Even though a campus may become more diverse in terms of the numbers of underrepresented groups present, the level of engagement can still be inconsequential if those representing different viewpoints are not encouraged and supported to express them. If an institution is not prepared to make space, figuratively speaking, for previously excluded groups, and support their presence on campus, its diversity efforts cannot succeed.
-President Liebowitz, Baccalaureate Address 2007
While activists have made admirable progress in our culture in terms of gender equality—women can vote, same-gender couples can be married in certain states, etc.—we do not live in a post-gender world. Gender affects everyone, both in our country as a whole and in our college community. Homophobia, sexism, and transphobia present daily struggles in the lives of many Middlebury students, staff, and faculty. These problems will not resolve themselves. It is not enough to simply educate ourselves as advocates if we do not use our understanding of oppression and privilege to make this community safer and more inclusive.
Just as the Environmental Council has achieved long-term institutional progress toward sustainability, we are harnessing the passion of anti-oppression activists on campus to effect broad systemic change. In a society where gender is deeply intertwined with race, class, disability, sexuality, and nationality, campus organizations cannot afford to work independently of each other. By forming a permanent, grass-roots, centralized coalition of students, faculty, and staff, we have a greater chance of building a community that reflects the notions of inclusivity and equality in Middlebury’s Mission Statement.
This is not simply a reactionary organization—meaning that the Council will not dissolve after solving a few problems on campus. Instead, the Council format has been carefully chosen because it most effectively embodies three core values of social justice activism:
- ‘Entanglement-minded’ approach: While the Council’s focus is on gender, many gendered problems intersect with policies and cultural assumptions related to class, race, religion, etc. Therefore, we cannot hope to see fundamental progress without simultaneously focusing our efforts on multiple areas of social justice. However, certain problems are not always readily visible to those who have not experienced them personally. In order to effect fundamental change, the Council seeks to advise the Administration with as many different voices and perspectives as possible.
- Permanent presence: The Council’s staying power as a formal body arises from its consistent devotion to progress. With the help of the Council, Middlebury has been able to more effectively create progressive policies and educational opportunities related to gender. The permanent existence of the Council will ensure that the College as an institution is held accountable for all of its policies that pertain to gender, race, disability, etc. A permanent presence helps ensure consistent progress throughout future years.
- Community accountability: The founding members of PGCOM made the deliberate decision to not officially integrate into the formal structure of the College. It is the belief of this council that pre-existing institutional bodies and officials have failed to remain accountable to the complex needs of marginalized community members primarily because they are instead accountable to the corporate interests of the college, which historically have been entangled in the interests of capital, white supremacy, imperialism, the gender binary, heteronormativity, compulsory able-bodiedness and neurotypicality, US nationalism, etc. While we are never ourselves untainted by these interlocking systems of oppression, and while we will work critically with administrative offices to produce change, this council belongs to the campus community, and its structure is meant to reflect a dedication to those who seek a safe, responsive, and affirming alternative to inadequate institutional avenues of change.
The Council serves as a clearinghouse for ideas, and advises the Administration on gender-related policy. In doing so, the Council fulfills three main functions:
1) Education and Outreach:
a) Community-building: The Council strives to reach out to all campus community members to ensure that gender is understood as a complex institution that affects everyone.
b) Guidance: The Council seeks to provide resources and avenues (advising, etc.) for student, staff, and faculty projects with a focus on gender issues on campus. These projects may be critical studies, advocacy and awareness events, or attempts to improve gender relations on campus.
c) Privilege-checking: The Council critically examinex and deconstruct the relationship between privilege and power on our campus. Because privilege remains invisible, and thus dangerous unless it is constantly checked, the Council makes a strong effort to raise awareness among students with racial, gendered, economic, sexual, and able-bodied privilege. The Council aims to bring these intersecting identities to the foreground of all conversations regarding gender on campus. Discussions surrounding our identities and our power should be open, respectful, and safe.
2) Policy Formation:
a) Advising: Gender-related policy should be informed by a complex interplay of theory, studies done at similar colleges, and first-hand experiences at Middlebury College. In other words, just as policymakers turn to Environmental experts when they make decisions that impact the environment, we encourage them to now similarly draw on the knowledge and experience of gender advocates and activists on this Council when making decisions that pertain to gender.
b) Prevention: The Council is not simply be a reactionary organization that fixes problems after they arise. Our policies aim to prevent conflicts related to gender before crises occur.
c) Reinforcement: The Council works to bridge the gap between the College’s Nondiscrimination and Anti-Harassment policies and the current policies and practices on campus that disadvantage students who should be protected under these policies.
d) Grassroots participation: The Council is always open for input from the rest of the community, by way of this website where other community members can post ideas for potential policy changes, and by way of regular open meetings.
3) Interdisciplinary Dialogue:
a) Gender across the curriculum: The Council seeks to facilitate conversations surrounding gender across and within all departments of the College. In other words, these conversations should not be seen as the exclusive terrain of the humanities, as they are often assumed to be. Gender should be seen as a complex issue that involves politics and economics as much as it does the humanities.
b) Coalitional approach: The Council itself works to inspire a broad-based coalition of all student groups, staff, faculty, and community organizations that have an interest in gender, which will endure for years to come. Having an interest in gender can encompass anyone from a professor who has devoted their life to Gender Studies, to a student who wrote an essay on a particular gender issue.
[W]e have considerable work to do if we truly aspire to be a community that welcomes diversity and wishes to learn from it.