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Q-Forum: Restructuring and Revising

Amophrast's picture

This project started with the sudden realization that I could effect change. Not all by myself, of course, but when the options are so readily available, I figured I had to do something.

Here's a little background on me:

I'm a hall advisor this year, and will be a hall advisor this year. What does this mean? I am employed by BMC's Residential Life office to be the "eyes and ears on the hall" and serve as a resource for students, including directing them to other resources on campus. As a result, I have spent the past year working closely with the ResLife heads as well as two graduate assistants. I am also currently one of the co-heads of BMC's Rainbow Alliance, our main queer student group on campus. One of the things that Rainbow Alliance has traditionally taken care of (with the help of the Community Diversity Assistants, or CDAs) is something called Q-Forum. 

The idea for this project started with a wish for change, with my expressed unhappiness about the way that things "had" to happen, or the ways in which I "had" to do them, especially since I was to be in charge of running Q-Forum next year. And then I realized...If I am in charge of things and I am not happy with the way they are going, why am I not changing them?


DISCLAIMER: this is something I probably should have realized a long time ago. Anyone can propose or enact change, but sometimes it's good to have a plan.

Aybala50 set a fantastic foundation for us to work with, along with the wish to see these issues continue to be talked about after graduation.

This is a joint project with aybala50, S.Yaeger, Colleen Ryanne, and MC, though we'd be more than happy to include others in this plan. Comment on this post with contact information if you wish to be involved, or contact us via our tumblr or Facebook.

A quick glossary: 

  • DLT - Dorm Leadership Team. Includes hall advisors (HAs), customs people, peer mentors, dorm presidents, and community diversity assistants (CDAs)
  • RA - Abbreviation for Rainbow Alliance, Bryn Mawr College's (BMC) main queer student group on campus
  • UC - Upperclass students--as in, not relating to social or socioeconomic class but as a gender non-specific alternative to "upperclassmen"
  • Traditional students - undergraduate students who are not McBrides

The Purpose of 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 Previous Structure of Q-Forum

Though there isn't clear information regarding dates, Q-Forum was originally run by the deans. Somewhere along the way, Rainbow Alliance took over it. During some of the years when RA had a weaker presence on campus, the CDAs took over it. 

Q-Forum took place in every dorm at the same time on the same night. UC and DLT were strongly encouraged to attend as well as frosh, but it was made clear that attendance was not mandatory for anyone. Facilitators were recruited by one person (usually one of the co-heads of RA) emailing the UC on campus asking them if they wanted to be facilitators. Facilitators received a training session run by the RA co-head.

This past year I constructed a survey to collect feedback on Q-Forum. Here are links to the surveys: for frosh, for DLT, and for facilitators.

We acknowledge that effective change takes both time and revision, but you can never know what problems will pop up until you try working through them. 

Proposed Changes to the Structure of Q-Forum

- why a part of customs week? This will mean that most of the people are only frosh.

It's an important dialogue to have and it's important that this dialogue is started when students are getting oriented to BMC. There will of course be those frosh who are more experienced in the realms of gender and sexuality issues, so this "won't be anything new" for them, but I think putting people on some sort of common ground empowers them to speak up more. Hopefully the absence of the UC will help with this, though the UC can and should be present for the following conversations to happen, as described by MC.

- Why the DLT training?

All members of the DLT should be educated on matters of gen/sex as they are relevant to the student body they are serving as a resource to. Having an outside group come in to train the HAs would be preferable for various reasons. It would help build a community, especially with the smaller number of participants (as compared to a whole dorm)

- Why these changes?

This is an attempt to start developing a common, inclusive language, or the spirit of inclusion via dialogue. This dialogue should be able to be a starting point for discussion for students of all ages and backgrounds, including their background in issues of gender and sexuality. Many students, including international students, may not have the same words to use for these issues. While there should be more of an emphasis on concepts rather than terminology, there should be exposure to terminology as a way of provoking thoughts or questions.

As aybala50 included in her post, in the effort of having an open dialogue, "the task of the group should be exploring the dialogue process, not to make a decision or solve a problem." While this hasn't necessarily been a problem for Q-Forum in the past, it has become an issue after the first dorm meeting of the year, when people on each hall decide on bathroom designations. This becomes a particular problem when discussing the wording of the signage. Previous examples include "everyone welcome," "women only," and "Bryn Mawr residents only."

Proposed Script for a Revised Q-Forum

Along with "stage directions" (notes for facilitators) 

-          Space: everyone should be sitting in a circle or nearly a circle. This conversation can happen in the hallway or in a common room. Avoid visually othering the facilitator by having them outside of the circle. People can use chairs if they are more comfortable that way, but if you can help it, don’t just have the facilitator as the only one on a chair.

