A Lunch Discussion with Jeffrey Marsh
Jeffrey and Dylan at Villa Coletta
Today, I had the great privilege of having lunch with social media activist Jeffrey Marsh along with other NYU Florence students. During our meal, Marsh discussed a variety of topics. While much of the discussion was consumed by talk about students’ lives in Florence, the subject of gender came up as well.
Did you know that there are two distinct words for “you” for two genders in the Arabic language? This sometimes causes problems. An NYU survey about diversity and inclusion called the “Being@NYU assessment” asks students to state their gender identity. One student said that this question provoked them to confront how they felt about their identity. Jeffrey said that rather than confront their identity, they should embrace it, asking students to consider their own identity as a best friend. Problems regarding the use of names attached to NYU emails even came up in our discussion. In the NYU data system, all students and staff are listed by their legal names, rather than by their preferred names. While some people said that they prefer to use diminutives when being referenced in an email, the main issue was regarding non-binary students who were uncomfortable using their legal name.
The group questioned whether one truly needs labels or not, since individuals are much more complicated than the labels they carry. The conversation was serious, but there were some light moments in the discussion. Students often spontaneously exclaimed their joy at being able to sit down for a meal with Jeffrey and talk with them personally, and others expressed admiration for their work. Jeffrey personally gave me a high-five.
As a La Pietra Dialogues intern and student at NYU Florence, I was fortunate to have this experience. Jeffrey was very open-minded and willing to engage with students on a level that would help them to better understand Jeffrey’s work. It’s great to meet a well-known social media star, but more importantly, I rarely have the opportunity to meet an activist who has so much experience and who has been so successful. Similarly, It was great to also meet them as an individual rather than as a social media activist, and I was able to get to know and understand Jeffrey better on a personal level.