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One hundred and fifty students from colleges across New England will attend the 2010 Colby College LGBT Leadership Development Conference; From Individuals to Activists: the Formation of Student Leaders this weekend, November 5-7.
The conference will be the largest of its kind ever in New England. It will also be the most expensive Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) event Colby has ever hosted, seeing as it is costing close to $15,000. Students who organized the conference are focusing on engaging the LGBT-Ally community in activism, the intersection of identity and activism, the role of the media in identity formation and developing community on New England college campuses.
The conference will build on the Williams College Queer Summit, which a group of Colby students attended last February. Leaders of the Bridge, Colby’s Queer and Ally activist group, said that the conference at Williams was the first of its kind after a few years’ lapse in intercollegiate queer programming in New England.
The Bridge’s leaders said that there have been some recent attempts at intercollegiate queer networking, but they have mostly consisted of parties. The Bridge members sought something more substantive. Three of these students—Andrew Cox ’11J, Jess Acosta ’11 and Pat Adams ’13—took on the task of planning a conference at Colby and have been working at it since June. “Ideally, conferences like this will continue to happen in coming years [and will be] hosted by a different New England college each year,” Acosta said.
The bulk of the programming will occur on Saturday, when a series of breakout sessions will explore themes of identity, activism and community. Colby students who have dealt with these issues in some capacity in the past will lead these small group discussions. Students will explore the new way in which identity influences participation in, and perspectives on, student activism. They will discuss to what extent identity encourages or discourages students from participating in LGBT events, how popular and widespread these events are and whether they would like the situation to change. Students will explore the question of what “mainstream” LGBT discourse is, what it obscures and what it emphasizes. Students will reflect on what it means to be mainstream, whether there are alternatives and how this tension plays out on college campuses. Students may also explore how media portrayals of the LGBT-Ally community influence their identity, activism, and campus community.
The keynote speaker for the conference will be Rose Troche, a director in queer cinema. Troche will come to the College through the Pugh Community Board (PCB), Cinema Studies and Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies. She will speak at 2 p.m. on Saturday in the Ostrove Auditorium. Troche was one of the writers, producers and directors for “The L Word,” the popular television show about a close-knit group of lesbians living in Los Angeles. She has also worked on many queer films, including “Go Fish,” which the Bridge showed on Monday. Troche was originally going to speak about her work in queer cinema, but changed her mind when she heard about the topic for the conference. She was touched by the topic and it inspired her to talk about queer community on college campuses and the way in which her experience with a “kiss in,” an event similar to a sit in, changed her college experience. Her talk will be a public event in the private conference.
Jeff Sheng, an artist who photographs “out” queer high school and college athletes, will be speaking at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday in the Lower Programming Space (LoPo). His photo installation will be in Pulver all week. Sheng’s project is valuable in that it “challenges the notion that all athletes are straight, and that all sports teams are homophobic,” Adams said.
Powder & Wig will present The Laramie Project at 5:00 p.m. in Given Auditorium on Friday and at 8:00 p.m. on Saturday. It is a play about the 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard, a homosexual teen living in Laramie, WY. The play takes up the problem of bullying and violence directed toward LGBT youth. Andrew Cox ’11J, one of the students organizing the conference, is directing the play. Tickets are two dollars.
Associate Professor of American Studies and Christian A. Johnson Associate Professor of Integrative Liberal Learning Margaret McFadden, the faculty advisor for The Bridge, will give an endnote speech on Sunday at 11 a.m. in the Pugh Center about how to take the momentum from the conference and channel it toward a productive future. She will also speak about ways in which faculty and staff can aid students in improving community inclusiveness.
During the conference, the Bridge’s leaders hope to foster meaningful discussions that will prompt future activism, strengthen campus communities and increase networking efforts among New England colleges. “In light of the recent attention paid to LGBT issues, particularly suicides, in the media, this is an opportune time to push for change,” Acosta said.
The Bridge leadership said that their experience at the Williams conference convinced them that the College has fallen behind other NESCAC schools in terms of LGBT student leadership and faculty and staff support. The College’s queer community is especially lacking in involved faculty allies and resource centers. “This is a chance to alter Colby’s reputation and prove that we are a community who supports and loves its LGBT brothers and sisters,” Acosta said. She said that organizing a conference of this scale is setting a substantial precedent for the future.
Students still interested in attending the breakout sessions and meals may contact email@example.com. The conference’s speeches are open to all students.