Op-ed: SLC welcomes a new queer safe space

A still from Jeanette Marks house, a queer/LGBT Safe space at Mount Holyoke college. Photo courtesy mount holyoke photography.

A still from Jeanette Marks house, a queer/LGBT Safe space at Mount Holyoke college. Photo courtesy mount holyoke photography.

Despite the fact that Sarah Lawrence has multiple student organizations for queer students and multiple student spaces, so far there has never been a designated safe space for queer students—but soon there could be.

Students began working on creating a queer safe space at SLC earlier this year. The idea was suggested by previous students before this year, but was never acted on. On March 4, there was a step forward in establishing one, when the Student Life Committee unanimously approved the idea.   

Deane Silsby '17 and Harry Barrick '17, the co-chairs of TransAction*, have been among those advocating for the creation of a space. They have been working with others, including other students, and also with Natalie Gross, Director of Diversity for Student Affairs, and Josh Luce, Director of Student Activities for Student Affairs. Barrick said that “between the two of them they’ve been incredibly helpful and have always been on our team, and have… really wanted to push this through and help us, and help us deal with all the bureaucracy necessary, so they’ve both been very amazing.”

There are multiple student leaders and organizations with some involvement in the space. Barrick said, “We’ve been talking to leaders of other queer groups and other …members of the Sarah Lawrence community who are either managers of other student spaces and/or have experience in that, or who chair queer identity and activist groups, because we feel like both of those points of view are important in designing both the mission statement and the job descriptions for the managers.” Some of these people include one of the co-chairs of the Queer Voices Coalition, Frances Maples '17, who pointed out how a queer safe space would be “a space for all the queer clubs and events on campus to meet, such as Queer People of Color, TransAction*, Trans Space, The Ace Place, and Queer Voice Coalition. Right now these clubs are scattered across campus with no real connecting force. The safe space could be that connection to bring these clubs and facets of the campus queer community together.” The space would be helpful to any who could use it, involving cooperation among different groups of students both in creating it, running it, and using it. Those aspects of the space would help to reduce isolation within the queer community at SLC.

Silsby said of the Student Life Committee meeting: “It was voted on, it passed unanimously. The first two people who asked questions prefaced their questions with ‘thank you so much for doing this, this campus has needed a queer space for a long time and really the only reason that we haven’t had one is because nobody has done the bureaucratic push-through, which is now complete.” The next step for the space is for the idea to be approved by Student Senate.

As for the use of the space, Barrick said, “We’re hoping [the space] will be both a meeting space and a lounge… but also have a resource center and a library, be a place where we can do workshops and events.” They added, “We’re modeling it off Common Ground because we think that Common ground is a really successful model in terms of all the different purposes that it serves.” Maples also pointed out how “it's also important simply for communicating queer presence on campus. It would be included in tours so prospective queer students would know that there is a place for them at Sarah Lawrence. If people have questions about queerness they would know where to go to get them answered. If a queer student needed help or support they would have a specific place to go where they know they are among peers. It would also be a great study space, a place to keep a library of queer books and resources, a place for queer students to showcase their art [...] There are a lot of functions this space could have!”

The space would be run in a way that encourages participation from the students it is being made for. “We’re trying to make this also a student-run space, just to get as many people involved in the process as possible,” Barrick said. The location and the name of the space are both still undecided. Barrick said that “We’re hoping to have it somewhere in Bates, because a lot of the student spaces, like the Black Squirrel and Spiritual Space and Common Ground are there, so we’re hoping to group them all together” until the student union is built, at which point this and other spaces could be moved there.

A safe space for queer students will provide an important sense of community; it will be a valuable step to make the queer community at SLC more connected. SLC already has a reputation as a relatively welcoming and supportive place for queer students. This new safe space could help sure that idea is a reality.

by JM Stewart '17

SLC Phoenix

The Phoenix is a non-profit, student-run publication representing the voices and opinions of Sarah Lawrence College community members. Our print edition publishes bi-weekly on Tuesdays, and our online edition is updated multiple times per week. Anyone may attend our open meetings at 9:00 PM on Wednesday nights in the North Room of the Pub.

*Sigh* Another midterm election? Raghunandhan examines voter apathy in America

Vasaris Balzekas '17 poses behind a Ronald Reagan mask. Photo courtesy Ellie Brumbaum '17.

Vasaris Balzekas '17 poses behind a Ronald Reagan mask. Photo courtesy Ellie Brumbaum '17.

