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