One of the IAS-related Groups/Clubs/Student Organizations that I joined this semester was OU Cousins. The premise of OU Cousins is that is matches American students with foreign students. This includes both foreign exchange students who are just here for a semester (or year) as well as international students who are here to obtain their entire degree. The cousins are supposed to do a variety of things together throughout the semester/year after being paired at the beginning. Here is how the OU Cousins Program describes itself:
“Through this program, students are matched according to hobbies, majors, and countries of special interest. Each International or exchange student is matched with one or two American students and invited to participate in monthly programs that are free of charge. In addition, students are encouraged to get together outside of official Cousins events and share their respective cultures with one another through normal daily life.”
Sounds fantastic, right? I thought so, too, and was looking forward to getting involved with the program. When you apply to the program, you have to fill out a relatively lengthy survey about yourself. This includes interests/hobbies, languages spoken, majors/minors, and lots of other details. The survey seemed like a great way to match cousins and the premise of the program sounded fantastic.
As I’ve said, I was super excited. The only problem was that none of these things were true and the survey wasn’t used. In addition to the logistic idiocy, the program strictly enforces gendered and heteronormative concepts of friendships and interests. If a guy is friends or wants to be friends with a girl, it’s obviously because he want’s to date (this word replaced a different four letter word that, when re-reading through this post, I found to be too harsh for an OU-hosted website) her, right? If we make people fill out a survey, we should completely ignore it and never use it, right? Completely logical statements using the OU Cousins Program’s logic.
After you fill out the survey, you get invited to a matching process night. When you show up, you get a name tag (different colors for American students and international students) and a blank “bingo” card. The bingo card has arbitrarily chosen objectives on it (“find someone who has gone skydiving” “find someone with your same shoe size” etc., etc., etc.) and the goal is to find an international student (or, if you’re an international student, an American student) for each box. At this point, girls and guys are together in a large auditorium. If you’re introverted, it may be a bit overwhelming at first, but at this point it’s set up fairly well (although they could use some better “bingo” questions that actually help you get to know someone). At a minimum, you get to meet some pretty cool people.
Then they pass out a personality test. You’d think that would be smart, right? After all, it’s important for people’s personalities to be compatible. The way they did it, however, was completely and absolutely unhelpful. The personality test that they use separates students into four categories: Golden Retriever, Otter, Lion, and Beaver. The test is okay at best (they could at least use a test with an ounce of scientific research, but I digress), but the way they use it is much worse than the test itself and is, as stated above, completely unhelpful.
After we take the test (before they tell us anything about it or how they plan on using it), the guys are separated from the girls. The guys go outside and get into four different groups based on the personality test and the girls do the same inside. Instead of using the personality test in a sensible way (If we are going to take it, we might as well use it, right? Wrong.), like matching compatible personality types, the test is used for the sole purpose of getting us into four smaller groups. You talk to one person in your group for a few minutes, then they rotate the American students from group to group, each time only talking to 1-2 people. Again, this has absolutely nothing to do with the personality test we just took nor the survey we filled out online beforehand.
After about 15 minutes of this, the head of the OU Cousins Program stops everyone and asks people to find a cousin and go inside and sign up together. Let me reiterate, not only did this have nothing to do with the online survey, but it also had nothing to do with the personality test they made us take inside. While I was definitely frustrated with this, these are understandable problems and I completely get wanting to let people choose their cousin for themselves. I do think, though, that the personality test and survey should be removed from the process if there is never any intention of using either of them. I also think we should be given far longer as to talk to more students when looking for a cousin.
My huge problem with OU Cousins comes from a seemingly small detail: when, after half way through the event, they separated girls and guys. The program has many other problems, several of which I discussed above, but this is by far the most frustrating. Heteronormativity, as defined by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, is anything “of, relating to, or based on the attitude that heterosexuality is the only normal and natural expression of sexuality.” OU Cousins’ policy that cousins must be of the same gender is a perfect example of this. Their policy is not only heteronormative, but also assumes that gender dictates one’s hobbies and interests (It’s not like we all filled out a survey telling them all about our interests. Oh wait, that’s exactly what we did.).
During the first half of the matching process, I met several really cool people who I wanted to be cousins with. The ‘problem’ was that they happened to be women. At the halfway point, I found out I wasn’t allowed to be cousins with any of them and, frankly, it sucked. I still hang out with many of them, but it frustrated me that we weren’t allowed to be official OU Cousins.
I’m not sure how to conclude this post other than saying that there are tons of IAS-related groups that are amazing, so not liking OU Cousins isn’t a huge deal in the long run. From Honors Reading Groups to (Insert Country Here) Student Organizations, there is bound to be something that you’ll love.
Thanks for reading my rant!