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The Ten Commandments: Queer Dating at Swat

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Imagine, if you will, a bright-eyed freshman arriving at Swarthmore, hoping to find a beautiful gay utopia where everyone who was a lonely queer kid in high school will find love and be swept away on a beautiful rainbow unicorn. Now imagine, 1.5 years later, that innocent child is hunched over a table in Kohlberg, venting her angst about queer dating at Swat while occasionally casting a jaded eye at Tinder. (Hint: it’s me.)

Complaining about one’s loneliness and the lack of attractive dates is typical of most college students. Swatties, however, have a particular passion for complaining about how miserable their lives are within the limits of the Swat bubble. And the 1-in-6 stat about finding your future spouse be damned— this school is not known for encouraging budding romances. How does this work out for LGBTQ+ students, a small group in an already tiny school? For all the still-hopeful freshmen and disillusioned upperclassmen out there, I have produced the 10 Commandments of Queer Swarthmore Romance.

  1. Thou shalt commit friendcestuous acts.

This will inevitably happen. Maybe not with one of your best friends, but definitely one of their friends. You will then endure at least one semester of avoiding their gaze, and greatly enjoy telling people all about it while scanning Sharples to make sure they are not within earshot. As Justin Peters* ’21, whose already experienced the joy of friendcest, puts it bluntly,

“[Swat] is incestuous. It feels like there’s a [cultural] expectation for gay people to hook up, maybe because it was harder to do so in high school. But there’s not enough people here, so you end up hooking with a lot of the same people.”

Isaku Shao ’19 is part of that rare species— a queer Swattie in a long-term, on-campus relationship.

“[Swarthmore] is cliquey. And the workload makes it so people have very little time, so we only have the time to hang out with our cliques. There’s no time to meet new people, so it’s especially hard for queer people, where we have to actively look for each other.”

  1. If into a relationship thou enterest, thou shalt be an idol.

Queer couples are looked upon by the wider gay community with borderline adoration. Their every move is adorable, and the Sad Lonely Gays (me) tend to stare in a mixture of longing and sheer bliss. As openly LGBT-friendly as it prides itself on being, Swarthmore does have more demonstrative straight couples than gay. I’ve seen queer couples be mistaken for best friends, while male blonde athletes and their wholesome-looking girlfriends hold hands and make out at every possible moment. Art Davis ’18 describes the envy and intensity around queer couples:

“Swatties are very engaged people who want to succeed, and for whatever reason, success is seen as a happy, settled romantic relationship. Also, seeing happy straight couples makes you want to be happy and visible in that way. Every time a TV show buries its gays [kills off a queer character, or teases and ultimately does not show a gay relationship] or something, that desire gets a little stronger.”

Which brings us to the Third Commandment—

  1. Thou shalt learn to live with loneliness.

Drink enough Franzia and you will get sad and bemoan your lack of a sex/love/emotional life, preferably alongside other Sad Gays. If a straight person dares join in the complaint chorus, you may be tempted to bite their head off. As prevalent as hookup culture is at Swarthmore, options can be sparse, particularly if you prefer to avoid parties. Davis is one of the chosen few— he has had a steady, committed boyfriend for the last four years— yet he cheerfully admits:

“I 100 percent would be single if I hadn’t come to Swat already in a relationship. I’m not a big partier and not big on sex, and a lot of the [queer] interactions here are through Glitter Booty Slap [one of the most famous and successful queer parties in recent memory, thrown a few years ago], people hooking up, Tinder, that sort of thing. They’re very much things I’m not really into, personally. The scene is great for discussions around safe sex and stuff, but not so much if you’re not really into sex.”

  1. Thou shalt always be dogged by gleeful gossip.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single gay woman in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife. Swat is rife with Austen-style gay gossips, who attentively watch every self-proclaimed LGBT person for signs of romance. I’ve spent the better part of a year telling various people, from a professor I’ve never had to students I’d never spoken to, that NO, one of my best friends and I are not a couple, and why are they even asking? If you are not aware of any active rumors claiming you and one of your closest friends are together, start asking. You’re not paying enough attention.

  1. Thou shalt turn to dating apps in thy darkest hour.

With such a small pool, it’s not surprising that many students— particularly queer students, who constantly have to figure out whether their crush is straight— end up on apps, mainly Tinder and Grindr. That’s how I know a surprising number of classmates I believed were straight are bi or pansexual. Of course, Swatties are about as awkward online as in real life, so if things go poorly with your match, you will be stuck seeing them on a weekly basis for the next few years.

“…it is hard to meet Swatties through apps, because they tend to swipe left on other Swatties – I think it depends on what you’re looking for and Swatties think it’s awkward to hook up with each other,” notes Shao.

Hence the necessity of the Sixth Commandment:

  1. Thou shalt never acknowledge another’s app profile in public.

I don’t care if you recognize them from Tinder and think they look better in person, you do not use “I matched with you! How’s it going?” as an icebreaker at SQU events. Even though many Swatties use dating/hookup apps at least occasionally, a veil of discretion hangs around the subject.

Of course, there is the option of looking at people outside the Swarthmore bubble. I’ve caught myself daydreaming about meeting a nice Bryn Mawr girl so often. But actually going off-campus just for a hookup, or to see a partner, can be hard.

“There’s always UPenn and other Philadelphia colleges, but that’s not always accessible for people— it takes time and money to get there. Who has the time? If I don’t have the resources to go out I’m going to stay on campus and try to do things here,” explains Peters.

  1. Thou shalt be plagued by regret over thy romantic life.

As a result of the aforementioned staying on campus and always seeing the same people, one can easily make some bad decisions. For queer students, there can be a strong pressure to hook up, leading to impulsive and ultimately- probably unwise decisions.