-          Supplies: each HA will be provided with a few large sheets of paper and some markers, to be used as needed during Q-Forum. Write down words, thoughts, ideas, diagrams, anything that will help visually during the event.

-          Announce: Q-Forum is a space where students of all backgrounds can comfortably gather to become grounded in issues surrounding gender and sexuality, though Q-Forum will not contain everything everyone needs to know about gender and sexuality.

-          This is a safe space. What does that mean?

  • Feel free to speak openly
  • Respect others’ opinions
  • Nonetheless, take accountability for your words
  • You should not feel the need to out yourself as anything, but again will be treated with respect if you choose to do so
  • A safe space can be defined as a place where any young person can relax and be fully self-expressed, without fear of being made  to feel uncomfortable, unwanted, or unsafe on account of biological sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression, race/ethnicity, cultural background, age, or physical and mental ability. It is a place where the rules guard each person’s self-respect and strongly encourage everyone to respect others (from

-          Ask: Do we want to set any other ground rules? Examples:

  • Assume the best intentions
  • Don’t interrupt
  • “Don’t yuck my yum”--Do not put down someone else's opinion if you do not share it.
  • (Don’t put people on the defensive)
  • Don’t devalue your own opinions
  • Don’t put anyone on a pedestal
  • Avoid using cell phones—being attentive is a part of being respectful

-          Icebreakers:

  • Stand in a circle. Start with one person making a statement along any various themes, related specifically to Q-Forum or not: “I’m uncomfortable with...” “I don’t know about...” “I’m afraid of...”. Others who identify with this statement step into the circle. Step out and continue moving in a circle until everyone has either passed or offered a statement.
  • Everyone should make eye contact with someone else. Repeat: "I see you, neighbor. (pause) I hear you, neighbor. (pause) I respect you, neighbor." Have everyone make eye contact with a different person than before. Repeat.

-          Note: Q-Forum is not a place for explaining personal questions, or things such as "how do lesbians have sex.” If questions about safety/health come up, feel free to refer them to resources. Additionally, be flexible. be open. Flexibility aids in discussion, and with inclusion (inclusion to identities, inclusion of participants)

  • Silly responses are also an option, if they are respectful: “How do lesbians have sex?” “However they want to”

-          Introductions: Go around in a circle, sharing name, pronouns, and class year

-          Pronouns

  • Rather than calling them masculine or feminine pronouns, say the pronouns you like to use for yourself. This way there’s no assumption that the people who choose to use these pronouns are either “masculine” or “feminine”
  • She, her, hers, he, him, his, they, them, theirs, ze, hir

-          Index cards:

  • After introductions, pass out index cards. These will be used for people to write down questions as they think of them during the event. Even though not everyone will have questions, everyone has to write down something so that it is less obvious for the people who did write the questions—they don’t have to be outed for wanting to ask questions.

-          Identity labels

  • Identity labels are words that people use to help figure themselves out. Though most of these words have definitions, there is no “right” or “wrong” way to be a certain identity. See also: identity policing.
  • Discussion question: Choice vs. identity. What parts of a person do you think are a choice? What parts do you think cannot be changed? How does identity fit into this, particularly when it is in regards to a self-selected label or mindset?
    • Different identity labels to discuss, while offering definitions:
    • Note: definitions should be offered for everything, even if people are sure that they know what a word means. Sometimes definitions can be confusing(list to be provided during DLT training)
    • Note: Emphasize that fact that different words and labels vary in definition from person to person
    • Lesbian
    • Gay
    • Straight
    • Bisexual
    • Asexual
      • Gray-A –
      • Demisexual –
      • Make sure to bring up: Asexuality is different from celibacy or abstaining from sex. Celibacy denotes a form of choice or opting out of sex. Asexuality describes an identity or a way of feeling/being. Additionally, some asexuals may choose to have sex—it doesn’t make them any less asexual. See: identity policing.
    • Polyamorous
      • In contrast to/differing from monogamy
      • Closed/open relationships
    • Pansexual
    • Omnisexual
    • Intersex
    • Intergender
    • Trans*
      • Transgender
        • Female to male (FtM)
        • Male to female (MtF)
        • Transsexual
      • Genderqueer
      • Bigender, pangender
      • Genderless, agender
      • Genderfuck
      • Genderfluid
      • Words that are generally inappropriate: hermaphrodite, tranny
      • Make sure to bring up: Just because someone is trans*, doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be on hormones or want surgery
      • Make sure to bring up: Trans*people can still be heterosexual, ex: FtM attracted to ladies.
    • Cisgender .
    • Queer
      • This is an example of a word being reclaimed. While it encompasses any non-normative sexuality, not everyone chooses to use this term for themselves, particularly older folks.
    • Fluid
      • Homoflexible and heteroflexible describe identities that are fluid.
    • Questioning
    • Ally –  Often seen paired with the phrase “straight but not narrow”

-          Any questions so far?

