English Department hosts Gabrielle Owen at 30th Annual Cultural Studies Symposium

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University of Nebraska assistant professor Gabrielle Owen spoke Friday evening, delving into adolescents and negative cultural stereotypes.

Gabrielle Owen, an assistant professor at the University of Nebraska, spoke Friday via Zoom about the first chapter of her book “A Queer History of Adolescence: Developmental Pasts, Relational Futures,” which came out last year.

Philip Nel, university distinguished professor of English and event organizer, said Owen’s book “challenges us to rethink our own notions of identity, and relationally in the present.”

Owen said she became interested in the concept of adolescence because of the negative and dismissive stereotypes attached to adolescence. Owen said these stereotypes changed over time, partly because of the rise in awareness of homosexuality.

“A significant shift occurs around 1870, where we begin to see some of the first demeaning and belittling references to adolescence,” Owen said.

Owen said adolescence and childhood intersect different social concepts, and Owen questioned who those societal constructs include and exclude.

“The practices of developmental psychology construct childhood as white, wealthy and masculine as the norm of what childhood is,” Owen said. “It biases researchers and constructs girl, non-western and non-white children as deficient.”

Owen challenged the audience to not be harsh on children and adolescents.

“Biological changes are often used to dismiss child and adolescent experiences and perspectives as if they could not possibly know themselves in the midst of such physical instability,” Owen said, “but what if these changes served instead to remind us of our ethical opportunity to see young people in the immediacy of who they are?”

Kansas State’s Cultural Studies Symposium is part of the English Department’s Cultural Studies program. The symposium brings in scholars each year and has hosted speakers from all around the world.

“This is an opportunity for faculty and students to dive in together to study something that they maybe wouldn’t have time to do otherwise,” Naomi Wood, director of undergraduate studies for English, said.

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