“It’s different to want to hook up and to want a relationship, but there’s so few options you end up getting confused. You do end up making mistakes and hooking up with people you’re not really into and then regretting it, and sometimes someone gets hurt,” says Peters.

Davis, although in a happy long-term relationship, notes that many queer students can feel destined for loneliness and end up making said bad decisions.

“It might be a feeling that you have to lower your expectations, like you’ll never find love, and by and large because LGBT people are less visible, less safely able to be out. You feel you sort of have to lower your expectations.”

  1. Thou shalt endure great pain from the straights.

The sheer number and visibility of straight couples, especially as opposed to gay ones, can be demoralizing. That can make it hard for us to attend events such as frat parties, which can feel aggressively heterosexual — particularly when there are so few explicitly queer parties on campus. Furthermore, drunk straight girls making out with you at a party, then finding a boyfriend a few days later, can make it pretty confusing. There’s also the fact that most queer students tend to really seek out each other, rather than straight people.

“It’s so much better to be in a relationship with a queer person than straight, for me. There’s this mutual understanding of experience I haven’t gotten with straight people, and it feels like we can really talk about stuff that’s important to us,” explains Shao.

  1. Give us this day our daily memes, that we may fill the voids in our hearts.

Enough said. Gay memes have become increasingly visible on the main Swarthmore page. And when they don’t involve terrifying straight people with the Gay Agenda, they often deal with Gay Loneliness and Sad Feels (bonus points if they include complaints about the lack of tops). The memes speak for themselves.

  1. Turn to elder queers for advice, for great and all-encompassing is their wisdom.

From Art Davis, possessor of much coveted four-year-relationship:

“When you’re queer, you can get the message that you don’t deserve love, that you’re bad, even if you don’t consciously internalize it. It’s like walking through water on the beach, you keep walking and it’s not stopping you, but you get so much more tired, because just that little resistance is weighing you down. It can feel hard to integrate a community that’s so theorized and politicized. But you have to be willing to engage, mess up, and allow for a little messiness to work towards something better.”

From Isaku Shao:

“Just stumble into it awkwardly. Don’t try to be smooth, just embrace the awkwardness. That’s what Swatties are!”

From me, not an elder queer but an unsolicited advice giver: you don’t need a relationship. You deserve love and you will find it, if that’s what you’re looking for. If what you want is hookups, have fun and get ready for a lot of awkward encounters. If you’re not interested in the hookup/party scene, no stress — there are lots of people in your situation, even if you think you’re alone.

If I haven’t dissuaded you from your quest for love, however, figure out your favorite Ben and Jerry’s flavor and have a network of people to drunk text about your sad feels. That will be a staple in your future.


*Names changed for privacy

Students’ self-selected pronouns now on faculty rosters

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As part of a new policy, students can now input their gender pronouns into MySwarthmore. Those pronouns will appear on faculty rosters, T. Shá Duncan Smith (she/her/hers), associate dean of inclusion, diversity, and community development, announced in an email in December.

To update their pronouns, students can login to MySwarthmore, go to the “Personal Information Main Menu,” and click the “Pronoun” menu. There, students can choose from an extensive list of gender pronouns, spanning from she/her/hers/herself to ey/em/eir/emself. Currently, students cannot write their own pronouns in because of technical complexities. Nyk Robertson (they/them/theirs), interim associate director of the Intercultural Center, said that anyone who uses pronouns not on the list can contact them at nrobertson@swarthmore.edu.

According to Smith, the pronouns update came about through a long process, starting with the Campus Climate Study published in November 2015 by the consulting firm Rankin and Associates. The study, which included an extensive survey of community members and various focus groups, revealed a need to create more awareness around non-binary gender identities.

“People make assumptions,” Smith said. “People make assumptions about what people’s pronouns are, so really having a culture where we are affirming about who people are and how they want to identify on a daily basis is something that’s important.”

After the Campus Climate Study, Smith and other administrators formed a Self-Study Action Committee, which gave a report in April 2016. One of the priorities the report suggested was the creation of a way for students to input pronouns. The “Pronoun” form in MySwarthmore is the result after over two years of discussion and technical and logistical difficulties.

To facilitate the culture that Smith described, Robertson is leading 2.5-hour training sessions for faculty and staff, which began in December. So far, there have been over 85 participants in the workshops in which faculty and staff can practice using pronouns correctly. For example, in one exercise, they are randomly assigned pronouns that they have to use in role-play situations. Robertson said the trainings have gone very well.

“It makes my day when I leave those trainings,” they said.

Recognizing that the trainings reach a limited audience, Robertson is also going to visit department lunches and give shorter trainings there. For example, they will give a short training to the Health and Wellness team soon. In addition, they are training the IC interns and DPAs to co-facilitate training sessions that will open to students in mid-February.

They also think that the pronouns update will allow for a larger dialogue about the gender binary on campus.

“Through this training we are opening up a wider conversation around gender and the binary and the ways in which it still functions both here on campus and in our society, and I think that will grow,” said Robertson. “We speak about language and just saying ‘Ladies and Gentlemen’ when you start your class, things like that … I think we will see a change in other ways in which the binary functions here on campus.”

Although the pronouns update was only implemented a couple weeks ago, students have already observed positive effects. Maya Henry ‘20 (she/her/hers) and Gretchen Trupp ‘18 (they/them/theirs) commented on the policy and offered suggestions as the heads of the Swarthmore Queer Union.

“For me personally, it’s definitely been a positive change, because sometimes it’s really hard to come out to your professors, or your co-workers, or your boss, especially if you’ve known them for a while, so for me it was really helpful,” said Trupp. “Instantly I noticed that people who saw my pronouns have shifted [their language] … I’m glad there’s the option to do it.”

