Section: archive

Unity House promotes safe spaces in the classroom

By Lauren Toole

Last October, two pride flags were stolen from Unity House and later found, muddied and torn, behind the F-block of the New Apartments. Though the motive behind the act was and remains unclear, the act itself left many feeling shocked and angry.

One of those people was Professor of Biology Joan Slonczewski. Slonczewski serves as secretary to the Faculty Meeting, a forum of professors and administrative staff that meets three times a semester, and she also regularly attends Unity House meetings. She thought that in light of the incident with the flags, the faculty could benefit from hearing from Unity House members.

Professor Slonczewski came forward after the flag incident and said, Ive talked to the faculty, or whoever runs the faculty forums, and have gotten you an invitation [to speak at the forum], if you guys would like to, in January, Robbie Sellers 14, co-manager of Unity House, said.

Sellers, along with Ben Kress 14, Emilia Louy 15 and Madeline Thompson 16, gave a presentation at Januarys Faculty Meeting about making the classroom more accepting to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered and queer (LGBTQ) community. In particular, the talk focused on how professors could make the classroom, and themselves, more open.

There are some students who dont feel comfortable going into a teachers office hours, for example, because they dont know if their teacher is accepting of who they are, Kress, co-manager of Unity House, said.

Its a little scary, because you dont know if you can be yourself without being judged, Sellers added.

But Kress and Sellers stressed that their presentation focused on the positive ways professors can engage in a dialogue of acceptance in the classroom.

We wanted to talk to them not because we think that there are a lot of professors who are not accepting, but because we think that there are things that professors can do if they want to send that message of acceptance out, Kress said. Thats kind of a hard thing to do on your own. So the reason we went is to tell our stories and say, This is something that a professor has done to make me feel accepted.

I think the main message, Slonczewski said, is that students of whatever gender orientation want to be considered part of the normal spectrum, part of normality, not as the other out there.

One example a Unity House representative gave was when, in class, a professor asked female students to describe a boyfriend and male students to talk about a girlfriend unintentionally leaving some excluded from the conversation. The situation could have easily been avoided by asking students to describe a significant other.

The student suggested that if faculty were aware of these things, that they could phrase their comments more inclusively, Slonczewski said. Another thing that was suggested is that faculty could signal their openness to diversity by posting the Kenyon flag magnets.

You walk past a teachers office and they have [a Kenyon flag magnet], and you automatically know, Oh, this is someone who cares, and cares enough to let it be known. Kress said. And thats just a huge deal.

Little things like that, that may not seem like they mean a lot, mean the most.

The one thing that Ive heard from a couple professors, Kress added. Is that they had no idea that a student would assume that they would not be accepting. And people do.

Kress said that after the meeting, representatives handed out magnets while professors talked to them about points that had come up during the presentation. This was actually the best part, Kress said. I would say almost every professor came and talked to us and took a magnet.

Safe space stickers the pride flag overlaid with the Kenyon crest first started appearing on campus after the flag incident.

That safe space sticker that applies to everyone. It applies to any sexual or gender identity. It represents diversity and acceptance, Sellers said. It basically says Im not going to judge you. I think people arent necessarily aware of that. Its there for everyone and not just LGBTQ students.

Louy, assistant manager of Unity House, has been at the forefront of outreach efforts at the Kenyon Athletic Center (KAC).

I feel like the KAC and athletics is just separated from everything, like theyre two different spheres, Louy said. Theres campus life and you have athletic life, and I thought it would be really cool if we could put some safe space stickers in the KAC, so athletes and people who use the KAC can be themselves and not worry when theyre talking to coaches.

When Meredith Buzzi, womens lacrosse coach, received Louys email about putting up safe space stickers, she rallied behind the effort.

I thought it was a really great opportunity to show no matter who you are, youre welcome to come in my office whether youre a member of my team or not, Buzzi said. I want to make sure that everyone who comes in here is comfortable, whether its the students that I have in personal fitness or the members on my team. I want to make sure that they know that.

According to Buzzi, student-athletes and coaches have a different relationship than student-athletes and professors. Its a relationship that demands the openness and respect that the safe space sticker represents.

Faculty they dont see [student-athletes] six times a week for two hours a day. Theyre not in their office at various times just sharing things, Buzzi said. I think that its important that we did show that we were more open and more amenable to anything that they need. If this is one need, then I think that the KAC has really gotten behind that.

A former Kenyon softball player, Louy also plans to put together a Snacks and Sexuality discussion on gender and athletics after spring break. Topics shes considering include homophobia in athletics and LGBTQ athletes.

Although the community continues to support Unity House in the wake of Octobers incident, acts of sexual-identity discrimination continue to occur.

This semester, written in black Sharpie in a gender-neutral bathroom in Mather Residence Hall were the words Man, Woman and Hermaphrodite, a perceived slur. There have also been two reported events of safe space stickers being torn down at the KAC.

Kress and Sellers stressed that maintaining positive dialogue will prevent future incidents from occurring both in and out of the classroom.

We wanted to make sure that people were aware and making proactive decisions before negative things happened, so that negative things wouldnt happen, Sellers said. We tried to present our talk as a proactive attempt to prevent any future problems.

Were here for everyone and anyone who wants to discuss LGBTQ tolerance and equality and acceptance, or just hang out. Were a community space, just as much as we are an activism space, Sellers said. If youre straight, youre welcome. If youre gay, youre welcome. If youre anything, youre welcome

Unity House meetings are Sundays at 2:00 p.m. in North Campus Apartment 3-A.

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