For the first time in almost a decade, the Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, and Transgendered Union (BGLTU) will not hang its banners from Chapin Hall during the annual Coming Out Week occurring later this month.
The shift in college policy that prompted this change has sparked feelings of resentment among some student leaders.
The Dean’s Office announced over the summer that organizations will no longer be permitted to display their banners on Chapin Hall, and will now display them on Baxter. In the past, groups ranging from the Alumni Office to the Feminist Alliance have displayed their banners, although the BGLTU has used Chapin to display its banners significantly more than any other campus group in the past few years.
Assistant Dean Wanda Lee and Dean of the College Peter Murphy said the administration discussed the idea of prohibiting banners for more than a year, and ultimately decided to adopt the policy in order to preserve the integrity of Chapin as a historic site on campus.
“I have always felt that Chapin was an odd place for banners,” Murphy said. “They fill up the nicest facade on campus, and it is also extremely difficult to put them up there. Buildings and Grounds spends some overtime, you have to plan for it way in advance, and it costs the groups who put up banners money.”
Murphy added that he hopes the change will make it easier for groups to display banners, and therefore increase the number of organizations who choose to hang banners.
“I happen to like public statements like banners, and I think that it is good for colleges to have regular public expressions of various sorts of opinions,” he said.
As a result of the new policy, organizations such as the BGLTU and the Alumni Association will have to find new sites for their banners in the upcoming year.
Lee said for the upcoming Coming Out week, the BGLTU will hang their banners from Baxter Hall and a gay pride flag will also be displayed in Chapin Beach.
Some students are disgruntled over the new policy, noting that the banners are more visible from on Chapin from Route 2 and that Baxter is not as prominent a building on campus.
“Having them on Baxter isn’t really the same,” said Sharmistha Ray ’01, co-chair of the BGLTU. “Baxter is just a dining hall.”
Although members of the administration have maintained that the new policy was adopted in order to preserve the integrity of Chapin as a historical building, many students have suggested that the decision may unfairly target the BGLTU since that organization has used Chapin to display banners more than any other.
“I don’t think the banners pose a threat to the integrity of Chapin Hall,” said Dena Zaldua ’98, a former organizer for the BGLTU. “I think it’s ridiculous; it’s a made-up reason.”
“It looks like the school is telling the gay community that they aren’t supporting them as much,” she added. “It’s an excuse to silence people.”
Lee said she has worked with leaders of the BGLTU since the summer to find a visible place to display the queer pride banners. She noted that one of the panels of the banners will be displayed on the circular end of Baxter above the snack bar, making it visible from Route 2.
She added that there was “no attempt whatsoever” to target the BGLTU in revising the policy.
“We are quite supportive of the BGLTU,” she said. “They have added a wonderful educative component to the community and we want that maintained.”
“Unfortunately (Baxter) is just not Chapin,” she said. “But we have attempted to give as much as we possibly can to compensate for the location change.”
BGLTU leaders also expressed concern that the decision may be connected to an incident of vandalism that occurred in spring of 1997, when part of the Queer Pride banner was cut. Although Security and the Dean’s Office investigated the vandalism, no one was ever charged with the crime.
Co-chair of the BGLTU Susanne Wall ’01 said she believes the past vandalism makes it more important than ever for the BGLTU to be able to hang its banners from Chapin.
“[The vandalism] should make Chapin a historic place for us,” she said, adding that the removal of the banners almost justifies the vandalism.
Ray and Wall said they believe an exemption should have been made for BGLTU when the Dean’s Office was formulating its new policy.
“I understand why they don’t want banners on it all the time,” Ray said. “But I think they should have made an exception for us.”
Murphy said the vandalism of two years ago was not a notable point of consideration in the decision.
“The vandalizing of the BGLTU banner a couple of years ago was not a factor in my thinking,” he said. “Sadly, I think that if people want to vandalize a banner, they will be able to do it in the new location on Baxter too. That isn’t a facilities issue â€” that is a question of people’s attitudes. Those are harder to change.”
Students and administrators have expressed mixed views as to whether the banners will be protected from vandalism on Baxter. While some students have said they worry that the banners will hang lower to the ground on Baxter, Lee said the College will work to ensure that the banners are safe on Baxter.
Lee said locks will be placed on the windows of Baxter when there are banners on display and that limited access will be granted to the roof.