Henry agreed and was glad that the administration had continued focusing on pronouns even during years of heavy administrative change.

“I definitely think it’s a step in the right direction. I’m really glad that they have multiple people who are on this and thinking about it, and that way it’s not just a few people’s side-project, like it’s actually something that they thought was important,” said Henry. “I think it’s cool that they haven’t let something die, as other projects have.”

One of those projects, according to Henry, was the administration’s reaction to the controversy around the Swarthmore Christian Fellowship. From her perspective, the administration didn’t act early enough to publicly combat SCF’s policies concerning gay leaders in the group.

Trupp and Henry also want to ensure professors are held accountable for engaging with the issue of pronouns.

“It’s great that we have these things but if professors and staff ignore them then the situation kind of stays the same,” said Trupp.

Henry added that students can help hold professors accountable.

“That goes along with the student training and I’m hoping that the student training will give us the tools to, in a respectful way, especially for allies, to go and talk to professors about people’s pronouns,” said Henry. “Professors should be ready for students to correct them.”

The changes are still a work-in-progress, and there are many other variables, both from student and staff perspectives.

“Some people, especially people who are starting to transition, might not necessarily be comfortable with entering their pronouns in and with changing their pronouns right at the get-go or trying out new pronouns,” said Trupp. “But I think some of that is making a space where people do feel comfortable changing and trying different stuff out. I think that’s the most important — that people feel safe and respected.”

Along those lines, Smith encourages faculty and staff to continually check their students’ pronouns over the course of the semester in case students change their pronouns. She also hopes community members will create guidelines in their classes around issues of inclusivity and pronouns.

“I think maybe it’s about classes really setting the guidelines for how they want to operate as a class, as an inclusive classroom, and as a community for the term that they’re together,” she said.

While Smith always believed the changes were important, she said she didn’t realize its full magnitude until talking with a student after the policy was implemented.

“The emotional reaction that I got in interacting with that student, I was like ‘Wow this is way bigger than what I thought it was,’” she said.

Over the coming months, as the changes roll out and the impact grows, Robertson and Smith will share information about more training sessions for faculty, staff, and students. This Friday, there will be a Community Conversation about Inclusive Pronouns, with lunch provided, in Upper Tarble from 11:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

Dean Rivera to leave IC, new leadership to be determined

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On the morning of Nov. 13, Dean of Students Elizabeth Braun announced over email that Rivera would be leaving the college at the end of the fall semester to accept a new position.

“It is with very mixed emotions that I write to share the news that Jason Rivera, Dean of the Sophomore Class and Director of the Intercultural Center, has accepted the position of Vice Chancellor of Student Academic Success at Rutgers University, Camden Campus,” Braun said in the email.

The Intercultural Center, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary, has recently struggled with high turnover of its directors, so much so that the Intercultural Center Director and Dean of the Sophomore Class Jason Rivera, who joined the college on July 1, 2016, was known to tell students about his intention to maintain the position.

“If you ever talked to him, and you talked to him about the turnover rate, he would say, ‘I’m here. I’m gonna stay here,’” Cindy Lopez ’20, IC intern and member of the Pride Month planning committee, said.

Rivera has overseen the planning of the IC’s planned expansion into the Sproul Observatory, created the LGBTQ advisory committee and hired Cooper Kidd, the college’s 2017-2018 LGBTQ fellow. According to Rivera, the change in position will afford him greater agency and ability to affect change on a larger scale.

“This role provides me with an important opportunity to reach a greater number of students and to work at a significantly higher level to support student success across the RU-Camden campus,” Rivera said in an email. “As I have grown in my career, I have become deeply passionate about and committed to supporting students as they pursue their goals and aspirations.  Often times, the barriers that impede student success are structural and systemic.  The work I will be doing at RU-Camden will allow me to identify, address and/or dismantle those barriers and help a greater number of students achieve their fullest potential.”

Lopez, who was appointed an IC intern this semester, formed a close relationship with Rivera last year.

“Last year I wasn’t a huge part of the IC, but after the election, after other stuff that happened last semester and last year in general, I got really close to him because I would just go to his office and play with his dog … and you know, just hang out and chill, so for me he’s kind of a big part of campus,” she said. “It’s just nice having him around.”

Lopez did not know about Rivera’s planned departure until she read Dean Braun’s email. The news shocked her because she expected that he would be the director during all of her time at the college.

“It’s just the fact that he said he was going to stay for a long time and even this semester, I was talking to him and he wanted to do a lot more long-term stuff, like long-lasting, and now he’s leaving so it’s like all those ideas, all that planning–sure, they might still have them, but he won’t be there,” she said. “It’s also really unexpected, like I was so surprised when I saw he was leaving. It’s never something that I would have thought would have happened, like ever, and not during my four years here.”

During the transition period until a new IC director is hired, interim IC assistant director Nyk Robertson will work with the Dean’s Office to lead the IC. Hiring new staff members in higher education often takes multiple months, if not longer. Last year, Robertson, then the LGBTQ fellow, was appointed to fill the position of Mo Lotif, who resigned in April 2017.

Lopez expressed concern about the fact that after Rivera leaves, the IC leadership will have little combined experience dealing with student groups and issues at the college.

“We don’t know who will be the interim director of the IC,” Lopez said. “If it’s a current faculty member, then that’s fine because they know the history of the IC and the culture and stuff like that, but if they bring an outside person, then they’re gonna have to be learning everything and we already have Cooper, who’s new as well and is also just learning stuff, so if we have both new people learning stuff then it’s just gonna be Nyk, and Nyk’s only been here for a year.”

According to Julia Wakeford ’19, member of the Swarthmore Indigenous Students Society (SISA), the lack of administrative continuity at the IC hinders the progress of student groups.