In the eyes of a foreigner, America is downright perplexing. This was as true of Alexis de Tocqueville's U.S. of A. in the 1830s as it is of John Oliver's in 2014. I too stake claim to this tradition, albeit in more modest circumstances. It is fantastically puzzling to witness a nation - so self-professedly steeped in one of the world’s great democratic traditions - fizzle out in the event of a midterm election. So, ‘meh’ was the reaction to the midterm, and newscasters and pundits in unison put one simple question to the country as the spectre of another lacklustre Congress loomed: “does anyone care anymore?”

Here are the facts: this year, a minority of Americans, 37 percent of eligible voters (mostly white men and older voters, at that), had more of a say than anyone else in the outcome of the elections. Why? Simply because they showed up at the polling booth on election day.

This, despite the population of millennials in America exceeding that of any other age group, and the number of women outnumbering men by a whopping 7.2 million. A failure to vote left this ‘silent electorate’ at the mercy of a radically different group of voters whose priorities (and biases) could well impact critical facets of one’s life: access to birth control, health care coverage, and more.

The voter turnout was so abysmal this year that senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont plans to introduce a “Democracy Day Act” which makes election day a national holiday. This act was developed in an effort to incentivize voters to vote. In Sanders’ words, “we should not be satisfied with a ‘democracy’ in which more than 60 percent of our people don’t vote and some 80 percent of young people and low-income Americans fail to vote… We can and must do better than that.”

This is a welcome step, but the conversation does not end there. Here at Sarah Lawrence, the apathy was palpable. Though there were a few brave faces who canvassed everywhere from Bates to the Pub to Hill House encouraging fellow Americans to head to the ballot box, the interest usually generated by a campus so politically aware in its character, was sorely lacking this time around.

The sense I got was that our community was fed up with the status quo in Washington. We are not alone in this regard. Much of the country feels this way. The departing 113th Congress, in statistical terms, ranks dead last as the least popular Congress in history.

The fallout of the Citizens United Supreme Court judgement has created an opening for ‘big money’ donors and corporations. many of which have reoriented the priorities and leanings of politicians in desperate need of campaign financing, alienating vast swathes of middle-class America in the process. Add to that a seemingly unstoppable tide of income inequality, an army (or militia, depending on how you want to view it) of lobbyists in Washington who convince politicians to vote (in some cases) against the wishes of some 90% of the population, and the result is an understandable sense of frustration. Simply put, is it worth voting anymore?

Yes, yes, and yes. Despite the doom, gloom, and lack of interest surrounding politics in this country, there is still reason to turn up at the polling booth. In the case of Massachusetts, the same booth that elects the likes of Mitt Romney (Mr. Forty-Seven Percent) ends up electing the woman who has fought most against big money in Washington, Elizabeth Warren.

Remember, voter apathy in this country is by no means a new phenomenon. Tocqueville observed, “there are many men of principle in both parties in America, but there is no party of principle.” This didn’t stop the country from electing the likes of Franklin D. Roosevelt to the White House or Daniel Patrick Moynihan to the senate.

For my part, I have travelled to a great many countries where the liberty extended to all Americans is but a distant dream that a hopeful few hold on to. I am ineligible to vote either in America (because I am not a citizen) or in my native India (because citizens abroad cannot vote), so the mere ability to turn up on election day and cast one’s ballot with ease is something I too can only dream (and write!) of.

That is not the case for most of you at Sarah Lawrence. Voting is more than a privilege. It may be optional but it must be treated like a duty. It should not be wasted. Little may come of it but use it while you can. Do not allow a minority of voters to determine the agenda of your government. This is as true for your midterm votes as it is for your student senate and your local government votes. 
As I see it, choosing not to vote is as good as opting for “taxation without representation,” which, in the words of James Otis, amounts to “tyranny.”

by Harshavardan Raghunandhan


Letter to the Editor: G. Tod Slone of The American Dissident

Last week, I received a rather curious Letter to the Editor from a G. Tod Slone, aka P. Maudit, who is the founding editor of The American Dissident, "a journal of literature, democracy, and dissidence." In it, he asked me to publish a political cartoon that he originally published on wwwtheamericandissidentorg.blogspot.com that depicts SLC professor Marie Howe. The cartoon, his letter, and a second cartoon that he sent me afterwards are below:

P. Maudit

P. Maudit

One of your professors, Marie Howe, is lampooned in a P. Maudit cartoon (see http://wwwtheamericandissidentorg.blogspot.com/2014/08/marie-howe.html).  The message in the cartoon is a clearly stipulated pro-democracy one that should be of value to students at Sarah Lawrence.  Thus, publish it… or get off the journalist track and find another profession or activity!  Journalism is rotting away in America, as PC becomes more and more favored by journalists over truth, fact, and reason!  Hopefully, your minds have not been infected. 

