Author: Adam Dede
The Student Government Association (SGA) Senate approved a proposal from the three executive board members of Middlebury Open Queer Alliance (MOQA) to add a Queer Studies Academic Interest House to campus for the upcoming fall semester. Community Council, which has already met to discuss this issue twice, will have a final vote on the proposal on Jan. 28.
The proposal was met with stiff opposition, leading to the Senate’s most heated discussion to date.
According to the proposal, the Queer Studies House will house four to eight students serving primarily to promote the study of queer issues and provide a ‘safe space’ for any student in times of need. Beyond these main functions, the MOQA board hopes that the house will serve as an educational tool and symbol of unity for the entire campus.
“I think that the only way we’re going to conquer homophobia is going to be to educate,” said Alex Eppler ’10, one of six concerned students who attended the meeting to support the MOQA board.
First on many people’s minds was the application process to live in the house, and the fear that only queer students would inhabit the house. Supporters assuaged the fear, saying that sexual identity will play no part in the residency application process. They also noted that many straight students have already shown an interest in the house.
“Of the six students who are here in support of this house only two of us are gay,” said Kevin Broussard ’11. “I think it says a lot that straight students want to live in this house.”
Many also questioned the need for a residential house and suggested a non-residential queer studies space as an alternative.
“There’s a lot about this proposal that I really like,” said SGA President Max Nardini ’08. “I love the cafecito idea. I love the idea of bringing in other speakers. I love the idea of a safe space. My concern is with the residential aspect. I don’t think the housing is necessary.” Nardini went on to vote against the proposal because of the loss the house would have on the overall student community. He noted the positive impact the queer studies residents would make if they were to live in dorms and promote queer studies events to students not involved in queer issues.
“I actually find it very offensive to say that queer students have a vested responsibility to convert straight students to be accepting,” said Ryan Tauriainen ’08, MOQA co-president and co-author of the proposal, partially in response to Nardini’s statements.
Other SGA members feared that the house could become a place for queer students to congregate and isolate themselves.
“I’m really interested in having a safe space, but I want to make sure it does not become a hiding place,” said first-year Senator Anne Runkel ’11, who voted in support of the proposal.
The MOQA board members assured the SGA that their goal is to reach out to the community rather than to isolate themselves.
“This house could really serve to open up the discussion to the entire campus because there will be more energy behind it,” said Christine Bachman ’09, MOQA co-president and proposal co-author.
Supporters of the proposal also pointed to the Pan-African Latino Asian Native American center (PALANA) as an example of the type of program they envision. PALANA served as an example multiple times because of its unique situation as an independent academic interest house without strong ties to a specific academic department and its representation of marginalized societal groups.
Even with PALANA as an example, however, some in the SGA remained skeptical.
“I think that it’s a great idea,” said Senior Senator Ashwin Gargeya ’08. “I’m just not sold on the residential aspect to it. I think it’s worrisome that you’re separating people.” Gargeya went on to note that, while PALANA is a precedent for the Queer Studies House, Chellis House, the current non-residential Women’s Center, is a precedent for a non-residential space.
The final SGA vote was 5-4 to pass the proposal. Supporters of the proposal hope to use this victory as evidence of student support when they go before the Community Council for the third time on Monday. The result of the Council vote will be the final recommendation given to the administration.