“The hiring process takes as long as these people fill these roles for,” she said. “I feel like it’s almost like the students are here longer than the administrators, which is insane. It’s supposed to be the reverse. It’s just frustrating because we have to re-explain ourselves and who we are and what we’re trying to get done on campus to different administrators, it feels like, each semester or each year we re-explain ourselves over again.”

Though Braun stated in her email that the Dean’s Office will work “to develop a plan to ensure that students are well supported during this transition and that the Intercultural Center continues to thrive,” Lopez feels that the change of hands further complicates circumstances that have made this year an especially busy one for the IC, including what she feels is a tense political climate on campus.

“This was already a transitional year because of the Sproul Observatory being remodeled, so that was already a challenge, and we were gonna have programming surrounding that,” Lopez said. “And in another sense, too, since it’s the 25th anniversary and all of these events have already been planned for this year, and he won’t be around to see them through, which really sucks…[and] other stuff that’s happened on campus has just caused it to be a very tense place, which is not to say that that’s necessarily bad, but it just adds on to this jumble that’s happening.”

Students will still be able to carry out these initiatives and their individual projects in the spring without Rivera, but the consistently high turnover rate of the Director positions at the IC makes the future of the IC uncertain. For example, Rivera and the intern team created “Conversations around CARE” as part of their long-term goal to “promote further discussion, provide resources and education, as well as generate support from other members of our community.”

“It’s going to be hard. But we, the students, don’t want to see it fall apart and I don’t think Nyk or Cooper is going to let that happen, and there’s also a lot of other faculty that are going to make sure that doesn’t happen because this is such a necessary space on campus,” Lopez said. “It’s going to be fine, it’s just going to be hard, and annoying and frustrating, but I think we’re going to be fine, hopefully.”

Pride Month events celebrate LGBTQ+ identity

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The Intercultural Center is celebrating Pride Month as its current Heritage Month in acknowledgement and support of the LGBTQ+ community. While the rest of America celebrates Pride Month every June to commemorate the Stonewall Riots, Swarthmore is slightly more fluid with its dates. This semester, the IC will be celebrating Pride Month from Oct. 7 to Nov. 21.

In an attempt to celebrate and recognize the multitudes of identities, including those that are traditionally marginalized, Swarthmore’s Intercultural Center hosts various “Heritage Months,” where speakers and events are organized around these identities. They also serve as educational experiences for the rest of the community. The LGBTQ+ community was first formally celebrated at Swarthmore in 1995, with “Coming Out Week,” which has evolved over the years to become Pride Month, which was first commemorated by the IC on this campus in 2013.

“Pride Month is Swarthmore’s celebration of LGBTQ+ identity, community, and history. It focuses on creating awareness and understanding of the contributions, histories, and experiences of LGBTQ+ folx. The target audience for the events of Pride Month is LGBTQ+ students, including those that are questioning, and allies!” wrote Cooper Kidd, the LGBTQ+ fellow at the IC, in an email.

IC fellow Nyk Roberts expanded on this. They mentioned that they wanted to create spaces for the members of the LGBTQ+ community to celebrate their identities.

When you look at our Pride Month calendar, it is evident that this year’s committee wanted to focus on being in community with other LGBTQ+ students, faculty and staff through parties, celebrations, and meetings around different LGBTQ+ identities,” said Roberts.

The events planned this year emphasize art, education, and celebration. The month began with a poster-making session that involved students coming together to create posters to celebrate famous LGBTQ+ community members of the past.  There was also a panel that discussed the question “Am I Queer Enough?”, where professor Sa’ed Atshan gave a talk, after which a student panel shared their experiences of coming out and the various levels of acceptance that they felt.  Another popular event that will have taken place at the time of publishing is the Queer Fashion Show, which has been a fixture at past Pride Months, according to Roberts.

This week, there will be a Glitter Bomb Party at Paces on Nov. 4, as well as the “Parrish is Burning” Drag Show, featuring many of the Drag Queens who took part in last semester’s Pride Month “Royal Drag Show” event. Over one hundred students attended the show last semester, many of whom expressed to Roberts that they would like it to be included in future Pride Month Celebrations. Along with other luncheons and celebrations, Nov. 20 will be observed, campus- and nationwide, as Trans Day of Remembrance with a candlelight vigil. A few other events that aren’t funded by the IC also take place at this time. Most notably, the Sager Fund, started in 1988 by Richard Sager ’73, is bringing S. Bear Bergman, an American trans man, author, poet, playwright, and theater artist, to Swarthmore.

These events are mostly planned by the Pride Month Committee, comprising of 20 individuals from all four class years who are selected through an open call process. Kidd serves as a mentor to this committee, offering logistical and functional support to them. Members of the committee declined to comment for this piece.

To learn more about Swarthmore’s Queer History, Dean Rivera recommends an article written for the Phoenix in 2013, entitled “A Queer History of Swarthmore.” Along with the celebration of Pride Month, the IC serves as a resource to students, including those who identify within the LGBTQ+ spectrum, year-round.


IC celebrates 25th anniversary, hires new LGBTQ+ fellow

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With a new LGBTQ+ fellow, heritage celebrations such as Pride Month and Latinx Heritage Month, and the approach of its 25th anniversary, the college’s Intercultural Center has a busy year ahead.

For its anniversary, the IC has a program for each month. This month, the center is highlighting 25 facts about the IC, which are posted in various places around campus. For example, Fact #15, found in Wharton AB 1, reads: “At a certain point, Swarthmore’s admissions department began creating admissions brochures for specific populations, such as LGBTQ+, Asian, and Latinx prospective students.”