-          The differences between gender, sex, and sexuality

  • Gender identity
    • This is how you feel
  • Gender presentation
    • This is how you look, or how you present
    • Transvestite/crossdresser
    • Butch, femme
    • Genderfuck
    • Drag kings/queens
    • Androgyny
  • Sexual orientation
    • (includes both sexual and romantic attraction or lack thereof)
  • Sex vs. gender
    • Sex is biology
    • Male, female, intersex
    • Some trans*people choose not to identify with the sex they were assigned at birth, so while they might have XX chromosomes and genitals, if they identify as a man they may choose to use the word male for themselves
    • Intersex – ambiguous genitals or sex organs. There are five different kinds of intersex. Often not evident without surgery, or until puberty. Because surgery would be difficult to perform on a newborn, they judge by the size of the clitoris/penis. If the organ is shorter than X, the baby is assigned female. If the organ is longer than X, the baby is assigned male. However, a gray area exists so that doctors and/or parents usually choose to actively decide.
      • (Use finger example, showing the "difference" between male and female in terms of size of organ)
      • Often a child with ambiguous genitals will be assigned female at birth because doctors have deemed that it is “better” to be a female with an enlarged clitoris than a male with a small penis. Similarly, in the cases of botched circumcision, a child may be assigned female.

-          Prefixes

  • Homo-, hetero-, pan-, bi-, a-

-          Types of attraction

  • Sexual and romantic
  • Homosexual, homoromantic
  • Heterosexual, heteroromantic
  • Pansexual, panromantic
  • Asxual, aromantic
  • Bisexual, biromantic
  • You can mix and match!
  • Make sure to bring up: Identifying as heterosexual is not necessarily mean the same thing as identifying as straight

-          Any questions so far?

-          Other terms:

  • Biological sex
  • Assigned female at birth, assigned male at birth
  • Socialized male, socialized female
  • Heteronormativity
    • Supports heterosexuality as the “normal” sexual orientation, and states that sexual and marital relations are most (or only) fitting between a man and a woman. A heteronormative view is one that supports the alignment of biological sex, sexuality, gender identity, and gender roles, without room for discussion.
    • It is heteronormative to…
      • Assume that everyone around you is straight
      • Assume that everyone’s gender matches their biological sex
      • Assume that everyone’s identity is rigid
      • Assume that men think a certain way and women think a certain (different) way
      • Assume that women wouldn’t be interested in something on account of them being women
      • Heteronormativity invalidates those who are “non-normative” in their ways of identifying
  • The Binary
    • The assumption that there are two identities, and they are opposites
    • Male/female, man/woman, gay/straight (to some extent)
    • Opposite-sex – the word opposite implies that there is a binary
    • It is not bad for people to identify as a man or a woman. It is disrespectful to think that everyone fits into these categories though.
  • Spectrum model
    • Gender and sexuality can be considered a spectrum—people may identify anywhere on the spectrum, or off of the spectrum
    • Nonetheless, the spectrum model is not perfect as it still assumes two ends, and that there is a “true” definition of being a man or a woman.

-          Any questions so far?

-          Other issues:

  • Identity policing
    • There is no wrong way to be _______. Everyone's identity is valid. You cannot tell someone that they're not ______, just as no one can tell you that you're not _______. Your feelings are valid. 
  • Gender is socially constructed, but it doesn’t mean that it’s bad or negative or any less valid to have any range of feelings. Feeling like the normative definition of a woman is just as valid as feeling like a gender variant person
  • How to talk to people about their pronouns
    • Just ask. Chances are they probably won’t be offended and will be happier that you asked rather than assumed.
  • Bring up issues of:
    • Consent
    • Sexual Assault

-          Sexual identity is not sexual practice

  • Identity does not necessarily affect practice—for example, someone can identify as straight but still have a girlfriend. Someone can identify as a lesbian but still have a boyfriend. (Again, mix and match)
  • That’s why terms like MSM and WSW exist: men who have sex with men and women who have sex with women. Often more important for medical or health issues than anything else. Just as a lesbian may not be sexually active, a woman who does not identify as a lesbian may still have sex with women. It is important that necessary protections or tests are in place. For example, AIDS and hepatitis C are issues of worry more for MSM than necessarily gay men.
-          Any questions so far?

