Roxane Gay Talks Feminism, Nuances of Privilege to Packed House

New York Times bestselling author addresses students in Unity Week keynote
March 26th, 2018 by 

Roxane Gay speaks to students, faculty, and staff during her discussion on campus.
Roxane Gay speaks to students, faculty, and staff during her discussion on campus. Photo by Austin Bosworth '18

A student asks Roxane Gay a question during the author
A student asks Roxane Gay a question during the author's on-campus discussion. Photo by Austin Bosworth '18

“Oftentimes when you’re marginalized, you’re highly visible and also highly invisible; people look right through you but they also see you. This is a willful act, to both see somebody and pretend that they’re invisible. There’s a lot of intention in that.”

That’s what Roxane Gay told an electric audience of 500 students, faculty, and staff on Thursday, March 22 in the Hogan Ballroom.

Through the hour-long conversation, led by Greta Kenney, associate director of diversity and inclusion, Gay touched on current social justice issues, the nuances of privilege, the importance of teaching about mental and sexual health, and the difficult process of writing her recent memoir, “Hunger.”

In one anecdote, the New York Times bestselling author and social commentator mentioned to students that when it comes to social justice, people often think they can only deal with one problem at a time.

“It’s important to think about intersectionality, which is an unwieldy word for a very simple concept — the idea that we are more than just any one thing,” she said. “We’re not just women, we also have sexuality, gender identities, class backgrounds — and all of these things shape who we are.”

Talking about the blockbuster film “Black Panther,” the “Bad Feminist” author discussed how black art often has the burden of also being socially responsible.

“That’s just not how it works and it shouldn’t be that way,” she said. “There’s a lot of hype around Black Panther and I got a lot of stupid interview questions where reporters would ask, ‘So, what would this have meant to you as a child growing up to finally have a black hero?’ There’s so much assumption in there. I had black heroes growing up. I was born in ’74 — it wasn’t the olden days. I have two parents and I’m Haitian, so I have a lot of heroes. So the idea that black people were just sitting around waiting for heroes is just shortsighted and absurd.”

Whether talking with Kenney or taking questions from students, Gay approached each answer in a style for which she is widely known — insightful, relatable, and with a biting sense of humor.

Gay’s ties to pop culture — being the first black woman writer for Marvel Comics, showing her intense love of Beyoncé (“Why Jay-Z?” is the first question she’d ask if given the opportunity to meet her hero), and interacting on her popular social media channels — ground deeply complex issues such as race, sexuality, and identity and make them relatable to a wide audience.

It’s something that interested Tess Andrekus ’18, the officer of diversity for the Student Government Association who was in charge of finding a keynote speaker to wrap up Unity Week on campus.

“My goal was to bridge the gap between people on campus who are really aware and involved in these issues and people who aren’t. How Roxane talks about pop culture encompasses everyone, and she brings a lot of justice and cultural critique and feminism and all these different themes into play.”

Maia Lee-Chen ’21 felt Gay’s presence on campus was important.

“I can feel really discouraged, as a woman of color, and hearing Roxane talk about navigating spaces where she didn’t feel welcome but she made a place for herself was really inspiring for me and important for me to hear.”

Gay offered students advice about navigating these spaces.

“You have the right to be there, even if you don’t get the external validation that you deserve. You should stay in that space and fight that good fight, until you can’t,” she said. “Because sometimes, it’s exhausting to be the one in the room who brings up the difficult topics and takes the leadership position that nobody who looks like you has ever taken before. There’s an emotional and psychological cost to that work. When you are not able to pay those costs, it’s also okay. It’s really about keeping a balance, because I think far too many of us overextend ourselves and fight even when we can’t.”

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The inaugural exhibition of the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Art Gallery...
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Rodin: Truth, Form, Life/Selections from the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Collections
3/16/2019
175th Anniversary
O'Kane Hall Cantor Art Gallery 2
The inaugural exhibition of the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Art Gallery...
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Organ concert - Benjamin Alard
3/17/2019
Music
St Joseph Memorial Chapel St Joseph Chapel
Benjamin Alard, OrganistChurch: Saint-Louis-en-Île,...
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Rodin: Truth, Form, Life/Selections from the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Collections
3/17/2019
175th Anniversary
O'Kane Hall Cantor Art Gallery 2
The inaugural exhibition of the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Art Gallery...
See More >>


