Rachel Godfrey ’19 has a loud and infectious laugh, and she knows it. In fact, it’s one of the things that she thinks she will be remembered for once she graduates in the spring, along with being naked all the time, and not taking bullshit. The Argus sat down with Godfrey at her home to discuss her plans for senior year and beyond, and to reflect on her time at Wesleyan, where she’s made waves as a community leader, sex activist, and advocate for Jersey pride.
The Argus: How is your senior year going so far?
Rachel Godfrey: It’s been really busy, but I feel like it’s the first time I’ve felt really on my…am I allowed to curse? Haha, I feel like I’m really on my shit, and it’s been a while, so it feels good. I’ve been doing all this planning for a student forum that I want to do in the spring, that I hope will turn into a bigger project somehow. It’s on black women and pornography. So I’ve been doing a lot of research on film and performance. I was in a [student forum] last year, “Black Women in Media and Television,” so I got to [learn about] that kind of performance. But now I get to do, like, porn! Also, have you heard of Black Phoenix Rising? It’s like this class that Anthony Hatch [taught], and at the end they had this whole big exhibit at the end. I want to do something that’s like very similar to that, but not inside of a museum space, because I don’t like museums. But I really want to have like an outside porn gallery type thing. I want to so badly. I’m gonna make it happen. I will!
A: So exciting! Have you always been interested in sex and social justice?
RG: Two summers ago I was working for planned parenthood which was definitely [centered] more around reproductive justice, but there also was, of course, like a sex element to it. So I got to do a lot of work with sexual education. But I also am just someone who…I express my sexuality very openly and it’s [important] to think about how a lot of that work of me being able to express myself sexually has come from work that sex workers have done, paving the way!
A: What other on-campus organizations are you involved in?
RG: I work for the CFA as the campus and community engagement intern. I fucking love [that] job so much, haha. There will be performances that are suggested, and I get to be like ‘this is the one that should come,’ and then I get to plan student gatherings with those people, and so it has resulted in me meeting awesome artists.
A: So I’ve heard you are involved in a lot of volunteer work in Middletown?
RG: This is my fourth year working for the office of community service and partnerships, and I used to be a tutor at Travers Square, which is an after school program. But I’ve been a coordinator [at Travers] since my sophomore year, so that’s like where most of my time goes.
A: What does that job entail?
RG: It’s a lot of thinking of different activities for the kids to do on Fridays, so trying to collaborate with people on campus or in the Middletown community. It’s just a really great mentorship program.
A: Tell me about some of the coolest students.
RG: My favorite student is Nayir. She’s 11 now, but she’s so disrespectful. But like in my kind of way! Not in like a “won’t listen to anyone” way but just like…if someone is doing something that is stupid, she’ll be like, “What? Why are you doing that?” Like to tutors, not to other kids!
A: She calls out the tutors?
RG: Yes and I love it! She’ll be like, “Why are you late?” It’s amazing. And she’s always writing little stories for me. I gave her my laptop to use, and she wrote this story called “The Cookie and the Chicken,” and let me tell you, it was a tale.
A: What are you majoring in?
RG: I’m an African American Studies and Science in Society double major.
A: How have those majors affected the way you look at the world?
RG: I feel like so much of both of those majors for me are about my trying to talk about myself and the world in really cohesive ways. Also, I would say I am more paranoid now than I ever was in my whole life. A lot of humanities majors teach you like, “don’t trust anything,” you know? But with SISP, it teaches you that everything…[can] be used against you, ha…. I feel like I don’t fall into traps for anything anymore. Like whether it be something medical or something relationship-wise, I am always hyper-critical.
A: When did you discover your interest in sexuality and its intersections with race?
RG: Maybe towards the end of my high school career, I definitely started getting more comfortable with expressing myself through a like racial kind of lens, but the sexuality part was never something that was emphasized for me, you know? But I think maybe me having sex, which didn’t happen till the very beginning of freshman year, when I had sex I was just like, “I want more!” And somehow that turned into theorizing…. I was just like, “I want to think about [sex] in so many ways.” Having sex as a fat black person is just…it just has so many layers to it. Because I think you can’t not bring your experience of however you view the world into sex. And I think when people say you shouldn’t, and that sex should be this kind of closed [thing], it’s impossible! Whether or not you’re hyper-sexual or abstinent, somehow, everyone has a relationship to sex. Even if it’s just your friend who won’t stop talking about it. I am that friend.
A: So other than the student forum that you took last year, what else inspired the student forum that you are designing?
RG: This teacher that left, Katherine Gillespe, was just, like, the greatest teacher I have ever had in my life. She taught “Race, Gender, Science, Species,” and in the class, we talked about [trying] to do any kind of theorizing work in a way that doesn’t always center human beings. Because the human being in general is a concept that comes from colonization, so [we talked a lot] about how to just expand our world views in ways that don’t just follow the paths that have been set before us…especially in African American Studies, where it’s so difficult to talk about non-human animals in this context where like black people have historically been animalized. Whenever someone is talking about trying to not be dehumanized, or to fight for their humanity, it’s just so often equated to being white. And so because I’m obnoxious and just love drawing on things that are taboo, I feel like pornography is an avenue I can use to explore like ways of de-centering the way people normally talk about sex and race.
A: Where are you from?
RG: I’m from New Jersey!
A: And do you have a lot of Jersey Pride?
RG: I do, and everyone shames me for it! All my friends are fucking New Yorkers. But it’s so much worse to be shameful. I was born in Staten Island, but then I moved to New Jersey when I was like five, and I…I just love the state of New Jersey; I love beaches, I love Wawa.
