Push for a gender, sexuality resource center
Throughout the spring semester, students, faculty, staff, alumni and parents have been encouraging the administration to establish a gender and sexuality diversity resource center on campus.
Student Government Association (SGA) President Leslie Hutchings ’11 and Berol Dewdney ’13, the gender and sexuality diversity resource officer and reviver of the Colby Feminist Coalition, expressed that in the wake of recent incidents on campus, students decided it was time to take action. Hutchings and Dewdney cited the extensive campus discourse concerning sexual assault, the establishment of Male Athletes Against Violence (MAAV), the efforts of Hutchings and SGA Vice President Athul Ravunniarath ‘11 to draw attention to diversity on campus and instances of homophobic language and vandalism as the recent motivations for the resource center proposal.
As outlined in the proposal, the resource center “would provide a safe space for discussion, programming and education and would provide a much-needed layer of institutional and interpersonal support on campus, specifically in relation to sexual assault, homophobia and gender/sex discrimination…and…to celebrate sexual and gender diversity and to work together to make Colby a more welcoming place.” Dewdney added that the center would also provide support to students suffering from eating disorders or low body image, as well as exploring conceptions of masculinity and femininity.
The College is currently the only New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) school without a gender and sexual diversity resource center. President William Adams said, “I’m not sure that’s perfectly compelling to me, that everybody else has it. I mean, does that mean it’s right for Colby? I don’t know….”
Hutchings, on the other hand, said that “we’re competing for the same kinds of students [as other NESCAC schools]. We’ve got to keep up. We’re narrowing who we’re attracting because of our climate. It’s also in Colby’s interest to make sure people enjoy their time here so that they give back.”
Dewdney believes that a resource center is something all educational institutions should have, not just the College. Dewdney and Hutchings visited Bowdoin to explore its resource center and now seek to model Colby’s center after it. They discovered Bowdoin’s center appeals both to women as well as the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning (LGBTQ) community. A paid staff director runs the center, which is a safe space that enhances programming, awareness and education of the community towards issues of sexism and homophobia.
While only a handful of students are spearheading this initiative, it has received overwhelming support among the student body and from alumni across the country. Within four hours of the creation of the “Colby needs a gender and sexuality diversity resource center” Facebook group, 500 people had joined, and the group continues to grow.
The main reason the administration is reluctant to implement such a center on the Hill is the financial investment is would require. “When you’ve opened yourself up to thinking about the competition among priorities, there’s a pretty big net of possible objections,” Adams said. “They’re not substantive in the sense that this would be a terrible thing for Colby… they’re almost entirely reservations that have to do with financial priorities and logistical things.”
The College, like most institutions, has more initiatives it would like to pursue than time or money to pursue them. “We’ve pretty much lost our capacity with respect to representing and supporting spiritual life at Colby. We’ve lost all our chaplains,” President Adams said. “Earlier in the year there was a lot of enthusiastic talk about… having additional people in the structure of the Pugh Center…to support racial and ethnic diversity… There’s always pressure to grow and complicate the academic program…and financial aid.”
Dewdney said that, being so passionate about gender and sexuality, it is easy for her to see it as the number one priority, but she understands this is not the case for everyone. Adams said, “We just came out of a huge recession where the institution was stressed financially in some really serious ways.” The College “didn’t lay anybody off [or] have any radical program cuts,” during the recession, which tightened the budget and required more conservative spending.
Dewdney took a more optimistic view. “Financially, this is very doable,” she said. “It’s about using the resources we already have: Bro’s discretionary fund, some money from SGA, some money from Campus Life. On the scale of money, it’s itty bitty.”
Dewdney also noted the possibility of using a vacant faculty apartment, a cheaper option than building a new structure, though this may not be possible if no faculty apartments are vacant. “If the beginning of this isn’t well funded or made legitimate, it runs the risk of flopping after a few years. If we’re given a little room, and it’s student run, and then people graduate—they will say this isn’t working, and it’s not valuable,” she added.
This resource center would not be called a Women’s Resource Center, but a Gender and Sexual Diversity Resource Center. Sonia Mahabir ’11, last year’s Pugh Community Board (PCB) Chair and an avid supporter of the center, said that “gender and sexual diversity is a fantastic way to understand…all the ways [that] class, race and other types of diversity intersect with gender and sexuality.”
The proposal also emphasizes that “all members of the community” are affected by issues of gender and sexuality and the hostile environment that often surrounding them. “Gender and sexuality diversity in no way excludes anyone,” Dewdney said, “People tend to forget it’s all-encompassing. It’s not just for feminists and gay people.”
President Adams, on the other hand, feared that such a resource center may not be consistent with the College’s goal of dealing with diversity in a “comprehensive and unified way and in a connective way.” He expressed concern “about something that’s set off to the side and isn’t wound up with other things that we’re trying to do.”
Patrick Adams ’13, a member of the steering committee of the Bridge, noted that there is “no LGBT stuff on campus that doesn’t come from [The Bridge], which means we’re overworked. I give more than 20 hours a week to The Bridge.” Bridge member Carla Aronsohn ‘13 added that the Bridge sponsors “well-attended events, meaning that there is student interest surrounding these issues.”
President of The Bridge Jessica Acosta ’11, noted that the Bridge is “among the most active student groups on campus,” and shared Patrick Adams’ sentiment that students are overworked, leaving little time for them to realize their full potential as students. Aronsohn also said that, although The Bridge holds many successful events, “It’s still not a place where closeted people feel comfortable. We’re not equipped to provide mental health resources to people who feel uncomfortable here. It’s not students’ jobs to provide these things. It’s the institution’s job and the administration’s job.”
President Adams shared the sentiment that “we’re still not there in terms of the ideal of gender equity. And gender equity’s a serious commitment for us and a serious issue on most college campuses. And it’s a serious issue here….the institution has to be to some degree invested in this. And it has been.” The College has implemented a Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies program (WGSS), and has appointed more women in high-level positions in the administration and elsewhere in recent years. “It’s not just about students activism,” he added. “But I do think it’s important always for students to be engaging these issues and changing one another as they go. You can do that in some ways better than we can.”
“What’s so scary,” Dewdney said, “is that this homophobia, racism and sexism is so pervasive on a cultural level, and it’s difficult for someone who is not a student, not a girl walking into Dana, or not gay, to understand.”
“We [as a college community] are not following our mission statement, or practicing what we preach,” Dewdney continued.
“The strategy we have to take is demonstrating why this is a crisis,” Hutchings added. “I feel like people say, ‘where’s the fire? why do we need this? We have a feminist coalition and a WGSS program’…[but] one in four college women is sexually assaulted…‘fag’ has been written on whiteboards and a girl’s car….We’re not being proactive about these things except for student initiatives. We need somewhere to house those [initiatives]. We don’t have the institutional support.”
Hutchings and Dewdney urge interested students to email them or to join the Facebook group.