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In the time period after the adoption of the Domestic Partner Benefits Policy and the Princeton Review publication, campus climate slowly allowed space for campus events to be held that focused on recognition of queer issues and queer community members. The presence of such events illustrate a shift in campus climate that reflect a more inclusive space.
A touchstone event that showed visible campus support for queer Lafayette community members was the “Gay? Fine by Me” rally in 2006. Dan Reynolds, ‘08, describes this event in his interview as “this huge outpouring of support” and a way for allies to show up and show queer people at Lafayette that people cared.
He and those who helped him plan it never expected that this many people would participate in the campaign, especially considering various anti-gay incidents that had happened in Reynolds’ time at Lafayette before the rally (See Daniel Reynolds Interview). Despite these expectations, a huge number of people showed up and demonstrated that campus cared about its queer members. This event provided an opportunity to show that there was room for campus climate to shift to be more inclusive and welcoming of queer people.
While the event itself was successful in showing that the Lafayette community supported queer people, its coverage, or lack thereof, indicates otherwise. Because so many people showed up for the rally, Reynolds explains how he expected it to be covered by the College’s newspaper, The Lafayette. The Lafayette, however, had not sent a reporter to the event and had no intentions of publishing a story about Gay? Fine by Me. Reynolds explained how disappointing this was, considering that the point of the rally was visibility of support for the queer community, and how not getting covered by The Lafayette limits the scope and effectiveness of that visibility. While Reynolds and his fellow QuEST board members took matters into their own hands by writing their own insert for the newspaper about the rally, the resistance by The Lafayette to cover this event indicates a disconnect in the campus climate surrounding queer issues.
Yes, the existence of an event like Gay? Fine by Me and the huge participation numbers indicate an inclusive climate. However, the lack of coverage of the event shows that campus still had a long way to go. There were still very influential pockets of campus life that actively excluded queer people, issues, and events from the mainstream rhetoric of the College. In addition, this event was initiated because Dan Reynolds and others felt that the Lafayette community desperately needed to acknowledge that allies existed for queer people on campus. The campus climate before this event was one of silence and invisibility both for queer students and for allies. Gay? Fine by Me did not happen because Lafayette was already an inclusive environment. It happened because Lafayette needed to be shaped into an inclusive environment.
The Importance of Diversity
This page explores the positive impacts that increasing diversity can have on members of the College
One of the positive outcomes of a sense of diversity on campus is that students are more likely to see other students (and faculty) who reflect their own identities and therefore create a sense of community and decrease feelings of isolation. Riley Temple ‘71 describes one such instance of how this made him feel less alone. He explains, “There was a section in the library here, and it was only about yay big, about homosexuality. And what was interesting about that section was that the carpeting was always worn down in front of that bookshelf. And the books that talked about it... I mean, just fell open to the same pages. Isn’t that something?” [28:00].
This story shows the way in which the existence of an LGBTQ+ population showed itself outside of the concept of outness that I have so far described as diversity. However, in this instance, even if there was not a sense of outward diversity, for Temple the existence of others who had similar questions and uncertainties about their identity showed him that there were people like him at the college, or, in other words, that the school was more diverse than the lack of out LGBTQ+ people implied it to be.
Another way diversity is important is the way in which it takes the pressure off individuals who hold a specific identity. In his interview, Daniel Reynolds ‘08 explains that in one of his classes, he was often asked to give his opinion on issues “as the gay person on campus” and be asked “to speak for the gay community” [36:00]. In a similar way, in the following quote, Leah Wasacz '16 speaks to the uncomfortability of being the only out trans-woman on campus.
“What if I show somebody -- what if I’m like the archetype for somebody, in their brain, and then that has some sort of effect on how they see other trans people? You know? Like, if I’m a white person, would that make it harder for them to accept black trans people just because it doesn’t immediately fit with the image in their brain. Or trans people who pass worse than me, or pass better than me. Or female-to-male trans people. Or non-binary trans people. And I’m really uncomfortable being like, ‘Hey. This is my go-to example.’ In their brains. But I can’t not do that. Because they met me.” [37:00-38:00]
These examples show how a lack of diversity leads minority students to be placed under a high degree of pressure to represent their community. No straight person would ever be asked to speak for all straight people, nor would you ask a white person to give the opinion of all white people. However, minority students, particularly in places with incredibly low visible diversity, have the burden of representing their entire group. No group of people is monolithic, but when there are only a handful of people with a certain identity on campus, the narrative that there is only one kind of X person is easy for members of majority groups to believe.
In addition, having a higher visibility of LGBTQ+ students creates an atmosphere of greater acceptance, and makes other students feel more comfortable exploring their identity and coming out themselves. By showing not only that the school is diverse, but also that it values diversity as an ideal, some believe that atmospheres of hatred will become unacceptable. In his speech at the 2006 “gay? fine by me” rally, Daniel Reynolds explains that “Now more than ever it has become essential that we as a student body and faculty join our efforts to let these hatemongers know that it is they who are in the minority. By wearing this t-shirt today, you are giving voice to the true feelings of this college, that hatred and discrimination in any form are unacceptable.” This portion of his speech shows the value he has put on diversity, as well as greater acceptance, on campus.
