the community at large. At the same time, the 2012-13 editors of Wetlands were working across campus to create a more inclusive representation in the magazine, reaching out to student groups and campus offices to invite participation by more members of the campus community.
That outreach effort was reflected in the Spring ’13 issue, which featured prominently the question of “whose voices are missing?” This issue takes a much more self-reflective approach to the publication process; for example, by more explicitly “anchoring” its visual images, so as to disrupt their relationship to conventional objectification of women’s bodies, in particular. While multiple submissions still embraced sex-positivity and bodily self-expression, the publication also foregrounded the pervasive privileges that contextualize the lives and experiences of many—but certainly not all—members of our campus community. The issue represented, to me, significant progress in deconstructing some of that privilege, and in providing contextual material to better frame the submissions so that they challenge, rather than acquiesce to, the norms of an oppressive society.
While the individual submissions have always provided inspiration, meditation, and productive conversation, I’m proud that the magazine has continued to develop a guiding ethos of inclusion and diversity, and to seek ways to reflect that ethos across the publication as a whole. In this sense, the Fall ’14 issue is the strongest yet; it builds on the sophisticated critiques raised in the previous issues, and represents with increasing complexity the variety of persons and experiences that make up our community. That issue also offered two bold yet nuanced critiques of Greek life and a wider representation of bodies and experiences than had previously been the case. Fall ’14 was a bold and confident publication, one that offered a sophisticated engagement with political and social issues without losing its emphasis on the vibrancy and–well, fun–that a magazine about sexuality should embrace. The follow up tumblr piece by Kyle Long in response to Philip Brenfleck’s and C.J. Queirolo’s essays on Greek life further demonstrated the magazine’s mature approach to inviting and celebrating conversation, rather than attempting to impose any singular perspective on these complex and intimate issues.
One of the most exciting things about Wetlands is that each new staff brings its own unique approach to the publication’s mission, and each set of submissions offers a new vision of the complex and remarkable lives of our community. I can only hope, from my perspective on the boardwalk, that the magazine continues to be a vibrant vehicle for change, and that it continues to challenge, inform, and reflect the rich ecosystem of Puget Sound.