Trans* Task Force: DLT Training and Q-Forum

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Trans* Task Force: aybala50, amorphast, S. Yeager, MC and myself

Working towards breaking the gender binary at Bryn Mawr College and helping the queer folk on campus feel more welcome and at home. 

Quick definitions for our visiting guests:

Customs week – one week before classes start, the freshman arrive on campus for a week long orientation led by the DLT

Customs group – freshman are grouped together generally by hall to create customs groups, which are led by Customs People. 

DLT – Dorm Leadership Team

This includes:

HA (Hall Advisor) – One student on every dorm hallway who is basically in charge of everything on the hall.

Customs People – 2-3 students on each hall who are in charge of helping the freshman through their first year at Bryn Mawr.

CDA (Community Diversity Assistant) – Previously one per dorm, now only six on campus. They are students who “are charged with raising awareness of diversity issues and helping their friends and neighbors talk about them.”

PMS (Peer Mentor Services) – 2-3 students in each dorm who hold office hours and are available to help students with scheduling and academic problems.

Students who wish to be a part of the DLT apply the previous year to each position, and are chosen by a selection board.

Dorm Leadership Team now also includes the Dorm President, which is elected in the semester before the academic year begins.

Staff includes:

BMCDS (Bryn Mawr College Dining Services) – Run by a mix of full time staff and student workers, BMCDS is in charge of the two dining halls, the cafés, and the restaurant/inn.

Public Safety – the campus police.

Facilities, Housekeeping, groundskeepers – works with maintenance around campus.

 

Q-Forum (Queer Forum) – amorphast’s “Q-forum mission statement”:

Q-Forum aims to be an open, informational dialogue among Bryn Mawr students about issues relating to gender and sexuality, with an emphasis on how they relate to student life on campus. 

 

The Trans* Task Force that we have put together would like to change a number of things around campus – the way staff treats queer students, the way administration advertises the school and makes information regarding queer issues accessible, the admissions policy in regards to gender, etc.  For this project, however, we chose to focus on the new students on campus and taking small steps towards raising awareness on queer issues.  We propose to include during customs week a lecture/workshop, a customs week Q-forum, to help expose new students in a safe space to queer issues, which many of them may not have experience with before, or many may have questions about.  

 

I am working with training the DLT to be able to hold a customs week Q-Forum.  This involves training the HAs to lead the forum; but the involvement of the customs people and the CDAs and even Peer Mentors may be necessary.  The HAs need training on how to lead the Q-Forum according to the current schedule.  I also suggest perhaps training the customs people in the same way as the HAs in order to allow for more facilitators in the Q-forum.

 

In class, we ran into problems with levels of understanding very often. This could very easily happen within a customs week Q-Forum if the HAs leading the discussion are not conscious of the possibility of the different levels of understanding.  As a freshman coming into Bryn Mawr, I was woefully uneducated when it came to anything queer.  The idea of non-normative sexualities frankly made me uncomfortable, because I had been raised in an environment where people who identified as queer were very much othered.  I was “secure” in my beliefs about queer people, and I will admit they were not exactly open-minded.  Although I was willing to learn and be exposed, that did not change 18 years of upbringing that caused me to be automatically uncomfortable with the subject.  I was most certainly in a very different place from many others around me, and yet there were definitely people who were in my place, and perhaps even less willing to learn and be exposed.  I attended the Q-forum in my dorm when I was a freshman, and tried to engage in conversation.  However, I found that I couldn’t contribute to the conversation much, because I didn’t understand most of the terms written up on the board.  Q-Forum is a place to learn and ask questions, and is supposed to be a safe space for people who don’t know anything to open up and learn – as was this intro course into gender and sexuality studies.  This doesn’t always happen, clearly.  Sometimes the intellectual divide is wide, and those who can speak up and express their thoughts naturally get more attention. There may be no way to fix this problem, but perhaps there is.  Somehow we have to make sure that Q-forum is a comfortable place for a equal space to exist.  Admittedly I don’t remember much about my Q-forum, but I do recall several people answering and speaking up regularly, while some of us were unable to say anything.  Those without voices – in this case those with less experience, exposure, or education on the subject of queer culture – are unheard and looked over. 

While this is easily an issue among the new students during the Customs week Q-forum, something we must consider is that this might also be a problem when training the DLT to lead this forum. What can we assume about the people on the DLT and their education on this subject?  It would be difficult to be completely unexposed to the subject while attending Bryn Mawr, but people whose interests do not intersect with any of these issues may not have as much to say on the subject. There are certainly people who are on the DLT this year who do not have any interest in queer culture or trans* issues, and there will be next year as well.  We cannot assume that since they go to Bryn Mawr they are automatically interested or educated on the subject.  During DLT training, therefore, we have to be careful to not assume what people know and don’t know simply because they are upperclassmen at Bryn Mawr. 

Another issue that may come up with using the HAs as the facilitators is the potential interest they may have.  Doing Q-Forum within customs groups/halls with the HA facilitating is an excellent idea for the purposes of keeping it small and intimate; however, the problem with only having one moderator is that they may not be able to answer all of the questions, or they may not have any interest in the subject and therefore be apathetic and not necessarily helpful.  If the HA facilitating the forum is not very good at facilitating that discussion, it could be less than useful.  Somehow having more than one facilitator seems like a better idea, but how to bring that about is difficult.  The idea of having a dorm-wide Q-forum with all of the HAs facilitating is useful for solving that one problem, but some of the dorms are so massive that it wouldn’t be the small, comfortable safe space that we want for the first years.  

