Every spring, the college hosts a party known for its prominent and eye-popping title: Genderfuck. The term “genderfuck” refers to the deliberate effort to play with traditional notions of gender identity, which assume that one’s identity, role and orientation are determined by one’s assigned sex at birth. The party provides an opportunity for students to defy traditional gender norms. Although no longer officially associated with the Queer and Trans Conference, the party remains a college event in the same way that the Halloween party or Yule ball do.
“The party was once part of a larger event that was known as the ‘Sager Symposium,”Dean of Students Liz Braun explained. “While we still have a Sager speaker series there is no longer a Sager Symposium. Rather it is a student run Queer-Trans Conference. The party is now disconnected from the symposium and is independently planned by a student committee with support from various administrative offices.”
During the planning process, rumors arose of scheduling and monetary conflicts, but all issues seem to have been resolved. “There was a bit of a problem shortly before break because students were not stepping up to help plan the party,” said one of Genderfuck’s event planners, Jeanie Glaser ’13 “But I believe now we’re perfectly on schedule and on budget.”
One Student Activities Committee (SAC) member who requested to remain anonymous believed that money for Genderfuck had already been set aside and budgeted for before students had proposed it to the committee. “On our end, I believe they still have to propose to us,” the member said, “but I think the amount they get is already planned for.”
Either way, the party is constantly evolving, and various initiatives are in the works. Following an assault incident prior to last year’s Genderfuck, campus safety procedures were heavily increased. According to Dean Braun, from the perspective of the deans’ office, last year was an example of students and administrative collaborating together to increase the overall safety of the party. She noted that in addition to the student planning committee, additional support that included Party Associates, Student Council representatives, members of the Sexual Misconduct Advisory Resource (SMART) and Drug and Alcohol Resource (DART) teams, Delta Upsilon and Phi Psi brothers, as well as Kappa Alpha Theta sisters worked together in terms of pre-planning. Additionally, members from some of those groups were present to answer questions about gender—and alcohol—related issues, while others escorted overly intoxicated students back to their dorms. The party planners also worked closely with the dean’s office, the student activities office, Tom Elverson, the Worth Health Center, and Public Safety to think through logistics and planning to help ensure a fun and safe night for everyone.
But even though safety has been amped up, issues surrounding the true purpose of the event remain. With its apparent decline into a party known purely for the motto “guys wear a dress, girls wear less,” a veil of skepticism has fallen over Genderfuck. To counteract this, innovative policy moves from different campus organizations are in the works to restore the party to its original goals. One such organization, the SMART team, is working in conjunction with the head of the Worth Health Center, Beth Kotarski in order to reestablish the initial intentions of Genderfuck “We are helping to organize ongoing consent training around the party,” Kotarski said. “We are also having SMART members at the party to answer questions and be support for students.”
Perhaps the biggest potential change surrounding Genderfuck is a proposition requiring all students interested in attending the party to also attend a consent workshop- although that would not be for this year. Nora Kerrich ’16, a board member of the Women’s Resource Center (WRC), believes consent workshops might help turn the event around. “I’m a freshman, but it sounds like Genderfuck sort of devolved,” she said. “Last year was the tipping point, but we’re trying to bring it back with these workshops — back from ‘Let’s get naked,’ to more of a, ‘Let’s do something we’ve never done before.’”
But Kerrich and the rest of the WRC are formulating workshops for this year. They are, for example, bringing Ben Privot to the college from April 11th-13th. Pivot is the founder of the “Consensual Project.” The project partners with schools and universities to bring fresh takes on the meaning of consent.
“Privot goes to colleges and gives talks on consent,” she said. “He’s not very radical, and he’s not prone to victim-blaming. He works towards understanding healthy relationships including how to have healthy, sexy relationships while including consent.”
Beth Kotarski, the director of Worth Health Center, also sought to raise awareness about consent issues for the party. “We are helping to organize ongoing consent training around the party,” Kotarski said. “We are also having SMART members at the party to answer questions and be support for students.”
Some students expressed concern that mandated workshops are not the most effective way to combat sexual assault.
“I think that an isolated workshop will either be tolerated, or worse, completely ignored by the target audience,” said Jesse Bossingham ’16. “The incredibly important problem of sexual assault does not seem to originate from a lack of education, so I’m unsure exactly what a workshop or series of workshops would do to reduce incidents.”
Still, many think it is a good idea.
“I like this idea,” said Ari Efron ’16. “People should be able to take the time out their day to do a short workshop.”
However, Efron expressed some planning concerns.
“The only questions I have are logistical. How will these workshops be different from the orientation ones? There needs to be enough of them that even people with busy schedules can make one without putting too much strain on them,” Efron said, adding he was unsure how the program would account for guests from other schools.
He added that it must be done in a way that makes everyone feel comfortable.
“For instance an assault survivor might not want to talk about these issues in a large group. Do we really want to force them to go? If so how can we assure that they can walk out at times that make them uncomfortable without a ton of the student body knowing?”
Reflecting specifically on the message that Genderfuck as a party sends, as well as on its changing nature, Dean Braun expressed continued support for the polarizing event.
“My goal is for me and my staff to support the queer community in having this event be a fun, safe, celebratory, inclusive event that meets their vision and goals,” she said. “I think it is always important to continue to reflect on and create opportunities to continue to help events evolve to meet the needs of the community. New classes of students often bring new ideas and perspectives; this is part of what keeps the social life on campus fresh.”
Kerrich felt similarly but expressed the need for further work surrounding issues of consent, sexuality, and gender. Her goal is for workshops, as well as conversation and activism to move slowly away from party scenes like Genderfuck and into discussions in classrooms and amongst friends.
Kerrich made that point that everybody, regardless of sexual orientation, should keep in mind that even if made mandatory in the future, the workshops revolve around issues that everyone should naturally feel strongly about.
“Whether you want to have sex or go to these parties, its something you have to deal with eventually,” she said. “My goal is to start with these workshops around the party scene, but to move the discussion away party scene overtime. We need more areas where this discussion takes place on a general playing field.”
Photo by Holly Smith ’14