I recently sent out a survey asking students to answer a few questions about what sexuality they identify as and whether or not they considered themselves “out” to the community. The results confirmed some ideas that I have been noticing this year that have been bothering me. Out of the 117 responses that I received, a significant percentage of our population, 20% identified as LGBTQ. Olin has a heavy physical presence of LGBTQ students on campus. Unfortunately, this large population has little to no presence as an LGBTQ body. OPEN, the LGBTQ club on campus, has had almost no participation this year. As president, I really just want the club to exist as a place where people who identify as LGBTQ and allies can gather and be friendly every once in a while. This allows people to realize that they aren’t alone as an LGBTQ student, and allows the rest of the Olin community to realize that we are a large percentage of the population (maybe they should stop assuming they know people’s sexuality) and are all awesome people.
I have heard many people voice that the reason that they don’t attend OPEN meetings is because they feel like Olin is a place where LGBTQ treatment is not an issue. Everyone is cool with it. There is no need to try to continue to improve Olin’s openness to minority sexualities.
The fact is that Olin is not an ideal place for LGBTQ students. Although 20% of students identified as queer, another 11% were unsure or other. Of those students that identified as queer, unsure, or other, only 20% considered themselves “out” to the Olin community. 31% said that they were not out on campus or they were only out to a few close friends. Another 37% said that “coming out” was not important to them. I have personally encountered Oliners that faced confusion when they began coming out to their friends. Students are assumed straight unless otherwise stated, especially male students. Hetero-normative statements can be found in all areas of campus, perpetuating this assumed-straight idea and making many LGBTQ students uncomfortable. Wellesley asked students for their preferred pronoun when they enter orientation. No assumptions are made about gender or sexuality. Why can’t Olin have a similar culture?
Olin advertises itself as a diverse place open and accepting of all backgrounds and lifestyles. Along with gender, sexuality is another area that Olin is succeeding in creating a diverse campus. The issue is that it doesn’t feel that way due to the the inactivity of those students that identify as LGBTQ as a body. The stronger the presence we have, the less often hetero-normative comments and assumptions will be made. Olin students aren’t purposefully being close-minded, they just don’t realize that they are perpetuating ideas that go against what Olin stands for. By lowering these types of occurrences, we will create a community where those 17% of students who identify as LGBTQ but have not come out to Olin feel comfortable being themselves. Even if you are comfortable identifying as LGBTQ, or feel like it is not necessary to be an active ally, think about the Oliners who don’t feel comfortable fully expressing themselves on our campus. Do something to make this campus a better place to be gay.
I want to challenge people to do more, care more. Make Olin a more open place. If you identify as LGBTQ and didn’t see a purpose in participating in OPEN before, I hope you can recognize that participation shows others that Olin does care. That they have people to relate to. If you are an ally, and you want people to feel welcome, then show you care. Bring attention to hetero-normative comments and assumptions you come across. Be receptive when someone hints that they might identify as LGBTQ. Recognize that sexuality is a spectrum; people won’t fall into neat little boxes. Understand that just because someone else has never been attracted to someone of one gender, that does not mean that person never will. I challenge us as a campus to stop assuming.