On Tuesday, March 9 the Committee for Undergraduate Life (CUL) held a forum concerning recent incidents of homophobia on campus and the College’s role in queer life on campus.
In one of two letters to the community, written by the Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, and Transgender Union (BGLTU) and signed by committees and administrators, the BGLTU addresses the recent cases of homophobic harassment on campus. In the past month and a half there were two incidents of freshmen having homophobic messages on their doors, three students were verbally harassed, and one student was physically assaulted.
Andrew Singer ’00, co-coordinator of the BGLTU, said that since the letter was written there have been several more incidents of harassment, “Literally every weekend someone new is harassed.”
The most recent incident of harassment occurred at Agard House on Saturday night, in which two members of the queer community were run out of a party by a group of males who taunted them with homophobic slurs. Singer added that as the girls ran out they were calling for help, but no one did or said anything.
According to the letter, these issues of harassment are being investigated by the Dean’s office and campus security. “Harassment will not be taken lightly at this school. An assault on a queer student is, in fact, an assault on the entire queer community.”
Laura Guichard ’99, co-coordinator of the BGLTU said that with the high concentration of incidents at this time, “We feel this is a high priority.” She added, though, that homophobia is not a new problem on campus.
Although there is no specific explanation as to why there has been such a concentrated set of incidents at this time, Guichard said, “there is an indication that there is a group on campus,” but it is there is not one organized group which is responsible.
Using a 1995 report on Gender and Sexuality at Residential Colleges, composed by Associate Professor of Political Science Mark Reinhardt, the forum discussed possible solutions to the problem. CUL chair and Jackson Professor of Religion William Darrow said, “The primary proposal is hiring a person, likely in conjunction with the Multicultural Center (MCC) and Health Services, to focus on queer life issues.”
Darrow also pointed out, “Most similar colleges are ahead of us and we need to spend a little time studying successful and viable models.”
Assistant Professor of Religion and co-chair of the Dively Committee Denise Buell said the college should look to appoint someone within the MCC to deal with queer issues on campus. Buell said the role of the Dively Committee is programming, to bring speakers and other events to campus to promote awareness of and support queer issues.
“I think the MCC has been a resource, but as it stands now there is no person to deal with this issue,” said Guichard.
Programming Assistant for the MCC Marcela Villada Peacock said, “A staff person is a way to make things come together,” but that she does not know where the MCC would fit in.
In discussing a Health Services component, Director of the Health Center and the Faculty Advisor of Queer Peers Donna Denelli-Hess said that in 1996 there was a program to support queer students on campus, the Allies program.
This program was run by a former director of the MCC and after his departure from the college no one took it up. The program entailed the creation of “safe-space” for queer students by queer-friendly faculty members. The program did not seem to be making any advances and was asked to disband by Dean of the College Peter Murphy.
Member of the BGLTU Patchen Mortimer ’00 said that there currently are spaces which are deemed either “safe” or “unsafe.” “This whole campus needs to feel comfortable.”
Mortimer added that, “When these issues come up, it’s amazing who’s supportive and who’s not supportive.”
Singer stressed that these incidents of harassment keep occurring, “making this campus a very uncomfortable and unsafe place to be for members of the queer community.”
Singer proposed that education on this issue should happen right from the beginning, starting with WOOLF leaders and Junior Advisors. Chair of the Committee for Diversity and Community and Professor of Music M. Jennifer Bloxam added athletic coaches to this list because they spend a lot of time with students right as the arrive on campus and in a social setting.
Denelli-Hess suggested beginning education on these issues with prospective students, “We should make sure the message gets across before students get to Williams.”
The final step discussed in dealing with the issue is to make the entire campus responsible for what goes on.
As Singer pointed out, people on this campus are protective of each other, and even those students who have been assaulted are nervous about naming the perpetrators.
Bloxam said that the college should endow “everyone in this community with a sense of responsibility” to intervene when they see something wrong.