Thames Reflects on Stop Kiss: POV’s

Two young women, Callie and Sarah meet and fall in love. It all goes south when they become victims of a hate crime.  

Sarah is a third-grade school teacher and has moved from St.Louis to NewYork after getting a 2 year fellowship set up at a public school in the Bronx. Callie on the other hand is a NewYorker, she works as a traffic reporter at the 24hr news station, a job she got through Tom, her ex boyfriend. Tom, the ex-boyfriend whose apartment she lives in today and the guy who now dates her sister. ‘I got the apartment and Tom got my sister’, she smiled. After a series of planned and unplanned encounters, Sarah and Callie grow closer and they kiss. Soon after, the assault takes place and one of them ends up in a hospital. Investigation takes place and few new characters come into play. As manipulation and gaslighting creates frustration, their bond is tested.

OWT, with the support of the US Embassy, produced a play, “Stop Kiss” by Diana Son regarding gender-based violence and harassment between the 25th of November and the 5th of December, 2021. During these 16 Days of Activism against gender-based violence, OWT hosted four shows specifically for schools and colleges, inviting students and facilitating discussions and learning about topics such as diversity, understanding and acceptance of sexual orientations, violence, and bullying. Thames International College was a part of one such educational outreach.

After the play, students were clustered into groups led by individuals involved with the play and were made to reflect. The group leads asked students to critically analyse the play, the characters, the decisions they took, their behavior, nuances and the plot. Contrasting views from different groups made the discussion more informative and emphasized importance of subjectivity as well as relatability, about how to not mix up the two.

The esteemed guests panel invited for the play included Sunil Babu Pant, founder of Blue Diamond Society Nepal, the first openly gay national level legistator in Asia. Today he is known as Bhikshu Kashyap and is a monk ordained in Sri Lanka but he still is an active member of the queer community. Sharing some interesting yet personal stories of his initial time as a monk, he said, “It was a challenge for me to make the monk community understand why I was better off not living in the same dorm as other men and why it was more troublesome for me as a gay man to use the same changing room as other men.”

Sanket Paudel (he/him), Bachelors in Psychology(1st Year) student at Thames said, “I feel like the post-play discussion was a very important part because it was an effort to soothe the restlessness that the story of the play might have possibly brought up.” Poudel mentioned, what lacks in homophobic people is an open mind and the courage to acknowledge. He said, even though everyone is entitled to their own opinion, the least one can do is be empathetic and listen to the other person. He hopes that there are more open spaces for the Nepalese youth to talk about their gender identity openly and be informed. 

Arya Chapagain (she/her), Bachelors in Social Work (1st Year) student said, “The idea of generalizing gender norms and restricting possibilities of complex love dynamics in terms of gender and sexuality was a foreign idea of discussion for me during the post-play discussion.” “The possibilities are endless when it comes to human attraction towards people; conversation on this topic gave me a sense of exposure and made me unlearn the impression I had. She feels that the urge of anti-queer people is to make non-binary individuals seem “otherly” or out of the general norm and this is one of their most prominent agendas which leads to assaults and hate crimes”, she said.

Sj (they/them), Bachelors in Psychology (1st Year) student said, “I hadn’t disclosed my identity at the time of the admissions at Thames because I didn’t feel the need to but I had informed OSA about my pronouns and the name I prefer to go by which the college faculty was very supportive of”. Recalling a classroom instance, they said that a teacher during an attendance roll call, called them by their legal name and they remember how their classmates corrected the teacher by explaining that they prefer the name Sj. They mentioned how in Nepal we still have queer-phobic people and the idea of non-binary gender is still not normalized. “I’m scared of being subjected to hate crime so people I’m close to and those who I work with know but publicly I haven’t and I don’t intend to come out”, they said.

Rubina Awale(she/her), Office of Student Affairs Associate Director and Thames Alumni has been working closely with students and admission procedures for over three years now. She notes that when she was a student at Thames, the topic of queer identity wasn’t discussed openly amongst students. Even as a student studying social work in 2011/2012, she mentions that there was no exposure on the topic of queer identities. Reminising her time as a student she said,“In class we spoke about the Blue Diamond Society and LGBTQI+ individuals but only through textbook definitions and the thought that someone I know could identify as a queer didn’t even cross my mind untill i found out about a student.” “I knew him when i was a student here but i had no idea about his personal struggles as a gay man which i got to know years later throught the article he wrote for the college magazine”, she said.

Awale mentions that through OSA, Thames has managed to intentionally expose students to topics of mental health, LGBTQI+, menstruation etc and that the college has sometimes done referrals for students asking for help. Regarding students from queer community, big steps from the college’s side wasn’t taken due to lack of proper knowledge and feedback from students side until 2020.  Awale said,“Initially students weren’t upfront and were not openly talking about their identities however this year queer community at Thames is much more visible”. “In counselling sessions for admissions, I’ve encountered queer students asking ‘how progressive is your college?’ and if the college is queer friendly”, she said. 

Small steps taken by Thames includes addition of ‘non-binary’ and ‘i choose not to disclose’ boxes along with ‘male’ and ‘female’ in the gender checklist in admissions application form. Apart from academic curriculum Thames has been organizing many sessions in collaboration with non-binary guest speakers like Alok Vaid Menon(gender non-conforming transfeminine), Awishkar Lama (Thames Alumni), Educational consultant, Niranjan Kunwar etc. The aim is to make the college environment more of an inclusive safe space and having students watch Stop Kiss, the play, was just another step towards it, she said. 

Nasala Chitrakar(she/her) has been a teaching Faculty at Thames since 2017. Over the years, having seen the change in students she said, “They know more. It could be because they’re Gen Z and have more access but they are more open, more curious and more in-tune with their queerness. Today I see lesser of a savior complex and lesser ‘othering’ amongst students”, said Chitrakar.

Barshani Joshi(she/her), Head of Career Services and Marketing at Thames said, “We plan our orientation sessions for new students keeping in mind that not all have had exposure to the topic of queer identities. To prevent culture shocks and deliver information in a safe and open environment, we closely work with individuals who know more like last year we had a session with Niranjan Kunwar, an educational consultant. Students saw the college putting effort in both online and physical space to make them feel comfortable. Our intention is to ‘aware the unaware’ and create a common ground to reflect individual values, to be accepting of people and identities beyond binary gender”, she said.

Sujan Kayastha(he/him), Director of Thames International College said, “For the last 10 yrs, our philosophy at Thames as a liberal educational institution has been to promote diversity. By encouraging inside and outside classroom discussions, we teach our students to not just acknowledge but to break the cultural barriers. We don’t conform to regressive societal ideologies; we teach students to question the status quo”, said Kayastha. 

Social Media: Sneha Dahal- (Insta: @khoikunikho, Fb:@khoikunikho)

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