“Our goals this year are to continue to expand the visibility and reach of the Intercultural Center in order to advocate for identity-based groups to ensure marginalized [and] oppressed voices and perspectives are included in college-wide initiatives and decision making,” said IC director and dean of the sophomore class Jason Rivera in an email.

On Sept. 25, The IC had a kickoff event for Latinx Heritage Month, which runs from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15. Future events for the month include an a “Celebrating La Familia” event, a Moment of Silence and Town Meeting Observing Indigenous People’s Day, and a Breakfast, Latinx Documentary, and Discussion.

This past Monday, the IC had an open house for faculty, students, and staff that featured food from different cultures, music, and a chance to talk to each other and IC staff.

“I’d like to think the IC Open House … was very successful,” said Rivera. “I was especially happy to see so many students from each class year interacting.  Also, at one point, I looked over at the Fragrance Garden, in the IC Courtyard, and saw students, faculty, and staff interacting — some sitting on the grass and benches, some standing and mingling, and others swaying to the sounds of the music as they chatted with each other. It was a beautiful moment — one that I hope we can continue to recreate.”

Next year, Rivera plans to host a joint open house with the Interfaith Center and the Office of International Student Services in their new space in Sproul Hall. Joyce Tompkins, director of religious and spiritual life, and Jennifer Marks-Gold, director of international student services, were present at the IC Open House.

Dean Rivera said that the IC could also improve on some missions, such as working more closely with student organizations.

“I don’t think we do this poorly now, but I certainly think there is room for improvement,” he said.

Cooper Kidd, the new LGBTQ+ fellow, will be working with organizations like COLORS, a group for queer students of color, and the Swarthmore Queer Union. He majored in sociology with a focus in stratification at the University of Maryland at College Park, where he worked closely with the LGBT Equity Center. During his time there, he helped program a weekly support group for transgender students and one for students who identify as queer and Asian. This work motivated him to join the staff here, and he thinks this background will prove invaluable at the Intercultural Center.

“I feel that I am better able to offer logistical and functional support having had experience doing similar work to what students at Swarthmore do,” said Kidd. “In a similar way I feel that my personal experience also informs my work here as I know what it is like to be a queer person navigating college.”

In addition to working with the LGBTQ+ student organizations, Kidd will be a resource for students and will work with the Pride Month Committee. Pride Month runs from Oct. 20 to Nov. 20. Kidd appreciates that the committee has been intentional about planning intersectional events, such as the Latinx movie screening.

“The foci that I have this academic year are around creating intentional programming that focuses on intersectionality and processes and practices that are more inclusive for trans students,” said Kidd.

Ignacio Rivera’s visit to campus on Sept. 8 provides one example of this intersectional program. Rivera (they/them/theirs) is “a Queer, Trans, Two-Spirit, Black-Boricua Taíno … activist, writer, educator, filmmaker, performance artist, and mother,” as described in the email announcing their visit. Rivera’s events on campus, “The Evolution of the Talk and Sexy Survivor” and “All of Me Poetry Performance,” focused on discussing these identities in the campus community.

One way Kidd hopes to help transgender students on campus is by helping the Self Study Action Committee streamline the name change process.

Kidd also wants to help students access queer-related events both on and off campus. He took students to the Philly Trans Health Conference in early September and to Princeton University on Wednesday, Oct. 4 to see black queer female writer Roxane Gay in conversation.

Just as the college has a new LGBTQ+ fellow, the IC has new interns, including five first-year students. As shown in a pamphlet distributed at the open house on Monday, they bring a diverse set of backgrounds and skills to the job. All the interns have office hours, available online at the IC website.

“I hope that I can not only use those experiences to help other people but that by hearing others’ experiences, they can help me figure out my own,” said Gene Witkowski ’21, one of the interns, referring to his experiences questioning his sexuality and his ethnic identity as a Haitian-American.

“I would love to say that I’ve been able to make somebody’s experience more inclusive, or make Swat feel more like a home to them, or at least make the IC feel more like a home to them,” said Witkowksi.

Dean Rivera echoed Witkowski’s goals, saying that the IC has done well in fostering a caring and supportive community.

“When I arrived at Swarthmore in July 2016, it was clear to me that the IC was in many ways a home base for some students,” said Rivera. “I thought then, and still believe today, that it is incredibly important for students to have a space like the IC because I know how valuable it is to have something to connect to when you are a student — to have a space where you can feel comfortable being yourself.”

The IC has come a long way since 1992, when it was founded “as a result of student activism aimed at securing increased administrative support of, and commitment to, Students of Color and Queer students at Swarthmore College,” according to its website. Back then, it only consisted of three student groups, according to Swarthmore’s website: the Hispanic Organization for Latino Awareness, the Swarthmore Asian Organization, and Action Les-B-Gay, which have since evolved into other organizations on campus.

Now, with a much broader array of organizations and a dedicated staff, the IC looks forward to an eventful year.

Malcolm Lazin of Equality Forum visits campus, highlights queer issues today

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On Thursday, April 6th, the Executive Director of Equality Forum Malcolm Lazin visited the Intercultural Center for “Get Your History Straight,” a talk centered on the establishment of the modern, high-profile movement for queer rights in the U.S. The event is a part of Swarthmore’s Pride Month celebration, which was advertised through the Intercultural Center. Pride Month, typically held in October, included events on queer art, history, networking, and more.

“Get Your History Straight” extended past Swarthmore to Haverford College and Bryn Mawr College as students from across the Tri-College were in attendance, and Professor of history at Haverford Paul Farber, invited by Lazin, moderated the discussion.

