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Final Web Event - Addressing Inclusiveness at Home at Bryn Mawr: A Seminar

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Bryn Mawr is my home.

            That one phrase is so much more than the five words it contains. Now more than ever before. To me, a home is much more than four walls or a campus. Bryn Mawr is home to me because of its people, because of its community. It is here that I have become comfortable with who I am - my sexuality, my past, my life.

            When I first began to think about this final paper, I knew I wanted it to be about this place that means so much to me. Bryn Mawr. I also wanted to incorporate in parts of my other papers. As I reflected over my work and growth in this course, I realized I left my third paper open ended without a firm direction in terms of education for Wabash. During conversations (usually over food) with my friends, I began to see that Bryn Mawr also needs a new form of education. An education in inclusion. I began to think of my second paper on the inclusiveness/discrimination of the straight community within Bryn Mawr's community. I concluded Bryn Mawr needs an intervention.

            The community at Bryn Mawr is diverse. Bryn Mawr is a melting pot, a coming together of different classes, backgrounds, nationalities, cultures, etc. The list is almost endless. However, in this melting pot, despite the variety of merging thoughts, there are limits to the amount of inclusion that occurs. Bryn Mawr is an inclusive place compared to other universities; however, because of the unique community at Bryn Mawr, we must become more inclusive. This teaching of inclusion must occur as first years, so that the trend continues throughout their Bryn Mawr career.

            Teaching inclusion is especially important today as the definition of culture has expanded far beyond race or background. Modern multiculturalism must be approached from a variety of angles. In her book, Multicultural Education as Social Activism, Christine E. Sleeter, a long-time activist and researcher on anti-racist multicultural education and teacher education, expresses the need for multiple approaches to teaching inclusion and culture within the classroom. One of her focus groups are "Single Group Studies, [which include] Black Studies, Chicano Studies, Women's Studies, Gay and Lesbian Studies . . . [and t]his approach teaches students  . . . how oppression works today, as well as the culture the group developed within oppressive circumstances" (Sleeter, 6). By other groups understanding each other's struggles within the larger frame of society, we can come together over our similarities rather than separate due to our differences. Through teaching inclusion, we initiate inclusion.

            Bryn Mawr is a center of multiculturalism. Due to this coming together of cultures from every corner of the world, not everyone is prepared for the variety of cultures one encounters at Bryn Mawr. This paper will address how to allow first years to become exposed to and to explore gender and sexuality within a safe space in the form of a mandatory seminar. Although there is a plethora of events promoting inclusion for first years, there is not a lace for first years to understand certain cultures that they are unfamiliar with. As an all-women's college, Bryn Mawr is defined by gender and sexuality, yet one of the most unfamiliar cultures to incoming first years is the culture surrounding gender and sexuality.

            Thus, I propose a mandatory seminar for first years. This seminar will comprise of small, randomly-selected groups who will discuss and investigate the role of gender and sexuality at Bryn Mawr. I believe this seminar is important for fostering inclusion, and will open dialogue within the community.


Addressing Inclusiveness at Home at Bryn Mawr: A Seminar

Objectives: To allow first years to have a safe and open space to be exposed to and to explore gender and sexuality, inviting inclusiveness within the Bryn Mawr community.  

Time: 3 hours

When: Preferably at the beginning of the semester between the 2nd and the 5th week of classes. This time span gives first years enough time to be settled into Bryn Mawr before the seminar occurs. It allows there to be many different options for seminar sessions. There will be many sessions at many times during the day (morning, afternoon, evening) and many times during the week (weekday and weekend).

Another option could also be to incorporate this seminar in as one of the wellness courses. Wellness is a weekly 1.5hrs long seminar students must take their first fall at the college. Students are required to attend 7 out of the 8 sessions, which are taught on a variety of topics within the spectrum of "issues confronting college women . . . [including their] physical, emotional, and intellectual environment" (Wellness 2012 BMC). Difficulties with gender and sexuality can lead to negative impacts on emotional and mental health. Making gender and sexuality an important topic to discuss, especially in the environment of a woman's college. However, this seminar within wellness will not be run by staff facilitators, instead it will be run by upper-class facilitators who have volunteered. It has been stated that wellness has become an insensitive seminar, that the staff facilitators do not understand the community at Bryn Mawr. However, upper-class students do, they have experience with the culture at Bryn Mawr, so as to not trigger first years.

