Make it Queerer

by: Renee Gasbarre

One of the reasons I chose Chatham for my undergrad studies is how strongly it marketed its “diversity.” I wanted a campus that wasn’t all the same kinds of people and made an effort to care for all kinds of students, and personally I’d been hoping for a lot of support for the queer people on campus. While, yes, acceptance has been a major theme, I have to say that I’m a bit disappointed with the resources Chatham provides and how it handles queer issues.
Now I haven’t been on campus for a long time, so I’ve had to get some input from others on campus. One issue that’s yet to be resolved is the continuous mistakes with the email addresses of trans students. Despite talking to IT about it, students are having trouble removing their dead name (the name given to them at birth that they no longer associate with) from their email addresses. It may seem like a small issue, but it’s damaging to someone’s identity to be constantly seen as and referred to as the wrong name by professors, classmates, and any other professionals they interact with, especially when they’re trying to distance themselves from that name.
I’ve also been told that there are classes on queer theory and history, but they aren’t available every semester or even year. Growing up in a heteronormative culture, it’s not uncommon for queer folks to know little to nothing about their history and community. We’re pretty much left to figure things out on our own, or we have to get information from older members of the community. I hadn’t even heard of Stonewall until about three years ago. I’d like to know my history! And I know several other students who have expressed the same sentiments.
Maybe we could have queer seminars and panels, or even incorporate queer issues into SDE101? It’d be incredibly helpful for first-years who don’t know much about the queer community, and thus don’t know how to support their queer classmates. Is it really that hard to consistently have something that teaches queer history, or anything queer, really. Something. I crave knowledge.
Chatham did make an attempt to show its support during LGBTQIA+ History Month this past October, but I’ll admit it…wasn’t much. Yes, there were rainbow banners in Anderson and a few events around campus, but those were either a) done by the QSA (Queer Straight Alliance) or b) didn’t have a large turnout. I mean, the Coming Out Dialogues had a total of six people. And that’s including myself. There wasn’t much publicity for any of these events, and some of them weren’t even that good. I was at Drag Me to Hell for maybe half an hour before leaving out of boredom. The only noteworthy thing about it was that you could donate money and supplies to Proud Haven, which was nice, but that’s not really fun or exciting. Though to be fair, this was put together entirely by the student-run Chatham Feminist Coalition, and there’s only so much a bunch of college kids can do.
In the same vein, LGBTQIA+ History Month isn’t the only time that queer people and culture can be acknowledged and celebrated. We exist year-round. The only thing available all year is the bi weekly QSA meetings, which is entirely managed by more college kids. Again, there’s only so much we can do on our own.
A friend of mine attending the University of Maryland (UMD) has been telling me about the different events going on while she’s been there. So far there has been a campus-wide welcome event (cleverly named Quelcome), a queer community retreat, and a course available for first-year students to get in touch with other queer first-years. UMD also has a website for its LGBT Equity Center, which provides information on leadership positions, scholarships, internships, awards, programs, events, groups, and a variety of resources for its queer students. They put in a significant amount of effort into caring for its queer students, and diversity isn’t even one of its big marketing ploys.
I’m not saying that Chatham is terrible and that it’s a bad place for queer students, but rather that it can do better. The all-gender bathrooms are an excellent idea and I deeply appreciate that, but there’s so much more that it can do. UMD is only one example of what we could be doing. Chatham as a school and as a community needs to strive towards this level of equity and even beyond. Chatham University is a school with its eyes on the horizon. Let’s start acting like it.