The talk began with a screening of the PBS documentary “Gay Pioneers,” of which Lazin was executive producer. Equality Forum, the nonprofit that coordinates LGBT History Month and that Lazin heads, defines the film as “the story of the first organized annual ‘homosexual’ civil rights demonstrations held in Philadelphia, New York and Washington, DC from 1965-69. When few would publicly identify themselves as gay, these brave pioneers challenged pervasive homophobia,” on a website it owns dedicated to the documentary. The film detailed the origins of the modern U.S. movement for queer rights in the 1960s at Independence Hall in Philadelphia. The film largely argues that, without these initial demonstrations that helped dispel stereotypes of queer people, the Stonewall riots would not have happened or have been as successful.

Following the screening, a discussion of the film and Q&A occurred with Lazin, Farber, and the attendees. Lazin opened the discussion with a disclaimer.

“For those that think that Stonewall was the start of this movement, I would say they’re misinformed,” Lazin said. “We don’t remember [the demonstrations before Stonewall] because people didn’t take time to remember.”

Farber guided the initial conversation, walking through issues of the conceivability of a queer identity, the pace of social change, and political tactics in the early actions compared to today’s larger movement. Lazin responded, recognizing legal and institutional restrictions on queer life like the American Psychological Association’s classification of homosexuality as a psychological disorder; noting that there are legislative, judicial, and public facets to social change; and that movements often grow to accommodate more voices, images, and people over time.

The conversation moved to the audience, and Swarthmore was introduced into the conversation. Students’ questions focused on issues of moving forward after the establishment of marriage equality in the U.S. as well as how to negotiate multiple ideals within queer and trans movements and how to make those movements not only national ones but more specific and intentional in communities like Swarthmore.

Lazin referred to the expectations of the first demonstrators for queer rights in Philadelphia for the inclusion of multiple ideas. He recalled a quote from Lilli Vincenz:

“Just to show that we were good patriots, we respected the flag. We were first-class American citizens, and we had, that was a message we had wanted to tell everyone from the beginning,” Vincenz said.

Lazin said it was important to introduce the idea of queer identity into the political consciousness then as is important today.

Farber also brought focus to the issues of campus politics and constructing meaningful relationships and coalitions.

“Understanding the roots of intersectionality will provide a pathway to understanding and possibilities. These issues are … bigger than you, so respect complexity and commonality,” Farber said.

He then argued that undergraduates should not be fooled into thinking college is separate from reality.

Following the talk, Robert Conner ’20, an organizer of the event, touched on the importance of Lazin’s work generally and at Swarthmore.

“Malcolm Lazin’s work is multifaceted and intersectional in the sense that it currently pertains to LGBTQ activism, but it touches on racial and socioeconomic equalities as well,” he said. “The multifaceted and intersectional nature and approach of Malcolm Lazin’s work and career is very relevant to the Swarthmore community.”

Conner went on to discuss how Swarthmore’s engagement with activism at different levels of community reflects why Lazin’s work is relevant to campus.

“In the Swarthmore community, we constantly deal with and carry out activism pertaining to issues at local and national levels,” he said. “It was productive and engaging to see the Swarthmore community and Malcolm Lazin interact and exchange ideas.”

Sydnie Schwarz ’20 reflected on her friendship to Conner and relationship with Philadelphia as to why she first joined Lazin in the IC.

“Robert Connor is one of my good friends, and he has told me about Malcolm Lazin throughout the school year from a point of admiration, both for his work and for him as a person,” Schwarz said. “Not only did I want to hear from the person who is a role model to one of my close friends, but I knew that this speaker is integral to various developments in Philadelphia, old and new. I have been making a conscious effort to access and engage with Philadelphia, and Mr. Lazin not only offered a historical and lived narrative of the origins of the Annual Reminder in Philadelphia that became Gay Pride but also insight of particular Philadelphian historical sites, current climate and organizations to visit and research.”

Schwarz continued, noting how Swarthmore should engage more intently with Philadelphia as a resource but as a point where intersectionality can be found purposefully.

“You know, my immediate reaction upon hearing Malcolm talk about the public resources offered by the Equality Forum was why didn’t I find this during high school when I was leading an Allies? Simple resources like a queer icon per day during LGBT+ History Month or the historical films would have created productive dialogue,” Schwarz said. “However, I am admittedly unfamiliar with current campus initiatives to uplift queer and trans people, and I do not know how I would visualize a sweeping energy of Equality Forum coming to Swarthmore. Nevertheless, I generally feel that Swarthmore needs to systematically engage more with Philadelphia. There is a richness of activism and history to the city that is very accessible to us. Especially in consideration of how uncommon this urban access is for a small liberal arts school like Swarthmore, I feel that we do not engage with it except for on an individual basis.”

Schwarz went on to describe how Lazin highlighted issues in civil movements and how they have changed since their inception.

“Malcolm made a purposeful effort to talk about issues of intersectionality in Philadelphia movements. He pointed out how many queer women initiated the Annual Reminder, yet the movement did not seem to see them as the visible founders of Gay Pride Instead, white cisgender gay men took on the face of progress for the community. He also talked about how protestors in the sixties came to the march trying to look ‘professional’ and like ‘ first class citizens,’ basically by making their socio-economic status prominent as if that made them deserve rights more than unemployed or unprofessionally dressed people,” Schwarz said. “However, he noted that organizations in Philadelphia are currently investing much focus into trans women of color, and remarked that the new leader of a major local organization is the first black queer women to hold such a position in Philadelphia. This contrasts with the resistance he saw many organizations put up about even including transgender people in the community not long ago. I feel that awareness to this hierarchy within marginalized groups and new breakthroughs concerning intersectionality offers insight about how to uplift less systematically enabled persons into the conversation and pay attention to what faces are popularized in leadership.”

Conner noted the collaborative efforts between Lazin and Farber in the discussion section of the evening, commenting on their knowledge of regional resources and historical connections from the beginnings of the movement to now.

