Call for administrative acknowledgement of lesbian and bisexual community
by Sarah Ludwig '00
About 30 community members spoke out on issues of safe space and administrative acknowledgement of lesbians and bisexuals at a forum held by the Presidential Advising Committee on Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Affairs on Tuesday.
One of the most pressing issues discussed was the matter of space. Students expressed their concerns over the absence of a specified office or meeting area for any of the lesbian and bisexual groups on campus, among them the Lesbian and Bisexual Alliance, Spectrum, and Systa.
"The administration must provide a safe place for lesbian and bisexual students," said Jean Thoresen '66, a professor of sociology at Eastern Connecticut State University. Thoresen said the College failed to provide such a space for lesbian and bisexual women when she was at Mount Holyoke.
"I'm very concerned ... it's time ... This group has [repeatedly] been on the bottom of the list," Thoresen said.
"We need a permanent place to go," a student said.
"Space is not about being separate, it's about having an identity," Elizabeth Schwartz '99 said.
"We have a committee to look at the distribution of space," Creighton responded. "It's in the Plan [for Mount Holyoke 2003] ... we have a lot of things to consider, [and] we will look at all of the issues brought forward ... [It's] much more comprehensive than this one thing," she said. "[There are] many questions for the committee."
"With all due respect to [this group], you're not the only group on campus who feels they need space," Dean of Faculty Peter Berek said. "It does not strike me as an easy issue ... there's support for your concerns, but it's hard to create institutional steps towards alleviating them."
A student explained that the need for private lesbian and bisexual space was more pressing because of the issue of confidentiality that surrounds those groups.
Another issue discussed was the lack of classes offered by Mount Holyoke that focus on lesbian and bisexual literature or history.
"We need more classes that deal with the issue of sexuality," one student said, and suggested an interdepartmental gay studies program. It was brought up that many other colleges and universities offer classes in gay and lesbian studies. While some Mount Holyoke classes do have a curriculum that includes the study of gay authors or artists, these aspects of the courses are usually not mentioned in the catalog.
One student stated her concerns about international students and women of color on campus, saying that she felt frustrated at the lack of representation for women of color and international students in the LBA. "We need more support for gay women of color," she said.
Several women said Mount Holyoke attempts to hide its prominent lesbian and bisexual population from the outside world, including from prospective students and their families.
"I was looking for a place that was accepting of gays," one student said, "[And] I had to talk to many students before I could get a straight answer [about the gay population]."
"The admissions office talks about the large constituency of women of color, women interested in science ... [but they] avoid talking about lesbianism ... there's an omission of [discussion about] the strong constituency of lesbian and bisexual women," said Amanda Sapir '99.
"There's a fine line between denial and shoving it in someone's face and scaring them away," Kristin Jenson '99 said. "It's such a complex and tricky issue."
Some students questioned how an increased advertising of Mount Holyoke's acceptance and support of lesbians and bisexuals would look to the outside world. "Parents would be really worried about sending their daughters here if they thought that they were going to become lesbians," one student said.
"The more we do all this the more the outside world is likely to say [we're] a lesbian college," a student said.
"Do we care what parents think? What kind of college do we want to be?" Alanna Boyd '98 asked.
Boyd was one of several students who spoke of educational forums in which parents and incoming students could discuss their feelings on homosexuality and homophobia. "Spectrum [is trying] to create a forum for family weekend," she said, "[But] it's a scary thing for the administration and they don't want to touch it."
"We are not entities of our parents," Josie Gold '97 said. "It's hard to say that we don't want ignorant people [here] ... can we deny them from not being ignorant? They're going to learn and come out [of Mount Holyoke] changed."
"This is the safest place on earth," Gold said. She explained that she had observed many first-years displaying pride flags during their first few days at school. "Something must be right ... more 'out' people are coming to Mount Holyoke."
The final issue was a financial one. "When you tell your parents [that you're gay] there's the issue of funding," a student said, explaining that her mother had withdrawn all financial support when she came out. "Is there anything the college can do? [Parents] want to pull their daughters out and destroy their lives," she said.
"There are some emergency funds for students who have come out to their parents ... that's hard on the school and it's not our business to be involved with family issues over the bill," said Regina Mooney, dean of students.
The coordinator of the Lesbian Alumnae Network, Donna Albino '83, said that the group was attempting to raise money that could help students in this situation. "We do want to set this up ... we've started the wheels turning," she said.
It was also mentioned that students in this situation may be able to declare independence from their parents in order to be eligible for more financial aid.