Just as the parent of a toddler hesitates before saying “coloring on the walls” in the earshot of the youngster who has not yet become a muralist, I hesitate to mention a possible mischief that the College could do in the near future. That mischief would be to postpone, perhaps indefinitely, the securing of a Queer Life Coordinator (QLC) for next year and in the future. There are reasons beyond mere paranoia to worry that a QLC may not be hired, and there are even stronger reasons to believe that Williams will be hurt by not having someone to fulfill this role.
Given the not-so-recent economic crisis, the College has decided to take dramatic measures to safeguard the endowment in order to ensure that Williams continues to provide current and future students with a high-caliber education. According to the e-mail President Schapiro sent to the Williams community last week, among these measures, the College has decided “Not [to] fill newly open positions except those deemed most essential.” The QLC position will be among those newly open positions next year, but it is, to my knowledge, an open question whether it will be deemed most essential to fill.
Conventional wisdom says that so-called “minority concerns” are often overlooked in times of crisis. If it were the case that the QLC is among the inessential positions, how long might it be until we get a new one? About the inessentials, Schapiro explained in this same e-mail that it would take “many months and in the case of some positions it could be years before we’ll be confident enough to fill them.”
The prospect of years without a QLC on this campus is abysmal. Of course, one might retort that it could be worse with a biology professorship open. While I am somewhat sympathetic to this counterargument, not having a QLC is also a grave harm to the College.
An effective QLC performs four vital functions for the Williams community, and when these are not performed for many months or even years, the well-being of the community is diminished.
The first is that the QLC symbolizes or embodies the type of openness about queer issues that Williams strives to achieve; this openness can be very helpful in attracting a diverse student body. Without a QLC, prospective students might be doubtful if Williams really is the accepting community that nearly every college purports to be.
Secondly and quite obviously, the QLC is a resource to current students. Ideally, this person organizes certain campus events like the upcoming Queer Town Meeting, meets with student groups, and perhaps most of all is someone with whom individual students can talk. Clearly, many current and future students would be adversely affected in the absence of a QLC.
Thirdly, the person in the position may act as a liaison between different student constituencies, between students and administrators and between people in Purple Bubble and those outside of it. These functions can enrich the experiences of many people in our community, however wide we construe that term. Without a QLC, important connections may not be made and old ones may fall into disuse. One such instance involves the Berkshire Stonewall Community Coalition, a county-wide group that organizes queer events. A previous QLC, fairly involved with the group, was able to relay information to students and vice versa; in his absence, the link was lost.
Finally, the QLC can continue the struggle students have started concerning transgender-related issues on this campus. Students have a finite amount of time here; thus, we cannot participate in every phase of the long process to hold Williams accountable to its promises to be an integrated, non-discriminatory, accepting place. A great QLC can continue to prod the College to fulfill its high aims. Without a QLC, it may be forgotten that the College ever wrote “gender expression” into its non-discrimination clause or that some attempted to make this have meaning. The Oberlins and Marlboros of the world that compete with us for high-achieving students from diverse backgrounds will get the students who worry that Williams does not lend much institutional support toward queer issues.
In short, the absence of a QLC next year and in the years to come may cause a multitude of problems for the College. I sincerely hope that both the search for and employment of a QLC remain high on the list of priorities for the powers that be here at Williams. I have a faith, albeit tenuous, that decision-makers, especially in these times of economic instability, will arrive at choices that reflect some our deepest shared values and continue to provide for all its students.
Raff Donelson ’09 is a philosophy and political science major from McKeesport, Pa.