Perhaps having a larger, HA facilitated Q-forum and then breaking off into customs groups and having the customs people (along with the HAs) lead a smaller, more intimate discussion would be useful?

Or perhaps have the customs people trained to facilitate in the same way the HAs are, so that we can still hold this Q-forum within the hall but have 3-4 facilitators instead of only one.  The customs people play a very important role in the first-years’ orientation; they are the people that the freshmen bond with most immediately, and the ones who personally lead them into college life. The customs people’s jobs are to help orient the freshman, and if they were trained to be able to talk about queer issues for Q-forum it would be useful throughout the year in answering questions and confusion that any first year might have, and for some students they might be the people the first years are most comfortable going to.

aybala50 attached the HA training schedule from last year, so here I propose rough ideas about what a training workshop for the HAs (and possibly customs people at the same time?) should include.

-       Have someone (perhaps from the Manzone center?) lead a sort of Q-forum for the DLT (should this include CDAs, and PMS? Perhaps not, this is an intensive training for the facilitators of the Q-forums.)

-       Follow roughly the script amorphast posted for the Q-forum discussion, with a few changes and teaching moments.

-       Make sure everyone knows the definitions outlined in the script – go through and define each term (as best as possible), have the DLT name off terms they aren’t familiar with.

  • Keeping in mind the likely divide in knowledge on this topic, those who are more knowledgeable should be willing to sit down and listen to things they already know, and those who are unfamiliar should not be afraid to ask questions.  Since they will be the ones in the future who are to answer questions that the other students ask, it is ESSENTIAL that they are well informed and comfortable talking about this.  This is again another reason to have customs people lead Q-forum alongside the HA, to cover any potential gaps in knowledge or discomfort on the topic.

-       Although many of the people in this training, as upperclassmen, have some sort of understanding about gender on campus, it is still VERY IMPORTANT to go over the basic issues, even just briefly, to make sure everyone is on the same page.  It may be surprising, but there are certainly several people who are in leadership positions who do not necessarily understand the nuances of Bryn Mawr’s queer culture. 

  • aybala50’s example of the staff treating queer students with ignorance is a good example of how one can be on campus, work and live at Bryn Mawr for decades and still have very little understanding of these issues. We do not want that to happen with people who are leading a discussion on this topic.

It is also very important that the McBrides have a Q-forum held separately for them.  It is unclear who would lead the McBride Q-forum, and so who would be trained in the same way the HAs (and Customs people?) are trained for this type of discussion.   Perhaps separate training for McBride facilitators is appropriate, since the Q-forum itself is likely to be very different, but we have to consider who would do that training (perhaps the same people training the DLT) and who would receive it. 

 

As a freshman coming into Bryn Mawr, I was just getting used to the idea of queer sexuality – the “gender binary” was not even a term I was familiar with nor a concept I was comfortable discussing.  I felt very set in my ideas about what gender was, and I was overwhelmed enough in trying to consider people with alternate sexualities, let alone gender variants.  Obviously I have spent the last two years rapidly learning and changing my understanding, but when I first arrived my conservative upbringing had hindered my ability to comprehend these issues at all.  I was on queer overload, and it was a difficult transition for me.  My upbringing wasn’t half as conservative as probably many other students on campus experienced, and so I can only imagine how difficult the transition must have been for such a large number of first years.  The Q-forum will help, certainly, but I worry about how receptive some of the students are going to be to such an overload of information.  If, as a freshman, anyone had tried to talk to me about breaking the gender binary and gender fluidity and whatnot, I would have shut them out and discarded much of what they said – it sounded ludicrous to me.  Although of course I would not have been outwardly rude about it, but I would not have heard or understood what they said fully because my head would not have been able to comprehend such lofty concepts I had never been forced to consider before.  Therefore I propose that although several people in the group will probably be bored out of their minds with the discussion, having grown up and been exposed to this kind of culture all their lives, the Q-forum should go slowly and step-by-step, making sure everyone understands that gender and sexuality are two very different things, and that understanding them will be a separate process for many people.  Navigating so many people’s levels of understanding, as evidenced by the class this semester, is difficult if not impossible.  Someone will probably be bored, someone will probably be lost.  We have to open up communication and work towards including and equalizing everyone, as aybala50 says in her web event.  We must try and educate those who need it and facilitate interesting discussion with those who can, and if they can happen at the same time we will have done our jobs well.  

  Much of the responsibility of the conversation will lie on the facilitators, but participation from the first years is necessary.  I worry a little bit about the intimacy of the discussion – obviously having smaller groups is more comfortable and useful, but thinking back to my customs group in freshman year I am not sure I would have enjoyed such an intimate Q-forum.  My customs group consisted of 9 first years, none of whom I was comfortable or close enough with to discuss this kind of topic.  The Q-forum would have been awkward and halting, because I can’t envision any of my peers bringing up some of the issues that need to be discussed.  I certainly would not have wanted to speak up and reveal my ignorance, but I’m not sure anyone else would have done so either.  As it is, my Q-forum in my dorm was not well attended or incredibly informational.  These are a few qualms I have about doing Q-forum in customs groups; however, I think this is the best setup, even if it is a little awkward at first.  This kind of conversation is often awkward anyway.  Orienting the first years is incredibly important, and the first step towards helping trans* and queer people on campus feel more comfortable, as well as help students who are confused, questioning, or curious to open up and feel safe having this conversation.

 

Things left to do:

-       contact the Manzone center about training the DLT

-       decide on precise time for this training

-        decide who will be trained along with the HAs (customs people? CDAs?)

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