Who: All first year students must attend, this includes transfers and McBrides who currently are not mandated to attend Wellness. First years must attend the seminar they have been assigned to. Seminar assignments will be determined based on students availability. Students availabilities will be noted via a survey that must be filled in during the 2nd week of classes. Then students will be randomly assigned to a section based on their availability. The seminars will be facilitated by upperclassman volunteers, in a similar fashion to the Q forum.

Note: How is this different than Q form?

Firstly, a bit of background on what Q forum is. Q forum is "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" (Amophrast).  It takes place in each of the residential dorms on campus during the middle of the fall semester.

So how is "Addressing Inclusiveness at Home at Bryn Mawr" different than Q forum, an already established practice? Both first years and upperclassmen are encouraged to attend; however, many do not. And those first years who do attend feel intimidated by the presence of the upperclassmen. Thus, my proposition places the first years in a more comfortable position with other first years and one or two upper-class facilitators. Q forum is also optional, thus first years are not required to attend. A lack of attendance means they are not exposed to gender and sexuality on campus, which could contribute to a lack of tolerance during their Bryn Mawr career.

Format of seminar: No more than 12 students per seminar. Any more than 10-12 students would create an environment in which students do not feel comfortable speaking, sharing, and discussing. Gender and sexuality are sensitive topics, thus all arrangements must be made to help the students feel as comfortable as possible, in order to make this seminar as effective as possible. The seminar will take place in the seminar room on the second floor of Taylor which has a large round table. The use of individual chairs invites exclusion and separation, while a single round table invites togetherness and inclusion. Comfort is of the up-most importance during this seminar, if students do not feel comfortable in sharing, then discussion will shut down and productivity will be lost. It would be best if the organization of students into their seminar groups is done at least a week in advance, thus the upperclassman facilitators could approach the students via email or a private Facebook group to begin engagement and interest prior to the actual seminar. The upperclassman facilitators could poll the students on what forms of comfort they would like to have during the seminar. Examples of forms of comfort that could be considered include food, pillows, turning off the lights to allow natural light from the windows to provide lightening, etc.

Accessibility: As always Access Services are an important resource for any Bryn Mawr College class or event. This seminar aims to be inclusive thus any access needs will be addressed and accommodations made as necessary.  

Materials: Note cards, Ball of string, Sticky notes, Chalkboards

The Seminar:

            Note on time: Keeping with time for some activities is important, but if discussion goes over time, then that's ok, simply adjust the schedule by shortening or removing other activities. The aim to help facilitate discussion in a comfortable setting, so if most people are engaged in a certain topic then that is good for the seminar.

0:00 - 0:10 → Bryn Mawr Time / mingling amongst the students

            As the students enter invite them to take a few note cards. During the seminar they can write any questions they may have. The note cards will be collected towards the end of the seminar and any questions will be answered anonymously.

0:10 - 0:30 → Ice breaker activity : The Question Web.

            The students and facilitators stand in a circle. One of the facilitators begins by holding the ball of string and making a statement about themselves. A statement that is not general enough for many people to have it in common, but is specific enough for about 1-3 people to have the same commonality (such as has two sisters, intends to be a biology major, etc). The ball of string is thrown to whoever has the same trait. If more than one person has the same trait, then the person making the statement makes another statement addressed only to those who have the first similarity, until one person is left. If no one has the same trait, then the person making the statement must make another statement. The tossing of the ball of string throughout the circle creates a web of learning about each other. At the end of the game, the facilitator makes the statement that each person within the circle contributed to creating a unique web, and that if one person was missing then the web would look drastically different. We are all interconnected to each other (Knox).

0:30 - 1:00 → Introduce the concept of home via activity

            Split the class into groups of 3-4 people. In these small groups each member of the group should state three images that come to mind when they think of home. Then two of the groups come together into two larger groups within the class to discuss what is needed in a home. One of the themes that may come out of the discussions is people. People are needed for a home, a home is more than just a physical place.

