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Students want queer social space, specialized administrator

Wyatt Smith

Features Editor

 

Note: This article is the second part of a two-part series on LGBT+ representation on campus. This week’s segment covers what changes students would like to see and who they think is responsible for bringing the changes about. Last week’s article (available online) focused on issues students have with how queerness is currently represented.

Dissatisfied with how the College currently deals with queer issues, many students call for changes to LGBT+ representation, more social events and dedicated administrators and counselors.

Most students agree that representation of the College’s LGBT+ population should change, but there is disagreement as to how. Some hope for a wider variety of groups, while others wish Spectrum — the College’s only current LGBT+ student group — was larger.

“I think by having multiple queer spaces, we can realize that the queer community is so diverse, … having just Spectrum as the only queer resource on campus erases that fact,” said Scott McLellan ’15. “It’s about having multiple groups where you can go and be queer, but you can also go and be something else.”

Other students also wish for more groups, but have certain reservations.

“I wish somebody would start more groups,” said Lauren LaFramboise ’16, a member of Spectrum. However, she later qualified this remark by saying, “I feel like if there were an actual large [LGBT+] group on campus — even if it were a conglomerate of a bunch of little groups that worked together — we would have a much more cohesive LGBT community, and we would have an easier time normalizing ourselves to the rest of the campus.”

Many other students, especially those in Spectrum, share LaFramboise’s equivocal stance. Michelle Baker ’15, president of Spectrum, would welcome new LGBT+ student groups, “as long as everyone involved were at least able to communicate and work alongside each other professionally, which so far has been a bit of a problem.”

“It’s a mix on how I see it,” said Jacob Malone ’14, current treasurer and former president of Spectrum. “If we had multiple queer groups, it could work, but the question is how much are we going to divide up our ability to … be unified or to even have each other’s backs? … If they can actually get along and talk and host events together and actually work towards things together, that might make more sense. But if they can’t, then it’s just going to hurt the community in the long run.”

Christa Craven, chair of the women’s, gender and sexuality studies program as well as Spectrum’s former faculty adviser, holds that separate LGBT+ groups might be less able to advocate for policy changes and campus initiatives than a single, united group.

“I think what I would like to see, rather than bifurcated groups on campus, … [is for] Spectrum [to] represent a broader spectrum,” Craven said. “I would like to see the LGBT spectrum of students — who I think have found themselves alienated from Spectrum and now tend to distance themselves from the group — become more of a part of that.”

Although Spectrum is the only Wooster student group explicitly focused on LGBT+ issues, some students prefer how other groups, especially the Planned Parenthood-affiliated sexual rights group VOX, deal with the topic.

“I tried Spectrum and I wasn’t satisfied or comfortable in the group,” said Spencer Zeigler ’16. “[At] VOX, we do sex ed panels, and there’s a lot of discussion about queer sex and safety. I feel like that’s a lot more inclusive and comfortable. … They represent queer people better than Spectrum does, I think.”

Regardless of the number or nature of queer groups, many students expressed an interest in more LGBT+ social events.

“I’d like to see a space where we can all get together and be social without being social issues-y,” said Jackson Tribbet ’16. “Everytime we get together it’s like ‘oppression!’ … It’s good to know that people share your struggle and that we have to go through dealing with other people’s ignorance, but I’d like to escape from that sometimes and just be like ‘hey, how was your day? How was blah blah blah?’ … There’s not that much of that.”

Steve Schott ’14 identified last spring’s Queers and Beers event as a good example of the sort of social LGBT+ event that the campus needs. He’d like to see more “very informal spaces where you don’t even need to discuss sexuality.”

There is also a seeming consensus among students regarding the need for an administrator dedicated to LGBT+ issues.

“We, as a school, should create offices or a campus house where people who are gay feel comfortable going for help, guidance or someone to talk to,” said Edie Anderson ’14. “I [would like] a space run by people who are not students of the College.”

“I honestly feel like … the single most important addition to this campus would be someone in [the] administration who can get funding, who can set up queer-only spaces, who can just be there in a more stable way than the clubs can be,” said Baker.

It’s not just students who feel this way.

“I think that we need a staff member who is designated as a liaison to LGBTQ communities,” said Craven. “That’s really, really clear to me, that we need not only ‘out’ faculty and staff on campus, but someone who can coordinate efforts that will reach our LGBTQ students.”

Similarly, several students called for trained LGBT+ counselors. Other than the Longbrake Wellness Center’s three unspecialized and incredibly busy counselors, Wooster has no professional alternative to Spectrum’s informal LGBT+ support group.

“I want there to be a different kind of support system for LGBT students,” said Emily Hrovat ’16. “I think it’s incredibly problematic for the sole support group for LGBT students on this campus to be a student organization that has no formal training in peer counseling or peer mentoring the way that, for example, Students Helping Students does.”

Specifically, Ananda Menon ’14 would like to see the recently defunct Sexuality Support Network — a professionally supervised student counseling group — revived.

“It was like a mentor program, but it was also anonymous,” Menon said. “I think it was a really good program.”

Even when students can agree on what needs revising, the unity breaks down when it comes to deciding who is responsible for bringing the change about.

Some believe that Spectrum is at fault for not representing the width and breadth of Wooster’s queer community.

“They have specifically stated at many meetings that they cannot help people who don’t come forward,” said Menon. “If your group’s main focus is to help people in a certain group, you have to reach out to them. People who need help aren’t going to come to you seeking it.”

“At the very least,” Hrovat said, “I think [Spectrum] should reach out to LGBT students who are not a part of Spectrum in order to get an idea of things that the rest of the community thinks should be addressed.”

Not surprisingly, Spectrum members disagree.

“Basically, we do whatever comes to our plate,” said Baker, “but we need to know what people want and that’s something people don’t generally tell us except through a really long grapevine.”

“I don’t see how you can be unsatisfied with something you haven’t actually tried to be a part of,” said Tribbet. “Nobody is willing to do anything but complain. You should get off your butts, do something — start your own club, join Spectrum — but don’t complain about something you have never tried to have part of … You should show up or shut up.”

“If we don’t have people, we’re not going to be able to do as much stuff as we want to try to do,” said Malone. “Where are we supposed to go next if everyone’s mad at us? They won’t come to events, but we can’t do all these extra events without people.”

McLellan, despite generally being critical of Spectrum’s approach, agrees that LGBT+ students need to be more active. “Queer people who don’t like Spectrum and feel alienated by Spectrum,” he said, “it’s really important that they think about why and then do something to create either another space or to go in as a collective and reform Spectrum from within.”

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