Queer in Claremont
Gender-neutral housing step to promote LQBTQ understanding
Tuesday, March 27, marked a rare spirit day at Claremont McKenna. Sponsored by the College’s Alliance for Queer Understanding and Appreciation (AQUA), a group that strives to foster healthy dialogue about queer issues and create safe spaces for those at the 5Cs who identify as queer, the event encouraged students to don their “favorite purple tee all day” as a means of demonstrating their solidarity with LGBTQ youth. Specifically, sporting purple garb signified one’s repudiation of the sexuality-based bullying many encounter nationwide.
Spirit Day, as it is formally known, first emerged as an event in fall 2010 in response to the series of highly publicized suicides by young gay men, achieving considerable popularity across the U.S. and particularly on college campuses. The event acknowledges the unique struggles LGBTQ people face, such as elevated incidences of suicidal behavior due to harassment over their identity. As demonstrated by student reactions to the gender-neutral housing proposal submitted to ASCMC by CMC’s Residential Life Committee in February, it is clear that more awareness about queer issues is necessary at the Consortium.
Though the ASCMC Executive Board and ASCMC Senate voted to approve the memorandum, which must now receive a green light from the Board of Trustees before taking effect, many students were concerned that uni-sex dorm bathrooms might open the floodgates to uncomfortable exchanges between residents of the opposite sex. Others voiced downright confusion as to why a change in housing policy was even necessary; after all, they reasoned, CMC does not have a high transgender population. Given that most discussions centered on the proposal’s logistics in terms of altering the status quo, these views may constitute legitimate, even well-intentioned, concerns.
Nevertheless, the intricacies and sensitivities surrounding gender and sexual identity should carry more weight in conversations about queer issues if we hope to enhance cross-cultural understanding on campus. Institutionalized conceptions of gender, such as those espoused in housing and restroom arrangements, force individuals to cast their lot with either men or women when neither descriptor may accurately reflect their identity. Put differently, dominant social structures impose a binary on society whereby people must categorize themselves under one of only two groupings. Through these restrictive lenses, people expect others to express corresponding traits of masculinity or femininity and exhibit heteronormative sexual behavior, i.e. attraction to women if male and attraction to men if female.
Often our gender identity, our sense of being a man or a woman, will match our sexual identity, the biological classification we receive depending on our sex organs, hormones, and chromosomes. Plainly, though, everyone does not fit neatly into that scheme, as illustrated by the growing number of demonstrations about queer rights. The word “queer” functions as an umbrella term, referring to anyone who is gender-nonconforming. This lack of conformity can manifest in countless ways and to varying degrees, from embracing androgyny to flaunting masculine or feminine clothing and mannerisms even when doing so diverges from convention. The media does not frame the debate about equal marriage rights as a queer issue, yet bi- and homosexuality constitute two pronounced aspects of identity that tread against entrenched social norms for gender.
The Queer Resource Center (QRC)’s Mauri Navarro PO’14 explained to the Port Side what he has observed to be the most pejorative, upsetting transgressions non-normative students shoulder in the college setting: micro-aggressions. Micro-aggressions refer to the commonplace body language and verbal expressions individuals from powerful and privileged groups use to perpetuate an oppressive ideology related but not limited to wealth, educational level, race, religion, gender expression, and sexual orientation. Such abuses might include overt insults about a queer person’s lifestyle or more cloaked snickering at someone’s unconventional appearance. “What’s hurtful is daily existence,” he said, as the binary and micro-aggressions shove queer people into a box.
In short, each day dominant U.S. cultural institutions suggest that gender-nonconforming individuals live in an environment where they do not belong. In light of the prejudices queer students endure, neglecting to emphasize the negative implications of inaction on housing policy and other issues borders on callousness. Failure to institute gender-neutral housing might deter prospective queer students from attending CMC and may deny current students a comfortable atmosphere to explore their identity. Failure to install uni-sex bathrooms compels non-normative students into spaces where their peers may likely reject them with apprehension and icy stares.
Jonathan Williams HMC ’13 and Naomi Bosch PO’15 reassured the Port Side, however, that there are a number of measures people can take to make the Consortium more inviting to gender-nonconforming students like themselves. For one, we need to correct the gross misconceptions we have about those who do fit society’s cookie-cutter images about gender. Second, we must dispel the idea that everyone’s identity falls within the binary. Such a step would require, for example, that we stop assuming others have a boyfriend or girlfriend simply based on their dress. Finally and perhaps most importantly, becoming an ally means intervening when others are misgendered and if a friend “jokingly” says “that’s gay” in reference to an unfavorable occurrence. Both agreed such empathy would brighten their outlook on student life at the colleges.
Though not the only Claremont College with a macro-culture caustic to queer experiences, CMC is the lone undergraduate institution in the Consortium that has not changed its housing policies to accommodate all students. After this year, that reality may no longer ring true. The College has seen unprecedented queer activism in recent months, most notably the Shifting Perceptions series at the Athenaeum sponsored by CMC’s 2011-2012 Resident Assistants. Students went wild on Facebook with rave reviews about the Ath talk delivered by Dan Savage, director of the “It Gets Better” project. So let us all preserve the momentum in cultivating a more tolerant campus climate. Everyday should be Spirit Day: go purple, Claremont.