Students who know that they are LGBTQ+ before coming to college, will be more likely to attend the school if they believe there is an atmosphere of diversity and acceptance on campus. Stephen Parahus ‘84 discusses this idea and explains that “the worst thing you could have is a school that’s genuinely heteronormative, because anything that would add diversity to your campus self-selects out” [53:00]. By being visibly diverse, more marginalized students are likely to attend the college, and perhaps, in turn, this may make the school a more accepting place.
Finally, diversity can also be understood, for lack of a better description, for diversity's sake. Many argue that diversity is important because it encourages a greater atmosphere of discussion and thoughtfulness in a way that not only benefits marginalized or traditionally underrepresented students, but all students. This sentiment can be seen in the way Leah Wasacz ‘16 describes the diversity of BCD. “And it was also really incredible because it was a super-diverse place. Like: BCD, when I started going, was like half-Black, and Stacy is Jamaican, and we had international students there -- and Gay men, and Lesbians, and I was a trans person. It was so -- a microcosm of what Lafayette talks about when they talk about diversity” [20:00].
Leah, a white, transgender, and bisexual student, valued the diversity of BCD not because it included people who were like her but because it was made of people who had different experiences and identities than her own, and she valued this diversity. Although this concept, of diversity as an ideal, is good in many ways, it also has its shortcomings, which I will explore in the next page.
Shortcomings of Diversity
This page examines the way in which a push for diversity, on its own, is not enough to guarantee the safety and well being of marginalized students.
To be clear from the start, I am not arguing that having a diverse student body and faculty is, in any way, a negative thing. I am, however, arguing that diversity is not enough to create a safe and welcoming community for LGBTQ+ individuals, or individuals from other marginalized groups, and that painting the school as a place that celebrates diversity may take attention away from problems that still exist.
For example, Daniel Reynolds ‘08 describes the way in which sexism still existed at the time he attended the school, despite a high degree of gender diversity. He explains,
“Yeah. There were more women than men at Lafayette at the time. There were problems with rape, and the frats were feeding into that. You hear these horror stories coming out of some fraternities where they’re drugging women with these cocktails. It’s like, ‘Well, okay. So, there’s a lot of women on campus, but that doesn’t mean that you as man are now a feminist. Or you as a woman are now a feminist’” [55:00-56:00].
In addition, despite the fact that the existence of the Black Cultural Center highlighted and made visible the existence of black students at Lafayette, it did not, obviously, make racial bias or discrimination nonexistent. For example, in 1985, a student wrote to the Dean about an example of a hateful vandalism of her car by members of Delta Upsilon, as well as harassment from them following the event, which occured in the parking lot of the Black Cultural Center.
In a similar way, although events like the “gay? fine by me.” rally and the visibility of out students on campus make Lafayette more visibly diverse, the college is by no means now void of homophobia. Diversity is incredibly important, and can help create atmospheres of greater acceptance and comfort, but the mere presence of a diverse student body and faculty is not enough to guarantee the well-being of marginalized students on campus. Although a focus on diversity as one aspect of building communities of acceptance is important, it can not be the only thing done. The college must institute policies and provisions to create accommodations for, and guarantee the safety of, these people. It is not enough to bring diverse students to the school, or to have a large number of out LGBTQ+ students, if the school does not provide the resources and safety that these groups require. Examples of the provisions that have already been created are the inclusion of domestic partner benefits for faculty at Lafayette and the inclusion of sexuality into Lafayette’s anti-discrimination statements. Steps such as these are incredibly important, and need to be taken by the Lafayette administration in order to make the school a safer place for the people who they bring in to maintain their image as a highly diverse school.
Diversity has come a long way since the seventies, and should continue to increase as time goes on. I believe, however, that a focus on diversity sometimes erases or overlooks the important institutional changes that need to be made. For example, one of the ideas that a few students, myself included, talked about during this year’s (2019) equality rally was the fact that divisions of the college, such as admissions and communications, show off how diverse the school is, while real issues that the LGBTQ+ community and other marginalized groups have been fighting for, such as the creation of campus wide gender neutral bathrooms, the inclusion of trans-health on the college health insurance plan, and the increase in classes related to queer studies (which were outlined in the 2017 Quest letter to the Lafayette community) have been met with, at best, bureaucratic foot-dragging. This means that most of the changes that do happen do so after many of the students who are asking for them have already graduated. So although a diverse student body is an important goal to work towards, it cannot be the only one. In addition, by romanticizing the ideal of diversity, the school risks overlooking the actual changes that need to be made for the well-being of its marginalized students while simultaneously patting itself on the back for how progressive it is.