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The Change Over Time
This page explores how diversity on campus, specifically in regards to gender, race, and LGBTQ+ identity, have increased over time.
Lafayette College has changed significantly in terms of the diversity of its students and faculty in the years of its existence. The first classes that were taught began in 1832, but for the sake of this path, I will focus on diversity starting in the 1970s when Riley Temple ‘71 attended Lafayette.
As probably the most obvious change in diversity on campus, in 1970, Lafayette began admitting women to the college. As Professor Lynn Van Dyke describes in her interview, before this time there were only around a dozen female professors because “it didn’t seem to cross anybody’s mind that it was possible to have female professors in a school with male students” [11:00]. Lafayette has clearly changed significantly in terms of gender demographics since this time. Today, there is basically a fifty-fifty split in terms of female to male students and female professors make up about 47% of the faculty (“How Diverse is Lafayette College?”). Riley Temple ‘71, who began attending the school before it became co-ed, describes the importance of the transition to coeducation, not only in terms of equity and the creation of a place for women in education, but also because, he argues, it created a more understanding and less cruel climate on campus.
The college has also changed significantly in terms of racial diversity since the 1970s. Temple explains that when he began to attend Lafayette, he was one of ten African American students in his class year. This can be compared to the school’s current (as of 2019) statement on the racial diversity of Lafayette college (“Campus Demographics”), which estimates that students of color make up about 17% of the student population. Changes in racial diversity can be seen in other spaces as well, such as the existence of spaces and organizations for people of color, like, among many others, Portlock Black Cultural Center, ABC (Association of Black Collegiates), Nia (a support group for women of color on campus) and a recent addition to Lafayette, QPOC (Queer People of Color).
The last aspect of diversity I will discuss in this section is diversity in terms of LGBTQ+ identities. This form of diversity is different from the previous kinds discussed because, unlike gender (at least in the way it is conceptualized in the conversations about coeducation, which may really be better understood as being about biological sex) and race, these identities can be concealed. This means that the increase in diversity cannot be discussed in terms of admissions, since the school has no way of really knowing the sexuality or trans identity of a student unless they choose to disclose it. The school can have policies or attitudes that create an environment where LGBTQ+ people are not welcome [passage redacted by the QAP team at interviewee request]. These policies, however, cannot control whether or not LGBTQ+ people attend the school, only if they are out. Daniel Reynolds ‘08 and Leah Wasacz '16 both mention this idea in their interviews, discussing the fact that gay and transgender students (respectively) have always been at Lafayette, they have just not been out.
So then, the discussion of diversity with regards to the LGBTQ+ community is often a discussion about “outness.” In this conception, diversity has clearly increased since the 1970s. When asked about the LGBTQ+ community at Lafayette when he attended, Riley Temple ‘71 explained that “there was no community” and that he knew no out gay people while attending the school [11:00]. In addition to ranking Lafayette as the most homophobic college in the country, the 1992 Princeton Review also rated Lafayette as highest for “gays still in closet” which also speaks to this lack of diversity, as defined by outness, on campus.
Since these early days, many people have come out, and communities meant to support LGBTQ+ students, such as Quest and BCD (Behind Closed Doors) have been created. Events on campus, particularly the “gay? fine by me” rally and the equality rallies that followed, have provided spaces not only to celebrate LGBTQ+ identities on campus, but also for students to publicly come out. It is hard to know how many “out” students attend Lafayette College, but it is clear that diversity in terms of LGBTQ+ students, examined in the context of outness and visibility, has increased since the 1970s.
Clearly, diversity at Lafayette has increased over time. Although I have focused on diversity in terms of gender, race, and LGBTQ+ identity, as these are the forms that I believe are most reflected in the archival objects, these are by no means the only aspects of diversity that could, or should, be explored at Lafayette.
But Do They Really?
Shanequa Lassiter ‘14, author of the WGS 340 Archival Project: Black Manifesto to QuEST Manifesto student paper written in 2014, is shown here photographed for the Gender and Sexuality Programs Feminist Photography Project. Her self-written board states “I need feminism because as a queer woman of color my voice is still excluded from major decisions”. Although both QuEST and BCD were lead by queer Black women at this time, perhaps Lassiter’s overall critique of society was a foreboding warning of what was to come at Lafayette.
In 2018, the student created organization Queer People of Color, more commonly known as QPOC was founded. The two women who began this organization did so in response to both the lack of representation in Quest and other identity groups on campus focused on race. In acknowledging that “ultimately white LGBTQ culture and Black LGBTQ culture [are] very different” from each other, the two students felt like it was crucial to create the safe space on campus that was not being held for queer students of color by Quest (Newman). However, as per the course with BCD, one of the founders recalls how she faced pushback from administration and specifically Student Government in the creation of the club where both founders “[had to] explain to a lot of people that [Lafayette] is a predominantly white space and we need a space for people of color to feel comfortable,” despite the existence of other sexuality clubs on campus (Newman).
The fall semester of 2018 saw the club’s first school wide event come into fruition after a semester long planning period with the first annual QPOC Art Fest. Heralded as ‘Creating a space, visibility, and accessibility for people of color in the arts’, the Art Fest was a space where all students were welcomed to engage with a multitude of art mediums as an introduction to the club.
While still battling the space of hypervisibility and silence, QPOC engages with this in a way that previously Quest and BCD has not. By choosing to have school wide events such as the Art Fest, while also hosting annual kickbacks and roundtable discussions created specifically for queer people of color and their allied communities, QPOC has found a way to put themselves in the spotlight only when they see it fit, and to choose silence in the times when it feels appropriate to preserve and protect their culture, community, and safety.