Moreover, how can any journalist or student journalist accept without question or challenge the existence of a college literary journal accepting student submissions only if of a particular race?   “Dark Phrases is an annual literary publication featuring the artistic work of students, faculty, and staff of color.”  So, if I were a student, white, Asian, or autochtonous, at Sarah Lawrence, my work would be rejected on the simple basis of my skin color.  Bravo!  How does that possibly jive with MLK’s desire for a color-blind society?  Is it not mind-numbing… or perhaps rather a question of fully numbed minds? Now, why not help calm MLK, who’s evidently rolling in his grave at the notion of a race-based literary journal, by exposing it for what it is:  racist!  Wow, has it really gotten that bad in higher education?  Well, apparently it has at Sarah Lawrence! 

Finally, why not get your librarian to subscribe to The American Dissident (only $20/year), which DOES NOT have a race-based submission acceptance policy.  Look forward to hearing from you, though I’m quite used to the deafening silence. 

G. Tod Slone. 

P. Maudit

P. Maudit

Well, Mr. Slone, the 'deafening silence' is over now I guess. You got your wish, I published your cartoons. As an editor, I'm definitely interested to see how Dark Phrases responds to his remarks.

Wade Wallerstein


Op-ed: Adrianne Ramsey '17 worries that SLC lacks a sense of community

comic by Thomas Ordway '17

comic by Thomas Ordway '17

First-year students were catapulted into their new life at Sarah Lawrence by participating in orientation week. Throughout orientation week, students participated in a variety of activities, experienced their first college parties in Hill House, and bonded on the North Lawn. Students were given the illusion that Sarah Lawrence was a tight community—a gimmick that did not last long. 

The Sarah Lawrence Activities Council—SLAC, for short—is supposed to organize events to build a sense of school spirit. But as the days passed, SLAC’s involvement faded, parties cooled down. Now, the North Lawn lays empty, covered with snow.

Many first-years have expressed worries about the lack of campus events and the waning sense of community. “There are plenty of people who attend SLC who are warm, welcoming, and foster a sense of community in smaller group settings,” said Faith Smith  ’17. “Then there are large chunks of people who are open and welcoming without judgment; however, I do think there are times where individuals feel a lack of community in the larger scheme of things. Sarah Lawrence would benefit from having all-campus events. Getting the masses excited for a big occasion raises morale and gets people talking to one another.”

Students complained about SLAC organizing the same events every week: a dance at the Blue Room on a Friday or Saturday night, Open Mic Night on Thursdays, and a film screening on Wednesday and Saturday nights. There are occasionally different events such as karaoke, Casino Night, and the Christmas tree lighting, but those events do not get much attention. “There are a fair amount of activities on campus thanks to SLAC, but not that many people attend the events. This may be because of a lack of interest,” says Vanessa Massel  ’17.

In traditional American universities, athletics and Greek life play big roles in creating a strong community. Sarah Lawrence is proud of their “unique and quirky” outlook and has few athletic teams and no history of Greek life. However, the school is growing a stronger athletic department since it became an NCAA Division III establishment. The school prides itself in being progressive, but simply stating that something is “not the Sarah Lawrence way” is anything but progressive. For athletics to gain popularity and Greek life to become a reality at Sarah Lawrence would simply mean that Sarah Lawrence is evolving with students’ growing interests.  

“Traditional Greek life at SLC would not necessarily work because there is not a large enough body of students. However, a club adaptation of Greek life where students could be a part of a strong group of people that believe in a particular issue and do things together such as community service and putting on school events would be great,” says Isabelle Campbell ’17. “It would not have to be ‘typical Greek life situations,’ such as parties and asshole guys. You run the risk of exclusivity, initiation, and hazing in any group of people, not just Greek life. Also, Greek life was established so that people who have similar interests can be in a group together, learn about life, and how to be a good person.”

