Queer Archives Project

The Change 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.


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