Presidential Task Force on Lesbian, gay and Bisexual Issues presents request today
by Sarah Gamble '98
A proposal for lesbian, bisexual and transgender cultural space is being submitted today to an Educational Priorities sub-committee on non-academic space. The proposal was drafted by members of the LBA, SYSTA, Spectrum, and the Presidential Advisory Committee on Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Affairs.
"We want the administration to take a stand on cultural space so that every group does not have to go through this long and undefined process," Presidential Advisory Committee Representative Carmen Lopez '99 said.
A preliminary proposal was drafted two years ago. The present draft is a revised version of the last one. According to Lopez, the hardest part of the process was "making sure that everyone was heard, that what we've written works for them."
The proposal's writers are Lopez, SYSTA representative Miki Yamada '00, Lesbian Bisexual Alliance facilitator Alicia Curlew '98, LBA member Laura Betts '99, and Radley Emes '00, Spectrum representative.
The document defines the group planning to use the space as lesbians, bisexuals, transgendered students, and straight allies who "have experienced and continue to experience homophobic and heterosexist oppression both on campus and off."
The proposal says the queer community can be defined as a cultural group because, "we share a common, unchosen, and minority characteristic. Identity formation of minority groups begins with relating to people who share one's own experience of shared oppression."
According to Betts, the cultural space will add to the community as a whole. "I think it's going to help a lot to strengthen the community," Betts said. "I think Mount Holyoke in general is very accepting, but as queer people and an oppressed minority we do have a culture which needs to be recognized and celebrated," Betts said.
Activities and accomplishments of the LBA, SYSTA, and Spectrum are also listed in the proposal. It mentions the LBA twentieth anniversary weekend in 1996, the highly publicized celebration of National Coming Out Week, last semester's rally against homophobia, and the LBA 'zine as examples of the lesbian/bisexual/ally presence on campus.
According to the proposal, the space will be used for a collection of resources about gay, lesbian, transgender, and bisexual issues. The space could also serve as a "connecting place" from the College to the many other colleges that have similar centers nationally, such as Dartmouth, Smith, Oregon State University, Harvard/Radcliffe, and Swarthmore, among others.
According to the proposal, the space will also provide a meeting area for the LBA, SYSTA and Spectrum. It will be a "political organizing center," a place to hold lectures and dinners, and will provide a "place of comfort and a degree of safety for those using the center." SYSTA, in particular, is a confidential group of lesbian and bisexual women of color. The space would help maintain "a higher level of confidentiality" for enquirers and organizers and provide an avenue for more communication between campus groups.
The proposal requests three offices, a resource room, special space, a bathroom and a kitchen. The space will be used for meetings, lectures, dinners and as a resource center for internships, gay studies programs, jobs and other pertinent information. The area would be staffed by students.
The proposal states that the cultural space will be used to meet the organizational needs of student groups such as the LBA, SYSTA, and Spectrum. It will also be used for social events "to contribute to the social cohesion of the college." Suggested events are a Lesbian Alumnae Network conference, dances, lectures, and dinners. Finally, the space will be utilized for the "strengthening of the L/B/G community," and the celebration of queer culture.
"We've taken a lot of information from student groups and put it together as a comprehensive statement about why we should have space," Lopez said.
The proposal was submitted to an Educational Priorities Committee study group on student non-academic space. The study group consists of College Treasurer Mary Jo Maydew, Dean of Administration and Business Manager Wayne Gass, Dean of Students Regina Mooney, Avery Ouelette '98, and Rose Pawlikowski '98, along with two members of the Hillier Group, an independent architectural firm. Dean of Studies John Rapoport chairs the committee.
According to Rapoport, the committee is studying cultural space in general on campus. They recently completed a tour of several colleges to see how each utilized space, and sent out a student survey on Tuesday to garner student input on cultural space. The committee is expected to report to Creighton by the end of the semester. The committee will consider the lesbian/bisexual/transgender/ally space proposal along with all the information they receive from the campus. "The information they submit will be helpful," Rapoport said.
Lopez said, "We want a statement saying they will prioritize it, and work on finding the space."
"Obviously President Creighton has the final say, but if we get an okay from the subcommittee we'll probably get the space, unless someone above them has a huge problem with it," Betts said.
In an interview last week, College President Joanne Creighton said she is waiting for all the information to be presented before developing a fixed opinion on cultural space. "I hope we can be accomodating to what people need, but I don't think we'll be building new structures, rather renovating the existing buildings," Creighton said.
"I think that the proposal has been well received," Emes said. "Most students, regardless of sexual orientation, seem to be in favor of it," she said.
The proposal will also be given to the Student Conference Committee to be discussed with the trustees when they arrive on campus this week. Copies will also be submitted to the Hillier Group, the Lesbian Alumnae Network, and "everyone who has been interested and who has supported us," Lopez said.
Editorial: To the trustees
While the on-going discussions about the state of Mount Holyoke have been tumultuous, they are healthy and essential to the stability and endurance of the College. Opinions about the various issues range widely among students, faculty, staff and administration. Foremost in the conversations is the Educational Priorities Committee's recommendation to enact a need-sensitive admissions policy, yet it is one of the many issues students are angry and frustrated about.
Religions life and its place on a residential campus is another important topic. Financial aid policies for students wishing to study abroad need to be examined and improved. Recent incidents both at Mount Holyoke and at the University of Massachusetts have reignited the never-ending fights against racism and classism. Cultural space, for both Asian and Asian American students as well as for lesbian, bisexual and transgendered students, is also high on students' agendas. All of these issues, together with the proposed six-year plan, deserve attention.
As a residential campus, Mount Holyoke has a responsibility to provide to its students a number of things: hot water, heat, meals ... a place to call home. For many women here, religion is an integral part of who they are. To deny them the right to freely access their religions is to deny them their selves. For this reason, permanent chaplains representing at least the Protestant, Catholic, Jewish and Muslim religions are essential to the life of Mount Holyoke's residential community.
Spending one's junior year abroad is a priceless opportunity. Especially to students majoring in foreign languages, international relations, religion and a plethora of other disciplines, studying abroad is a necessary component of their education. Mount Holyoke's financial aid to students wishing to study abroad is beyond inadequate; it is pathetic. As an institution which trains uncommon women to make their mark in the world, we need to extend our commitment to educating our students beyond the main gates of the College.
Mount Holyoke has a long history with the issue of cultural space. while the Betty Shabazz and Eliana Ortega houses are thriving, Asian and Asian American students have no space on campus. Last week, efforts to attain such a space were ignorantly chastised by students on campus. In addition, an event at the Japan Club in the Village Commons was marred by racial slurs and drawings on the Club's outside walls. These events are unacceptable and only prove the value and overwhelming need for a comfortable, safe and inclusive space for Asian and Asian American students.
Similarly, the Lesbian Bisexual Alliance, Spectrum and SYSTA do not even have an office space from which to organize their events. Homophobia is alive and well at Mount Holyoke as it is in the world. The time for a separate space for lesbian and bisexual students is now.
While the students place high priority on all of these issues, we are well aware that money is a major obstacle in resolving them. The financial state of the college requires attention; however the focus on a need-sensitive admissions policy to alleviate the problem is premature.
Student input on the policy has been invited and received, and concerns over the effect need-sensitive admissions will have on diversity linger among us. A change to our need-blind admissions process should be a last resort. Students are serious about the financial state of our school and their entrepreneurial savvy continues to be an untapped resource. Streamlining our daily operations, reducing lengthy paper trails and energy conservation are good ways to start. Simply because other institutions are no longer need-blind in their admissions policies does not mean Mount Holyoke should follow suit.