“In addition, both Professor Farber and Malcolm elucidated the little-known facts that the modern LGBT movement began well before the Stonewall riots, and a lot of it took place in Philadelphia,” Conner said. “Professor Farber and Malcolm pointed out that there is a lot of activism and internships that can be done in Philadelphia, and that students ought to take advantage of the city’s wide-ranging resources.”

Schwarz discussed how Farber provided some context to the liberal arts campus that Lazin complemented through his more regional and national efforts.

“I honestly missed the fact that Professor Farber was also coming, but I am so glad he was there! The dynamic worked well because Professor Farber well understood the Swarthmore student and their environment — an insight Malcolm Lazin did not necessarily share,” Schwarz commented. “While Malcolm Lazin answered questions and spoke about his network and experiences in Philadelphia, Professor Farber relayed his points back to the Tri-Co education and its sexuality and gender studies, and both offered perspectives on moving forward with the general agenda and individual efforts concerning LGBT+ rights. … He is teaching a course in the fall on public art in Philadelphia that I want to take and found out about because of this talk that transformed into a general reflection on local activism of all sorts.”

Conner concluded by hammering the idea that the discussion portion was most meaningful for students as the engagement with a national figure like Lazin could provide a large amount of information and experience to student activism and understanding of history.

“The students who attended Malcolm’s event particularly benefited from getting to ask him in-depth questions about career approaches towards enacting change,” Conner said.

Schwarz said the campus could gain lessons in empathy and relationships by participating in more talks like Lazin’s beyond just the implications of activism and civic engagement.

“I was disappointed that the room was not full, but I appreciated all of the questions and answers put forth. I almost could not make it because of practice, and I know there were a lot of conflicting events and a general increase in workload as classes are coming to a close, which was too bad,” Schwarz noted. “More talks like this would increase student interest in the local social environment beyond Swarthmore, an effect that would inherently increase skill set of being sensitive and observant to all forms of learning, particularly those that are immediate and visceral. I think students can also learn a lot from the realizations Malcolm Lazin has had throughout his lifetime about recognizing certain local leaders or sites as needing to be documented as a part of the narrative of the Civil Rights Movement and his personal actions (creating films, interviewing, submitting historical marker proposals) to execute those ideas.”

Lazin’s coming to campus, Farber’s direction, and student inquiry allowed for an important discussion of where queer and trans movements in the U.S. started to gain traction. The talk initiated reflections on where the movements came from, and students now see the possibilities for deeper intersectional engagement and empathy as long as discussions like these are consistent within and beyond the classroom on campus.

Queer Love in the Time of Trump

in Campus Journal by

I grew up in San Francisco, the capital of peace and love in America. Still, nothing could have prepared me for the 2016 election and its aftermath. And no, I don’t just mean the fact that the most powerful person in the country is now a human Cheeto with no moral compass or intelligent, sustainable plan. I mean the sudden outpouring of love from all sides of the anti-Trump resistance.

Ever since someone first came up with “Love Trumps Hate” I have seen nothing but declarations of love, mainly from middle-aged, economically advantaged white women. It reminds me of the oh-so-original “Love is Love” signs that these same women carried around just before same-sex marriage was legalized in all 50 states. At the time, I had noted that none of the queer people I knew had those signs. Where do we stand now? What is the role of queer love in these times, considering it may be threatened by the administration? As a group menaced by Trump, what should we do with all of this love being thrown at us?

Disclaimer — as a cisgendered white person, I’m very safe and well off compared to many transgender folk or queer people of color. I’m more worried about my future as a woman than as a queer person. Yet when I went back to my old high school during winter break, my old classmates gave me long, worried looks, and asked me in hushed tones how I was doing. It appears many straight “allies” have convinced themselves that the loss of same-sex marriage is imminent, and that the queer community will collapse when that happens.

“Marriage is a concern because it’s something that a lot of people strive toward…but it’s not the most important thing to me,” explains Maya Henry ’20. She expresses more concern about the possibility of healthcare becoming less accessible and more expensive. She isn’t the only one to distance herself from the issue of same-sex marriage. Will Marchese ’20 expresses his annoyance that it has been made such an issue, pointing out that gay marriage only provides benefits such as healthcare to the married couples. That leaves many queer people without an economic or health care safety net, especially considering how the LGBTQ+ community is disproportionately affected by issues of poverty. But, of course, economic hardships and lack of health care make for a much less emotional photo-op than attractive same-sex couples getting married on the beach.

Forget about marriage. What matters more is queer relationships, in and of themselves. I have both been encouraged to be out and proud and to hide any same-sex relationship I have, out of fear of being attacked.

“It’s important to celebrate our love … But also keep in mind people might need to go back into the closet for … personal safety … I feel like there’s gonna be an increase in violence,” believes Gretchen Trupp ’18.

“There’s a lot of ambiguity in terms of what the climate will be like for queer relationships,” Henry adds.

Not the most positive picture. It makes me wonder what, exactly, we can do with all this gratuitous love being thrown at us. What about our love? Is there now some sacred responsibility to love everyone and be above all the hate? Trupp firmly disagrees with the notion of having to love everyone, especially people who fundamentally oppose who we are at our core — people such as Milo Yiannopoulous, an openly gay Breitbart journalist who loudly supports Trump and the alt-right. His scheduled appearance at the University of California, Berkeley caused a riot and was cancelled for security reasons. There wasn’t much love being directed at him there. The queer community is divided — some of us voted Trump, or care little about what he does until it affects us directly.

Straight people, just a heads up: queer people can be jerks too. Direct your love towards those who really need it. As Marchese points out, those that really need love and support are those we don’t hear about often, such as transgender people of color or undocumented queer people. They may not be commonly represented in mainstream LGBT+ discourse, but their struggles deserve attention, respect, and support.

