One year after homophobic vandalism in the Mills-Dennett 1 common room prompted a round-the-clock occupation of Hardy House, substantive progress has been made on all five demands put forth by the occupiers (“Students mobilize in Hardy for LGBTQ support,” Dec. 9, 2009). Most recently, Justin Adkins, who has served as queer life coordinator on a half-time basis since 2008, was named the first assistant director of the Multicultural Center (MCC) with a focus on gender, sexuality and activism just two weeks ago.
The full-time assistant MCC directorship was one of five demands presented by members of the Queer Student Union (QSU), the Women’s Center and other student activists during the Hardy House squat. The demands were subsequently endorsed by College Council and discussed with administrators.
“Most of the goals we presented last December have been met at least to some degree, and the administration has shown its support and willingness to address these issues,” said Gabrielle Joffe ’11, QSU co-chair.
Two of the demands – the establishment of a Gender and Sexuality Resource Center (GSRC) and gender-neutral upper-class housing – have been fully implemented. The other two demands remain in progress, although significant ground has been gained: Adkins and others continue to work with the Junior Advisor (JA) Advisory Board to increase LGBTQ and gender-sensitivity training for JAs, and faculty have been working to increase queer studies course offerings despite budgetary constraints that preclude the hiring of a queer theory professor.
Among other academic initiatives, the women’s and gender studies department “is looking at adding sexuality to their name,” according to Adkins, and “Introduction to Sexuality Studies” is currently being offered for the second consecutive semester by Katie Kent, professor of English.
“The issues that the students decided to tackle were all things that had been in the works for over 10 years,” Adkins said. “There had been report after report saying that the College had these weak areas that needed to be addressed.”
As with the establishment of a full-time staff position for gender and sexuality, the GSRC is a particular milestone. Located on the second floor of Jenness, it provides 24-hour access to a wide variety of information and other resources, including condoms and dental dams. The MCC and the Health Center are in the process of developing a peer training program to facilitate informal counseling shifts at the GSRC.
“The GSRC has already increased the support and accessibility of resources for individuals and student groups this semester, and I look forward to seeing how it continues to develop as an asset to the entire campus,” Joffe said.
The GSRC has also been the venue for W-Talk, a new group that calls itself a “confidential, judgment-free space” for queer and questioning students to discuss sexuality. In addition, the GSRC now serves as the center for significant gender and sexuality-related programming – this week will see the Sex Jam Q&A session on Thursday, an open house on Friday and a fruitcake toss on Sunday.
“All of this programming will hopefully lead to a more sex-positive climate on campus where enthusiastic consent is the norm,” Adkins said, adding that the GSRC is also working with the Health Center and the Committee on Diversity and Community (CDC) to launch an anonymous online forum for questions in the spring.
Collaboration between campus groups has been a hallmark of the activism surrounding the Hardy occupation. Early in last year’s events, the Women’s Center aligned with the QSU throughout the squat.
“As a result, more members of the QSU have joined the Women’s Center and vice versa,” said Veronica Rabelo ’11, Women’s Center co-chair. “I think that the QSU has also since become more conscious of issues pertaining to gender – namely women – and that the Women’s Center has become more conscious of queer and sexuality-related issues.”
According to Johannes Wilson ’11, who is co-chair of the
Minority Coalition (MinCo) and was the QSU co-chair last year, students from other schools at the last two New England Small College Queer Summer events have looked to the QSU-Women’s Center alliance as “a positive example of how activism can bring change” on campus.
“I’ve been asked by peer LGBTQ student leaders at these conferences for advice on how to carry out similar kinds of activism and advocacy on their campuses,” he said, adding that the summit itself was started at the College last year.
“The new gender and sexuality support groups such as Anything but Str8 in Athletics and W-Talk coexist with the QSU, and all of these groups serve their specific purposes with specific constituents,” he said. “By having the MCC and the GSRC take on a supportive role for LGBTQ students, QSU is no longer the only option for involvement in LGBTQ issues or an LGBTQ community, and I think that this de-centering of the QSU will actually promote more cohesiveness and unity among LGBTQ students.”
Despite heartening indications of greater inclusivity and queer activism, student leaders believe that much remains to be done.
“I’ve heard it mentioned that there is a visibly greater queer presence among the first-year class, [and] I also think that the GSRC, as well as go-to people and places for support, have become significantly more visible,” Rabelo said. “At the same time, my friends and I still encounter everyday instances of homophobia and sexism, whether it’s hearing gendered slurs in Paresky or not feeling comfortable dancing with a same-gendered person at First Fridays.”