Rodin:Truth, Form, Life/Selections from the Iris and B. Gerald Collections
3/18/2019
175th Anniversary
O'Kane Hall Cantor Art Gallery
The inaugural exhibition of the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Art Gallery...
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EY On-Campus Interviews
3/18/2019
Center for Career Development
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center 404
Description:Visit Crusader Connections to view summer opportunities...
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EY On-Campus Interviews
3/18/2019
Center for Career Development
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center 405
Description:Visit Crusader Connections to view summer opportunities...
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Reading by Emilie Pine
3/19/2019
English
Carol and Park B. Smith Hall Rehm Lib
Open to the Public
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Lecture: Rev. Orobator, S.J., on Religion and Faith in Africa
3/19/2019
McFarland Center for Religion
Carol and Park B. Smith Hall Rehm Lib
Drawing on his most recent book, “Religion and Faith...
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Rodin:Truth, Form, Life/Selections from the Iris and B. Gerald Collections
3/19/2019
175th Anniversary
O'Kane Hall Cantor Art Gallery
The inaugural exhibition of the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Art Gallery...
See More >>


Lecture: Irish Advocate for Sexual Abuse Victims Talks Therapy, Treatment and Prevention
3/20/2019
McFarland Center for Religion
Carol and Park B. Smith Hall Rehm Lib
Open to the Public
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Rodin:Truth, Form, Life/Selections from the Iris and B. Gerald Collections
3/20/2019
175th Anniversary
O'Kane Hall Cantor Art Gallery
The inaugural exhibition of the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Art Gallery...
See More >>


Rodin:Truth, Form, Life/Selections from the Iris and B. Gerald Collections
3/21/2019
175th Anniversary
O'Kane Hall Cantor Art Gallery
The inaugural exhibition of the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Art Gallery...
See More >>


Rodin:Truth, Form, Life/Selections from the Iris and B. Gerald Collections
3/22/2019
175th Anniversary
O'Kane Hall Cantor Art Gallery
The inaugural exhibition of the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Art Gallery...
See More >>


Rodin: Truth, Form, Life/Selections from the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Collections
3/23/2019
175th Anniversary
O'Kane Hall Cantor Art Gallery 2
The inaugural exhibition of the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Art Gallery...
See More >>


Rodin: Truth, Form, Life/Selections from the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Collections
3/24/2019
175th Anniversary
O'Kane Hall Cantor Art Gallery 2
The inaugural exhibition of the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Art Gallery...
See More >>


MPE Meeting
3/25/2019
Office of Multicultural Education
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center Suite B/C - 4th Fl
Open to the Public
See More >>


MPE Meeting (Event canceled)
3/25/2019
Office of Multicultural Education
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center 304(05)
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


Rodin:Truth, Form, Life/Selections from the Iris and B. Gerald Collections
3/25/2019
175th Anniversary
O'Kane Hall Cantor Art Gallery
The inaugural exhibition of the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Art Gallery...
See More >>


Rodin:Truth, Form, Life/Selections from the Iris and B. Gerald Collections
3/26/2019
175th Anniversary
O'Kane Hall Cantor Art Gallery
The inaugural exhibition of the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Art Gallery...
See More >>


Rodin:Truth, Form, Life/Selections from the Iris and B. Gerald Collections
3/27/2019
175th Anniversary
O'Kane Hall Cantor Art Gallery
The inaugural exhibition of the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Art Gallery...
See More >>


Lecture: Peter Phan on Theology of the Church in the Age of Migration
3/28/2019
McFarland Center for Religion
Carol and Park B. Smith Hall Rehm Lib
Peter Phan is the inaugural holder of the Ignacio Ellacuria Chair...
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Rodin:Truth, Form, Life/Selections from the Iris and B. Gerald Collections
3/28/2019
175th Anniversary
O'Kane Hall Cantor Art Gallery
The inaugural exhibition of the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Art Gallery...
See More >>


175th Jesuits and Music Concert
3/29/2019
Music
St Joseph Memorial Chapel St Joseph Chapel
Many Holy Cross musical ensembles and performers will join...
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Rodin:Truth, Form, Life/Selections from the Iris and B. Gerald Collections
3/29/2019
175th Anniversary
O'Kane Hall Cantor Art Gallery
The inaugural exhibition of the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Art Gallery...
See More >>


Rodin: Truth, Form, Life/Selections from the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Collections
3/30/2019
175th Anniversary
O'Kane Hall Cantor Art Gallery 2
The inaugural exhibition of the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Art Gallery...
See More >>


Rodin: Truth, Form, Life/Selections from the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Collections
3/31/2019
175th Anniversary
O'Kane Hall Cantor Art Gallery 2
The inaugural exhibition of the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Art Gallery...
See More >>


