Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
Last Tuesday, November 11, Mawrtyrs packed Dalton to attend a discussion entitled “Straight at Bryn Mawr.” The discussion was organized by the Community Diversity Assistants to give students a place to have a frank and honest conversation about what it means to be a straight woman at an all-women’s college.
The discussion organizers requested that a tape recorder not be used; in respect of the “safe space,” quotes in this article will remain anonymous.
The CDAs began by asking why the students in attendance decided to come to the discussion. The answers were wide-ranging.
“I came here because…I said last year ‘wouldn’t it be great to have a discussion about being straight at Bryn Mawr,’” one student replied. Another student said, “I’m perfectly comfortable being straight [here]. I wasn’t aware that being straight at Bryn Mawr was a problem.” A third said that prospective students frequently ask her what it’s like to be straight at Bryn Mawr and she was interested in hearing other students’ thoughts.
Next, the CDAs asked people to write down their first impressions after seeing posters and receiving emails advertising the event. The CDAs read some of the responses aloud. “I thought Bryn Mawr was a place where sexuality would be embraced…Discrimination goes in both directions,” wrote one student.
Another response read, “I was flabbergasted that someone with so much privilege would feel that way.” The statement sparked much discussion.
The idea that straight students are privileged and what that privilege means on the Bryn Mawr campus dominated the conversation for a significant portion of the evening.
One student said, “Maybe it’s okay for people of privilege to feel guilty…[it] makes them realize [their] stature.” Another student commented, “There’s a certain level of awareness that comes from being uncomfortable.”
“Straight woman have almost the entire world…for many queer students, Bryn Mawr is the only place like that they have…It’s nice to be normal,” a third student said about the subject. Yet other students argued, “No one wants to be made to feel marginalized…the same thing goes for straight women.”
Another topic of conversation was the implications that can accompany being straight at Bryn Mawr.
“Particularly at Bryn Mawr, the label of straight…comes along with a lot of connotations…that word ‘straight’ has a lot of meanings,” stated one student. A different student said, “Straightness assumes a kind of narrow-mindedness.”
Students also discussed the need to come out as straight.
“I’ve had to come out as straight hardcore,” one student said, especially after she cut her hair short. “Everyone here has had to defend their sexuality. Everyone’s had to come out,” an additional student said, commenting on the questioning most Bryn Mawr students receive from family and friends at home about choosing to attend a women’s college.
Most students considered the conversation to be a success. While the conversation was scheduled to end at 9:30, many students in attendance requested that it continue for an extra half hour. Interest was also expressed in having another forum later in the year.