Queer Archives Project

Expansive Community

Thus far, all the communities we’ve explored are specific, focused, and most importantly finite. By their nature, Hidden and Explicit Communities have a definite size and group, either in the form of membership in the organization or knowledge of its existence/meetings. Even loosely formed groups of these types have an approximate scale in terms of membership. By contrast, Expansive Community is defined by its boundless, all encompassing nature.

The concept of “Expansive Community” as it’s being used here refers to those moments in the history of a community and an institution in which the institution uses its voice to create or further dialogue about the broader community, specifically in a supportive way. This moment temporarily brings that community to the forefront of the institution’s consciousness, and symbolically expands that community to the whole of the institution itself. While examples of this phenomenon may be varied, in the specific context of Lafayette College and the LGBTQ+ community there in, specific instances of Expansive Community tend to fall in the pattern of campus-wide, public, thematic events. Two strong examples are Quest's Equality Rallies and the displaying of the AIDS Quilt.

Since 2013, Quest, along with various and changing cosponsors, has hosted a biannual rally focusing on queer issues. For instance, the theme of the 2017 rally was Queer Academic Inclusion and Trans Wellbeing. According to the “Letter to the Lafayette Community” released by the Quest Board in anticipation of the event, the rally’s purpose was to help garner support for the specific issues of that year and to push the college towards change. The event itself involved a good deal of promotion beforehand to bring a large crowd, free t-shirts so that walking around campus would show the level of support for the cause, and the actual rally portion at the end of the day, including speakers and personal testimony. The rally itself always takes place on the Quad to be central and visible. Though it is unclear the degree to which these rallies are effective, some of the demands laid out in the letter were met, such as the ability to use a preferred name in official school identification. The structure and the goal of these rallies shows a perfect example of Expansive Community; strong advocates for an issue make that central to the dialogue in the institution and try to gather as many people as they can who support them to show strength in numbers. In doing so, the institution is forced to acknowledge the issue, rather than ignoring it through silence.

While Quest’s rallies are a constant in contemporary Lafayette, in that they are scheduled and will dependably happen every two years, one of the most impactful examples of Expansive Community comes from a singular event. The AIDS crisis and Lafayette’s response to it are too big of a topic to tackle parenthetically in this one path, but needless to say that time was extraordinarily difficult for queer people all over the country, including at Lafayette. In the Spring of 1992, a section of the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt was displayed at Lafayette for students, faculty, and the Easton Community. The quilt commemorated victims of the disease, including 20 who were residents of the Lehigh Valley. By examining a memo sent to the leaders of Greek organizations encouraging attendance, we can see that the administration did not expect significant attendance. Yet the article “Quilt offers Lafayette a powerful education about AIDS” in the Lafayette Magazine of that same summer shows this was not the case. The event was widely attended and seemed to have a strong impact. In The Lafayette, student attendees noted: “‘It was much more powerful than I had thought—I really was overwhelmed by the emotions I felt as I looked at it.’” Further, similar to the Equality rally, while causation cannot be directly proven, the event seemed to have sparked institutional change. The week after the quilt display, Bailey Health Center started offering confidential AIDS testing at a reduced cost, likely responding to the increased awareness pervasive in the campus atmosphere. We can see that this event, too, follows the typical pattern that marks it as an example of Expansive Community: a relatively small group of organizers create an event to raise awareness and gather support around an issue, and the omnipresence of that event across the institution prompts a response.

The concept of expansive community shows how the idea of what makes a community can be flexible, and can adapt to what is needed in that particular moment. When large scale change is needed, and massive support is the only way to push that change, the community can grow to encompass all like-minded and supporting members of the institution, and force the institution itself into action.


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