Coming Out Week chalkings discussed

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

On Thursday night, a large crowd gathered in the Friends Meeting House to discuss the Coming Out Week chalkings and the negative responses to them.

The discussion was moderated by Bruce Dorsey of the History Department and Elliot Ratzman of the Religion Department. They opened the night’s discussion with the enumeration of ground rules largely familiar to anyone who has participated in diversity dialogues at Swarthmore, such as making “I” statements and being aware of how much one is talking. Two ground rules unique to the chalkings discussion, however, were to not make assumptions about the queerness of participants as well as to make the assumption that all people had good intentions in their participation in the discussion.

The dialogue was opened in six small groups that participants self-divided into based on their opinion and perspective. One group was for people who were supportive of the chalkings but thought Coming Out Week’s message could be communicated better, another group was for those who felt personally hurt by the responses to the chalkings, and another group was for people who felt that the chalkings did not adequately express their perspective on Coming Out Week. Additionally, there was a group for people who felt personally offended by the chalkings, or rather, offended specifically by the sexual explicitness and indecency of the chalkings. The fifth group was composed of participants who felt personally attacked as a straight person by the confrontational tone of the chalkings. Finally there was a group for those who were on the fence about the entire issue.

The small groups talked amongst themselves about their respective perspectives for 25 minutes before coming back to the larger group. In the larger group a spokesperson chosen from each small group attempted to summarize the issues and concerns that had been brought up and talked about in the small groups. However, this was certainly not enough time to cover all of the myriad opinions held by all participants, and so after the brief description of each group’s collective opinion, the discussion then opened up to individuals to express their feelings and reactions to the chalkings, the Chalking Manifesto (written by the Coming Out Week sponsor groups, defending the chalkings), and the response of the larger Swat community to both.

Dorsey and Ratzman reminded people of the ground rules with frequency, but also congratulated the entire group for the respectful tone of the discussion. They commented that everyone present agreed on the same general precepts and that the discussion was largely akin to a family feud about specific aspects of Coming Out Week and its chalkings.

When people returned to the larger group after the small groups had presented their dialogues, people seemed to split amongst themselves into those who felt that the chalkings were the personal manifestations of individuals’ perspectives and those who felt that, while there was nothing wrong with a public discussion of queerness, the chalkings went too far with sexually explicit drawings of vaginas and sexual intercourse. The discourse grew very personal and emotionally intense, with several people breaking down as they shared their very visceral reactions to the chalkings due to past sexual assaults.

Many students also took umbrage with the attitude that disagreement with the chalkings is equivalent to homophobia. The response to that prevalent attitude was addressed by several people who stated that homophobia is rooted in people not being comfortable with sex.

No conclusions were reached by the discussion. Yet resolution and consensus were not the point of last night’s discussion. Rather, the goal of the dialogue, as stated by Dorsey and Ratzman at the outset of the evening was to come away with a better understanding of others’ perspectives and opinions of the issue as well as the personal belief that one had thoughtfully expressed one’s view and had thoughtfully listened to the opinions and views of others.

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