With the continued lackluster advertising for events that are still repetitive in nature, and upward turns of the nose at the question of Greek life, Sarah Lawrence is closing itself up to change. The Sarah Lawrence slogan used to be “You are different. So are we.” If this were true, we should not stigmatize Greek life as unhealthy. By refusing to evolve, Sarah Lawrence students are being judgmental of a lifestyle that appeals to many. Not all Sarah Lawrence students are the same, and we cannot categorize all of our students as “different” if we are not willing to cater to the needs of different types.

by Adrianne Ramsey '17

CORRECTION APRIL 10, 2014: This piece was originally published in our Editorial section, and thus was assumed to be an editorial piece expressing the viewpoint of The Phoenix staff. While some members of staff do share many of the opinions expressed in the article, this piece is an op-ed and thus expresses the viewpoint of the author and quoted students. It has since been labeled as such.

Is the lecture replacing Sarah Lawrence's seminar-system standard?

The Donnelly theater in the Heimbold Visual Arts Center hosts numerous lecture classes and screenings each week.  Photo by Ellie Brumbaum '17

The Donnelly theater in the Heimbold Visual Arts Center hosts numerous lecture classes and screenings each week.
Photo by Ellie Brumbaum '17

Large universities such as UC Berkeley and Yale University have courses that typically range from 500 to 700 students. The humongous class size can make it nearly impossible to find a seat and cause little to no student-to-teacher interaction. Sarah Lawrence College believes in smaller, more personal classes with a 10:1 student-faculty ratio. Students are required to take a total of two full-year lecture courses or the equivalent prior to their senior year. Lecture courses are typically capped at 45 students but if demand is higher, the class size can be as high as 60 students. While in comparison to bigger universities the size of a Sarah Lawrence lecture is very small, because Sarah Lawrence is such a tiny school it is considered “a big deal.” 

 “As the lecture requirement was originally described to me by my Don, it is in part to free up space in seminars. Given that seminars cannot really function with more than 15 people and we have a growing student body, lectures help us maintain small seminars. The 4-semester lecture requirement is certainly doable,” says Ari Jones (‘14).

While Sarah Lawrence’s seminar system is not necessarily losing its touch, students have their own learning styles, which causes some of them to identify with the setup of a lecture course more than the one of a seminar course.  “I took lecture classes first and second semester because I like being in big classes with a lot of diverse people,” says Schehrezade Rahim (‘17) “I am also really scared of speaking up in class, so I wanted to learn the other side of not being in a seminar.”

Lecture courses may be growing in popularity because they do not require mandatory conference project. Because there are so many students in lectures, required one-hour group conferences (which can be likened to a seminar) are substituted for one-on-one conferences. This does not mean that there will not be any work; most Sarah Lawrence lectures have a final project or paper that is no more than ten pages. “It makes more sense that a lecture course would not have a conference project because the subject [being taught] is broad and not as focused as subjects covered in seminar. I like this because it is a lot less work and stress put on me,” says Isabelle Campbell (‘17). 

However, a professor teaching a lecture course has the right to assign a conference project. For “Trauma, Loss, and Resilience,” Adam Brown asked every student to write a 20-page conference paper to turn in at the end of the semester. Despite the amount of work, “Trauma” is one of the most popular Sarah Lawrence courses and has a current enrollment of 60 students. To those who think they have tricked the system, make sure to read the syllabus carefully before signing up for a lecture class.

Even though the number of lecture courses has increased, they are not “taking over” the Sarah Lawrence course curriculum in any way or form. Small seminar classes remain a key reason why students enrolled at Sarah Lawrence in the first place. “I have more strongly enjoyed and had more powerful academic experiences in seminars. However, I think the experience in any class depends on the teachers and students. Lectures at SLC give some teachers the opportunity to really just teach material they are experts on, and students a chance to get a broader overview or one clear perspective on a topic,” says Jones (‘14). “I think it is ridiculous for SLC students to avoid seminars their whole time at SLC because they are the cornerstone of a Sarah Lawrence education. You come here to have in-depth and personal conversations and relationships with professors, which are really only possible with the seminar-conference model.” 

There will always be students who feel uncomfortable with speaking up in class or take longer to resonate with the seminar system. But the reason Sarah Lawrence prides itself on its seminar system is because it is truly stellar, there are very few other colleges in America where students will receive the individualized attention Sarah Lawrence offers them. While some students may add a lecture course to lighten up their schedule and workload, it is important for all students to immerse themselves in the seminar system and take advantage of every opportunity the system at Sarah Lawrence has to offer them.  

by Adrianne Ramsey '17