-          Discuss: Gender variance exists everywhere, including Bryn Mawr. What are some ways you can be respectful and inclusive to those who attend Bryn Mawr?

  • Though Bryn Mawr is a women’s college, it is not an “all-women’s college” or an “all-girls school,” as not everyone who attends identifies as a woman. There are various reasons why someone who does not currently identify as a woman may be at a woman's college.
  • It is also not an “all-women’s campus”—there are people on campus who do not identify as women, including graduate school students and post-bacs, some of whom might be cisgendered men.
  • Gender neutral or gender non-specific language: frosh, mawrters/mawrtyrs
  • Bathrooms – changing language from “women only” to “Bryn Mawr residents only” respects those who do not identify as women. Additionally, non-gendered language may serve to be more suitable, such as having a flip sign that says "guest in"/"guest out."

-          More discussion:

  • Do they think Bryn Mawr is different or the same as communities they previously lived in? What makes it different? Are there more gender variant and queer people at Bryn Mawr than elsewhere, or are people just more comfortable expressing themselves here?

-          Confrontation(?)

  • How to not out people
  • Avoid discussing people’s sexuality without their consent, especially in front of family members, etc.
  • Sometimes you don’t know who someone is out to. Some people may be out at school but may not be out in their hometown. There are many reasons why someone may choose not to be completely out. Remember that it is their choice, and you do not get to share this information with every single person ever.

-          Other possible things to discuss:

  • How open/accepting is Bryn Mawr to gender/sexuality issues?
  • How does Bryn Mawr support individuals who come out as queer or trans? Where does Bryn Mawr have room for improvement?
  • Is it okay to ask someone about their gender/sexuality if I don’t know?

-          Ask if there's any slang they've heard that they're unsure about:

  • Ace
  • Queermo
  • Dyke
  • Lipstick lesbian

-          Questions?

  • Make sure everyone has written something on the cards. Collect cards.
  • Are there any other gender-related words you have questions about?
  • If there are questions that you can’t answer for whatever reason, acknowledge (respectfully) that you are seeing their question. If you don’t know the answer, refer them to further resources

-          Resources:

  • Rainbow Alliance (give contact information with email addresses)
  • Queer Support Group (contact information)

-          ROUNDING UP: What did you like about/learn in Q-Forum?

  • Let everyone breathe a little bit, get a little silly, take a positive message out of the room

Follow Up

All HAs would email those who attended with the appropriate links for feedback as well as links to the resources such as the tumblr and the Facebook note.

Additional Considerations for McBride Script

The script was created with the best intentions for conveying information and promoting dialogue. That being said, there are not that many changes that I feel need to be made to incorporate McBrides as this information is not necessarily focused on anyone but Bryn Mawr students. That being said, we had a few thoughts regarding how to make the conversation flow more smoothly. (Disclaimer: these facts may also apply to traditional but they were thought of specifically in regards to the McBrides)

  • It is hard to understand that fact that gender is not a rigid structure.
  • Everyone should get the opportunity to ask questions without feeling stigmatized for the fact that they needed to ask them. In our classroom this semester, people without the background in gender and sexuality studies seemed intimidated and afraid to speak up. The people with more background were sometimes bored, irritated, and occasionally harsh in their responses to those with less experience. Others seemed intimidated into not asking questions, which is the opposite reaction of what we hoped for.
  • It is important to get information to people early on this topic. Issues often come up during customs week.
  • Additional changes would be considered for the further conversations for McBrides, such as talking to families about how to behave on campus; talking to partners, children, etc.about campus climate, though this seems to be mostly an adult thing, whereas children don't seem to mind.
  • There should be an emphasis on how to voice your concerns without being offensive or othering people.

As said by S.Yaeger on aybala50's post:

I think it's a good idea for us to have it with McBrides only, and in our Mcbride specific space, as our ages and levels of exposure are so varied and there is a certain level of hesitation and intimidation that new McBrides can feel around traditional students. Though I know that feeling hesitant is not a MCBride specific thing, I think that an early talk where new students can ask questions related to gender without fear of judgement is absolutely vital to making new students feel welcome and to eliminating some barriers to understanding.

Another note is that unless I am mistaken, I do not believe Q-Forum or any equivalent has existed for McBrides in the past.

Plan of Action

  • Talk to the graduate assistant, begin solidifying the plan for customs week and DLT training activities
  • Will be in constant contact with ResLife over the summer because I will be on/around campus
  • I will continue to update Serendip as is possible, with significant updates as comments on this original posting in order to archive the process