1:00 - 1:20 → Different types of homes discussion

            The class returns to the small 3-4 person groups to discuss the different types of home they each came from. Prompts for this activity include country of origin, people who lived in their home (mum(s), dad(s), grandparents, siblings, etc.), people who visited the home (other family members, friends).

1:20 - 1:45 → Home is inclusion discussion

            The class comes together to discuss any parts of a home that may have come up during the smaller group discussions. The discussion is merged into the issue of inclusion. The group saw at the beginning ice breaker how connected everyone is with similar traits, but if one person is missing then the matrix is very different. A home is the same way if one person is missing or excluded then the dynamics become very different. Discuss what parts of their homes is different than anyone else's. Yet despite these differences they have many more similarities than differences.

1:45 - 2:10 → Home / Ice breaker activity : Word Link

            This is a word association game based on the previous discussion on home and inclusiveness. Sticky notes are passed out. On the chalkboards are 8-10 basic words related to gender and sexuality such as sex, gender, binary, feminism, queer, lesbian, gay, trans*, etc. The facilitator will go through and define each word, invite members of the class to define the words too. Then each person in the class must write a word or phrase that they think of for each word on a sticky note and paste it onto the chalkboard.

2:10 - 2:40 → Discussion of Word Link

            Invite a student to select a word off the board. All the sticky notes are collected for that word, shuffled and randomly distributed to the students. The students then go around the room and read off what is on the sticky note. After invite a discussion of commonalities among the words, did any questions arise from the words, would anyone like to talk about the sticky notes. Continue in this fashion until discussion begins to fade, then ask a student to select a new word and repeat the process.

2:40 - 3:00 → Open discussion including the note cards

            The note cards are collected whether they have writing on them or are blank. Those who have writing on them are shuffled. A card is drawn and the question or statement read and discussed. This process continues until all the note cards have been read.

After the Seminar: The Emily Balch Seminars are also a requirement for first years in addition to wellness. The " thought-provoking Balch Seminars challenge students to think about complex, wide-ranging issues from a variety of perspectives" (Bryn Mawr College). Gender and sexuality is a complex issue which can be incorporated into a range of topics across many academic disciplines, encouraging "learning across borders and boundaries" (Bryn Mawr College). Thus, in order to have students gain maximum benefit from "Addressing Inclusiveness at Home at Bryn Mawr: A Seminar" there would be an after-seminar paper as a part of the first years' Balch Seminar. This paper would be short no more than 3 pages double spaced as a reflection on what the student has learned during the seminar, including any additional questions the students may have. It would be most productive to have this assignment due within 24 hours of the seminar. These papers would be a pass/fail assignment by the seminar professors. Having the professors read the papers, would also enlighten the faculty at Bryn Mawr as to issues of gender and sexuality on campus. Perhaps it would even help some of them make their lesson plans more sensitive to these issues. After the professors have read the papers, they will be read by the seminar facilitators, so that positives and negatives can be noted for the next year.


Works Cited

Amophrast. "Q-Forum: Restructuring and Revising." Web log post. Critical Feminist Studies 2012. Serendip, 5 May 2012. Web. 18 Dec. 2013.

Bryn Mawr College. "The Emily Balch Seminars: Learning across Borders and Boundaries." The Emily Balch Seminars. Bryn Mawr College, 2013. Web. 18 Dec. 2013.

Knox, Grahame. 40 Icebreakers for Small Groups. UK: Creative Commons Works. Print.

Mohanty, Chandrea T., and Biddy Martin. "Feminist Politics: What's Home Got to Do with It?" Femininity Played Straight:The Significance of Being Lesbian. New York: Routledge, 1996. Print.

Sleeter, Christine E. Multicultural Education as Social Activism. Albany: State University of New York, 1996. Print.

Wellness 2012 BMC. Fall 2012 Wellness Syllabus and Information. Bryn Mawr College. Web. 18 Dec. 2013. <>.