Occidental community members gathered in Choi Auditorium Thursday for a conversation about gender issues on campus, hosted by the Center for Gender Equity (CGE). Topics included the number of gender neutral bathrooms, the lack of an active Queer Straight Alliance (QSA) and the desire to heighten awareness of LGBTQ issues.
“It is a conversation that we feel is implicit for everyone, thus everyone on campus was invited to this conversation,” Interim Assistant Dean for Intercultural Affairs Sherry Simpson-Dean said.
CGE Programming Assistants Nina Monet Reynoso (junior) and Myell Mergaert (senior) organized the event and moderated the discussion. Among those in attendance were Dean of Students Barbara Avery, Associate Dean of Students Tim Chang, Chief of Campus Safety Victor Clay, Senior Director of Student Wellness Services Sara Semal, Director for Religious and Spiritual Life Susan Young and Assistant Director of Student Activities and Greek Life Diego Silva.
Reynoso started the discussion by asking attendees to assess the community’s handling of LGBTQ issues. A student then expressed concern that those who identify as asexual were excluded from the conversation. The student cited the use of the acronym “LGBTQ,” which does not account for asexual identifiers, in the title of the event as an example.
Students also raised concerns about the lack of a unified community for LGBTQ students. Some said the absence of queer-themed living spaces or groups on campus made them feel isolated.
Others questioned why there were no bathrooms on campus specifically for students who identify as gender neutral. Assistant Professor of Critical Theory and Social Justice Heather Lukes suggested that, in keeping with recent California legislation, students should be able to use the bathroom corresponding to the gender with which they identify.
Rachel Buckner (senior,) attended the forum and felt it was a step in the right direction. She believes that future conversations should go into greater depth on how policies and practices regarding the LGTBG community can be improved.
“There are a lot of issues that need to be addressed and I think that this meeting really highlighted and showed the need to address those issues, both on an institutional standpoint—from faculty, from staff, from administration—but also in terms of how students can come together,” Buckner said.
According to last year’s Campus Climate Index, which includes ratings of Occidental’s handling of LGBTQ issues in various areas, the school rated well in student life, housing and residential education and counseling and health, but not in campus safety, academic life and recruitment and retention efforts.
Reynoso believes that making these issues visible to the CGE was a good starting point. She hopes to continue the conversation and to include more members of the community in the future.
“It was a good introductory meeting. Like Sherry [Simpson-Dean] said, this is the first of many conversations,” Reynoso said. “I would like for these to be in Thorne with everybody on campus, because I know like 98 percent of the people in this room, and I am friends with them. It is preaching to the choir.”