A: Because you’re a human being!
RG: Exactly! But I always get shamed for it. And I love Jersey club music!
A: How do you resist Jersey shame?
RG: Normally, I’m just like, “New York has cockroaches, y’all are all dirty!”
A: What brought you to Wesleyan?
RG: So I did this program called New Jersey SEEDS, which [helps low income, high achieving students get a private education], and then I went to boarding school in Connecticut for four years. It’s a…place. And then my best friend, who was a senior my freshman year of high school, he came to Wesleyan and was just like, “I know this is a place you need to be.” He could have told me to fucking jump out of the window and I would have said yeah. But I do think seeing his experience and seeing how much fun he was having, and because our personalities match so well, I was like, “this will probably work.”
A: What was prep school like?
RG: Haha, sometimes I try to block it out of my head, but I can’t. Just another trauma to be dealt with. It was very different from my home. So like all my friends from home are people of color and at [my high school], there were three people of color—oh wait, no, four—in my grade. I remember being like, “okay, I can get through this, I’ve been in all-white spaces before,” but it’s just…people saw a black person and they didn’t know how to act. It’s mind-blowing. Especially at 14! It was a lot of people trying to figure out themselves through me, like using me as a vessel to relate to the world in terms of like…not being sexist. Also being the student body president was just a terrible contest.
A: Woah! So you ran for student body president?
RG: Yeah, the speech line-up was like these three white boys, me, and then three white boys after me. And so afterwards everyone was just like, “you won because you are black and a woman.” And I was like, “yes, but I’m also nicer than all of you!”
A: How does Wesleyan compare to your high school?
RG: I think in the beginning, the less overt ways [of discrimination] really got me fucked up. Because when someone would say something, I would be like, “How can you say that at Wesleyan University?!” But in a way, there’s also a bigger community of people who want to support you for you being you, and all the mistakes that come along with you figuring out you. So in that sense, it’s a very different vibe.
A: Have you been involved in any performances on campus?
RG: Oh, wow. So my freshman year, I did this play called “Razah.” Oh god, the cast, we…wow. So it’s this boy who graduated two years ago, Jonah [Toussaint ’17]. He’s just so brilliant and he’s known as being this like brilliant theater person. But he wrote this play which was supposed to be an exploration of Jim Crow politics and how it relates to now and hip hop culture, just this whole big black ole’ play. I played the mom of the main character, and at one point, wow, at one point, this man had me on my knees, like pretending like I was being whipped as a part of the play. And it really does something to a person, when like every day around seven you’ve gotta go to X House courtyard and pretend to get whipped! And then there was one point, after the whipping, when I had to twerk in a funeral dress! And pretend like I was crying! That was like my first performance thing and it made me nervous to do performance again, but I ended up doing a play last year for my friend’s student forum, and it was great.
A: So you’re in Burlesque, tell me about that?
RG: I went to the show my sophomore year and was like, ‘Oh no, I need this in my life.’ And then junior year Burlesque was so fun, because it was all of these people coming at sexuality from very different angles, and I remember it being weird for me, sitting and hearing other people’s stories about them being really ashamed of their bodies or just really nervous about expressing themselves in any kind of body positive or sex positive way, and me thinking about when I was younger and being bullied, or being ashamed of my body. It was really just a moment of “Wow, I have just come so far!” And I wanted to be a part of those peoples’ journey of coming into themselves. So this year, in the spring, I am going to be one of the directors for Burlesque. It’s gonna be awesome.
A: What do you think you have both taken from and given to Wes?
RG: In terms of what it’s given me…I guess a kind of love. Because the friends that I have are people that have been so open to me just being weird, in a way that has helped me be strange at home in ways that I wasn’t before. It’s a specific kind of strength. And then in terms of what I’ve given Wesleyan…I don’t know. I feel like some part of my legacy will have to do with me being naked all the time. It’s just what it is, and then I’m [also] okay with being known for being loud, and laughing loudly, and just having fun! But also [being] someone who doesn’t take bullshit! That’s one of my favorite things about myself.
A: Do you have any exciting plans for after you graduate?
RG: In the long-term, I want to do a lot of production stuff. [I’d love to] have my own production company one day. I also know I want [to work] with speculative genres, so, like, something to do with horror, or sci-fi, or comic books. This past summer, I worked at Marvel, and it was so fun. I just got to read through hundreds of comics each day and write about them. Like, I can’t be upset about that. Also, this is a random side note, but one time my boss gave me an address and said, ‘I need you to deliver this book to someone, get it signed, and then bring it back.’ And I was just like, ‘Okay, it’s actually really nice out so I’m trying to get out of this office.’ So Ta-Nehisi Coates had been writing for the Captain America comics, and I just did not even look at the fucking book in my hands! And so I get to the apartment building. Mind you this man has been in hiding for so long because of some controversy…. But I show up to his apartment building and I’m in the elevator and I’m like, ‘Wait, where am I?’ so I look down and see the book. I knock on the door of this apartment, and then I look down at the book again, and I read: “Coates.” And basically as I am making the realization of what is happening to me, the door opens, and it’s fucking Ta-Nehisi Coates! I was sweating so much, but he was so nice. I remember it was July 11, Free Slurpee Day at 7-Eleven, and I made a joke about it to him and he just went, “AHA!” I didn’t want to be like, “Can we take a selfie!?” But I don’t really know what was stopping me, some type of dignity or something I guess, from being like, “please sign my boobs.”
Sasha Linden-Cohen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.