Lecture: Cornell Historian Derek Chang on Asians in the Jim Crow South
4/1/2019
McFarland Center for Religion
Carol and Park B. Smith Hall Rehm Lib
Open to the Public
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Conference on Liberal Arts Education
4/1/2019
Political Science
Dinand Library Levis Browsing Room
What is the role of Great Books in a liberal arts education? Are...
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Once in a Lifetime
4/1/2019
Theatre
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center Lobby Table 1
LOBBY TABLE - Once in a LifetimeBy George S. Kaufman and...
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Rodin:Truth, Form, Life/Selections from the Iris and B. Gerald Collections
4/1/2019
175th Anniversary
O'Kane Hall Cantor Art Gallery
The inaugural exhibition of the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Art Gallery...
See More >>


53rd Annual Hanify-Howland Lecture
4/2/2019
Hanify-Howland Memorial Lecture
Holy Cross Campus
The 53rd annual Hanify-Howland Memorial Lecture will be held April 2, 2019 in the...
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Conference: Readings from the Roots, on Bible Translation and Its Impact
4/2/2019
McFarland Center for Religion
Carol and Park B. Smith Hall Rehm Lib
This two-day conference highlights a new, historically-sensitive...
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Once in a Lifetime
4/2/2019
Theatre
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center Lobby Table 1
LOBBY TABLE - Once in a LifetimeBy George S. Kaufman and...
See More >>


Rodin:Truth, Form, Life/Selections from the Iris and B. Gerald Collections
4/2/2019
175th Anniversary
O'Kane Hall Cantor Art Gallery
The inaugural exhibition of the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Art Gallery...
See More >>


Once in a Lifetime
4/3/2019
Theatre
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center Lobby Table 1
LOBBY TABLE - Once in a LifetimeBy George S. Kaufman and...
See More >>


Rodin:Truth, Form, Life/Selections from the Iris and B. Gerald Collections
4/3/2019
175th Anniversary
O'Kane Hall Cantor Art Gallery
The inaugural exhibition of the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Art Gallery...
See More >>


Conference: Readings from the Roots, on Bible Translation and Its Impact
4/3/2019
McFarland Center for Religion
Carol and Park B. Smith Hall Rehm Lib
Readings from the Roots is a new, historically-sensitive translation...
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Once in a Lifetime
4/4/2019
Theatre
O'Kane Hall Fenwick Theatre
Once in a Lifetime By George S. Kaufman and Moss HartApril 4-6 &...
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Ira Sukrungruang
4/4/2019
English
Carol and Park B. Smith Hall Rehm Lib
Open to the Public
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Once in a Lifetime
4/4/2019
Theatre
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center Lobby Table 1
LOBBY TABLE - Once in a LifetimeBy George S. Kaufman and...
See More >>


Rodin:Truth, Form, Life/Selections from the Iris and B. Gerald Collections
4/4/2019
175th Anniversary
O'Kane Hall Cantor Art Gallery
The inaugural exhibition of the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Art Gallery...
See More >>


Once in a Lifetime
4/5/2019
Theatre
O'Kane Hall Fenwick Theatre
Once in a Lifetime By George S. Kaufman and Moss HartApril 4-6 &...
See More >>


Once in a Lifetime
4/5/2019
Theatre
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center Lobby Table 1
LOBBY TABLE - Once in a LifetimeBy George S. Kaufman and...
See More >>


Rodin:Truth, Form, Life/Selections from the Iris and B. Gerald Collections
4/5/2019
175th Anniversary
O'Kane Hall Cantor Art Gallery
The inaugural exhibition of the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Art Gallery...
See More >>


Once in a Lifetime
4/6/2019
Theatre
O'Kane Hall Fenwick Theatre
Once in a Lifetime By George S. Kaufman and Moss HartApril 4-6 &...
See More >>


Rodin: Truth, Form, Life/Selections from the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Collections
4/6/2019
175th Anniversary
O'Kane Hall Cantor Art Gallery 2
The inaugural exhibition of the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Art Gallery...
See More >>


Rodin: Truth, Form, Life/Selections from the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Collections
4/7/2019
175th Anniversary
O'Kane Hall Cantor Art Gallery 2
The inaugural exhibition of the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Art Gallery...
See More >>


COPE Well Week
4/8/2019
Counseling Center
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center 402(03)
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


MPE Meeting (Event canceled)
4/8/2019
Office of Multicultural Education
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center 304(05)
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