Let’s discuss that term, “love.” It’s a laudable intention, but what can we do with it? How will having the love of some random “ally” help in the time of Trump? Marchese archly points out that, while love is crucial for self-preservation in our communities, “Love does NOT trump hate; direct action and militant anti-fascism do.” This love won’t be especially useful if it doesn’t become concrete action.

“[Love is] relevant as we … draw strength from our community and allies … but … it’s very clearly not enough,” Trupp says.

“The love trumps hate thing makes me roll my eyes sometimes, but at the core of it I think it’s a way of standing with people whose struggles you may not fully understand, but being there to advocate for them,” admits Henry.

So, allies, thank you for your love. It is appreciated. But we don’t just need love. We need actions to back it up. And more than that, we need respect. Understanding. We need you to look out for communities that you may have forgotten about, to remember that the queer community does not start and end with rainbow flags and “Love is Love.” We need you to listen when we point out why pussy hats or the overrepresentation of wealthier white women in the Women’s March are exclusionary and should be critiqued for all the good intentions behind them.

Love is something valuable and not that uncommon, that you give the people you feel closest to — the ones you would fight to protect and help. So don’t say you love everyone if you’re not willing to fight for them.

“I don’t think you have to love everyone, but trying [to understand] each other is important to me,” Henry concluded.

We’re not that desperate for love, people. We’ll take listening and respect.

Hughes turns new leaf, in verse

in Arts/Uncategorized by

Margaret Hughes ’17, recipient of the English department’s $2,500 Morrell-Potter grant, abandoned her proposed plan almost immediately.

“I sort of set my goal to be writing poetry that reads like smut and smut that reads like poetry,” Hughes says. She laughs, leaning back, crossing her blue Converse All-Stars over her baggy pants, and adjusting the crown of flowers resting on her forehead. “I think I [wrote] that on one of my online dating profiles. That’s really pretentious.”

In eighth grade, she found her first book of poetry, a 1966 textbook by X. J. Kennedy, in her parents’ bathroom. After turning to “We Real Cool,” by Gwendolyn Brooks, she was hooked. Hughes memorized her favorite poems — even now, she can recite the entirety of T. S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” five pages and over a thousand words long. Now, the copy sits in her house, battered from use.

What emerged from her work over the summer, she elaborates, is an investigation into emotional honesty and opacity.

“I’m interested in an interplay between exposure, and vulnerability, and self protection through cleverness,” she says. “That’s something I was trying to explore moments of confession and moments of emotional expression that are trying to cover themselves up or disguise themselves.” The narrow, granular nature of poetry, she explains, enables that. “I get to show part of a picture, or to show it from an angle.”

Despite her personal style, Hughes’ poems are a testament to precision, each word loaded with as much significance as she can manage. In contrast, she finds the messiness of everyday speech, with its fragmented thoughts and run on sentences, profoundly unsatisfying.

“I could very easily spend all my time analyzing the thing I said at Sharples, [or] what I should have said differently, or what I should have not said. The nice thing about getting to write a poem is that I have control over that.”

Hughes’ impulse to revise means that much of her work centers on going over old poems rather than new works. With the grant, though, she tried to produce more new material. “Part of this summer was getting comfortable with writing things that rambled and that I wouldn’t really want anyone else to see.”

She worked four days a week with the Trevor Project, an organization for suicide prevention among LGBTQ youth, and wrote on the weekends.

“That structure was really essential for me,” she says. Although she didn’t find much overlap between her writing at the Project and her poetry, letters to government agencies and legislators require their own neat phrasing, she says almost like poetry. “Obviously, it’s a completely different genre and topic, but it kept me in the practice of writing every day.”

She ended up finishing three complete poems as well as beginning and editing many more pieces.

After graduating high school, Hughes spent a gap year campaigning for gay marriage in Rhode Island before taking her freshman spring off to organize volunteers for an LGBTQ non-discrimination bill in Utah. Afterwards, she wasn’t sure if she wanted to return to college.

“I had a year without school to do stuff I really cared about and that I was pretty good at,” Hughes says. “It was the first time I developed a primary identity aside from ‘student.’” Without another offer, though, she resumed classes.

Hughes, a self-proclaimed copycat, consciously imitates the writing styles of favorite writers like former U.S. Poet Laureate Kay Ryan, whom Hughes admires for her clever phrasing and confessional tone. She still feels like she’s in the process of trying on others’ styles.

“That doesn’t feel inauthentic to me … I can dress very differently on different days, and all those ways feel like accurate expressions of some part of me at a given time.”

Majoring in English was never a certainty even now, Hughes hasn’t officially declared. She moved between political science, linguistics, and several other fields before deciding in the middle of last year to focus on creative writing out of resignation, she says.

“I came into school knowing that I was ultimately going to be an English major … but that seemed so predictable.”

At one point, Hughes wanted to be an actress. In high school, her class traveled to New York City to meet an off-Broadway star for career advice.

“She told us, ‘Yeah, I worked for years, and then my big break was when I became the face of the Scotch Tape commercial.’” Hughes laughs.

Although she’d like to have her poetry published, she struggles to see a career in it.

“There’s probably a lot of becoming the face of the Scotch Tape commercial that has to happen before publishing a book and after you publish a book. I don’t know [if] that’s something I want to do.”

After graduation, Hughes plans to look for more LGBTQ activism campaigns to work on, whether organizing in the field or writing policy in DC. She worries she might struggle to maintain her habit of writing every day. “I just kind of wonder how adults who work nine to five or longer have time for having food, sustaining relationships doing laundry, all those fun things let alone [maintaining] artistic practices.”

Another dream job? Writing erotica. “I didn’t get a grant for that, though.”

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