By Sarah Nicell || Layout Assistant
Photo Courtesy of fandm.edu.
Friday night, Franklin & Marshall’s SAGA (Sexuality and Gender Alliance) and LGBTQ+ Student Life collaborated to host the LGBTQ+ Forum, an event open to queer students, faculty, staff, and allies alike. As executed in the past, its purpose was to “hear the needs of our community and to come together as a practice of community witness and pride,” as described by Chelsea Reimann, the Director of LGBTQ+ Student Life on campus.
Due to the forum’s sensitive nature, specific content described in the meeting will remain entirely confidential. There is still much work to be done, though outwardly F&M appears to strive for equality; therefore, what was said there stays there.
However, I can provide a summary of the event emphasizing its major importance, its sense of community, and its helpfulness in understanding the queer experience.
The goal of the event was to find solutions to problems that F&M’s LGBTQ+ community faces on and off-campus, as well as to propose and ponder various ideas that could benefit the thirty people on the Zoom call. Despite being a member of the community myself, I learned a lot about my fellow LGBTQ+ students, faculty, and staff, about the college’s atmosphere, and honestly, about myself.
In order to address said issues, we first set out to answer a list of five questions in breakout rooms of four to five people. The questions were the following:
- How might F&M better support the experience of LGBTQ+ students, faculty, & staff in the next three to five years? What are immediate priorities, as well as longer-term aspirations?
- How should F&M prepare students to understand issues of difference, and acknowledge, respond to and challenge discrimination and inequality? What experiences, in and out of the classroom, should the College elevate, eliminate, or establish in order to do so?
- What should be true about F&M as a campus community—for students, faculty, and professional staff—in three to five years that is not true now? What is working and what needs to be reworked?
- In what ways has COVID affected the LGBTQ+ community at F&M?
- Anything else we should consider for a better future for LGBTQIA+ folks at F&M?
Initially, my group struggled to face these seemingly insurmountable questions. How could we even begin to put into words our feelings in such a way that could improve college life for others? However, upon further discussion, I realized that we had a lot to say. After introducing ourselves and offering our pronouns, we had an incredible discussion with some of the most amazing people I have ever had the pleasure to speak with.
Upon returning to the main Zoom call, it was clear that every group had created their own pace of conversation and, like me, had found solace in this crucial interaction. It was then that one member of each group proposed a few main goals that they had come up with in an attempt to answer the big questions we discussed.
Many ideas arose here, so I cannot elaborate upon them all; but rest assured that all proposals made would unequivocally make F&M a better (and safer) place.
There were many calls for the furtherance of LGBTQ+ representation within the college, especially for staff and faculty. By hiring more queer (and especially trans) adults, students would see themselves represented in the college atmosphere, and existing non-cishet faculty would not have the burden of being an extreme minority on campus and facing potential hate and microaggressions from the school and students alike. (For those unsure, I use “cishet” to describe individuals who are heterosexual and cisgender, or their birth sex aligns with their gender identity.)
Another topic introduced was the hope to move from education to digestion. F&M seems to pride itself on the celebration of LGBTQ+ identities during queer visibility week and other queer “holidays” by displaying pride flags around campus and attempting to spread this loving message to the masses. But only actively celebrating the community on certain days can come across as sheer tokenism. Regardless of the number of rainbows on the college’s grounds, hate continues to exist within people; settling into a place of comfort with how we are doing things seems to be a dangerous way to behave. Mindless education of LGBTQ+ identities at F&M, whether it be through occasional celebration or events, is perhaps not the best way to get campus members to truly digest the existence of non-cishet people. From this forum, I have gathered that it may be beneficial to put the responsibility on straight and cisgender faculty, students, and staff to do the work required to make this school a better place.
A notable idea that emerged was also adding LGBTQ+ material to all courses regardless of major. From personal experience, it seems that queer people tend to gravitate toward majors that accept and include them, but by incorporating queer learning into cishet male-dominated majors, everyone would be forced to face their own biases.
The importance of intersectionality, queer housing, and combatting microaggressions were among other conversations, and I cannot emphasize enough the significance of the discussion that played out. The forum was a testimony to F&M’s abundance of queer strength, and I am proud to have been among those gathered on Friday night. After all, a liberal arts experience should focus on queer identities, and this event showcased them proudly.
As an out and proud lesbian who has only had the opportunity to live on campus for one semester, it was a comfort to see the faces of dozens of people who cared so strongly for the rights of all identities. Progress will be made based on the forum I attended, whether change takes place in one year or five. If I know anything, it is that the queer battle is a forever one, and F&M’s SAGA, LGBTQ+ Student Life, and queer student body will not settle into complacency with their position at Franklin & Marshall College.
The following document is a link to a variety of LGBTQ+ resources and was compiled by SAGA: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1o_Zh41wluodgI4riEWEbNN_guR7sQQyCyflc5i1GI1U/edit?usp=sharing .
First-year Sarah Nicell is a layout assistant. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.