MPE Meeting
4/8/2019
Office of Multicultural Education
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center Suite B/C - 4th Fl
Open to the Public
See More >>


Once in a Lifetime
4/8/2019
Theatre
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center Lobby Table 2
LOBBY TABLE - Once in a LifetimeBy George S. Kaufman and...
See More >>


Hester/Craig Debate
4/9/2019
McFarland Center for Religion
Kimball Hall Seelos Theater
Is theistic belief rational in a scientific age? Listen in on a conversation...
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COPE Well Week
4/9/2019
Counseling Center
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center 402(03)
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


Once in a Lifetime
4/9/2019
Theatre
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center Lobby Table 2
LOBBY TABLE - Once in a LifetimeBy George S. Kaufman and...
See More >>


COPE Well Week
4/10/2019
Counseling Center
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center 401
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


Once in a Lifetime
4/10/2019
Theatre
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center Lobby Table 2
LOBBY TABLE - Once in a LifetimeBy George S. Kaufman and...
See More >>


Once in a Lifetime
4/11/2019
Theatre
O'Kane Hall Fenwick Theatre
Once in a Lifetime By George S. Kaufman and Moss HartApril 4-6 &...
See More >>


Lecture: Glenn Loury on the Ethics of Affirmative Action Policies in Higher Education
4/11/2019
McFarland Center for Religion
Carol and Park B. Smith Hall Rehm Lib
Glenn Loury, the Merton P. Stoltz Professor of the Social Sciences,...
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COPE Well Week
4/11/2019
Counseling Center
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center 304(05)
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


Once in a Lifetime
4/11/2019
Theatre
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center Lobby Table 2
LOBBY TABLE - Once in a LifetimeBy George S. Kaufman and...
See More >>


Once in a Lifetime
4/12/2019
Theatre
O'Kane Hall Fenwick Theatre
Once in a Lifetime By George S. Kaufman and Moss HartApril 4-6 &...
See More >>


Once in a Lifetime
4/12/2019
Theatre
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center Lobby Table 2
LOBBY TABLE - Once in a LifetimeBy George S. Kaufman and...
See More >>


Once in a Lifetime
4/13/2019
Theatre
O'Kane Hall Fenwick Theatre
Once in a Lifetime By George S. Kaufman and Moss HartApril 4-6 &...
See More >>


Holy Cross Jazz Ensemble Spring Concert
4/16/2019
Music
Brooks Music Center CONCERT HA
An evening of Big Band Jazz music that plays from the Classic to the...
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Holy Cross Orchestra Concert
4/24/2019
Music
St Joseph Memorial Chapel St Joseph Chapel
The Holy Cross College Orchestra will perform Tchaikovsky’s...
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Academic Conference
4/24/2019
Office of the Vice President for Academic Affairs
Haberlin Hall 219
Open to the Public
See More >>


Academic Conference
4/24/2019
Office of the Vice President for Academic Affairs
O'Neil Hall 112
Open to the Public
See More >>


Academic Conference
4/24/2019
Office of the Vice President for Academic Affairs
Smith Laboratories 155
Open to the Public
See More >>


Academic Conference
4/24/2019
Office of the Vice President for Academic Affairs
Smith Laboratories 154
Open to the Public
See More >>


H-CLEF Concert
4/26/2019
Music
Brooks Music Center CONCERT HA
Join the Holy Cross Laptop Ensemble Federation for an evening of silent...
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Holy Cross College Choir Concert
4/27/2019
Music
St Joseph Memorial Chapel St Joseph Chapel
Giacomo Carissimi was the first great composer of oratorios,...
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Chapel Artist Series Organ Concert - Pavel Kohout
4/28/2019
Music
St Joseph Memorial Chapel St Joseph Chapel
Pavel Kohout, OrganistInternational Concert Organist, Prague,...
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MPE Meeting
4/29/2019
Office of Multicultural Education
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center 406(09)
Open to the Public
See More >>


Dance Concert
5/1/2019
Theatre
O'Kane Hall Fenwick Theatre
Dance ConcertMay 1 at 7:00 PM and 9:00 PMFenwick Theatre – 2nd...
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Romantic Exile and Transnational Celebrity
5/2/2019
English
Dinand Library Levis Browsing Room
Omar Miranda, assistant professor of English at the University of...
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175th Anniversary Scavenger Hunt
5/17/2019
Featured Employee
Outdoor starting at Hogan
This Scavenger Hunt is being put on by the Mission and Identity Subcommittee...
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See All