February 27, 2014
This past weekend marked a bright, new beginning for organizations dedicated to serving Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans*, Queer/Questioning, Intersex and Asexual (LGBTQIA) students who attend Hamilton College, Colgate University, Hobart and William Smith Colleges, Skidmore College, St. Lawrence University and Union College, or the New York Six Liberal Arts Consortium (NY6).
One hundred thirty-six representatives from these six schools met at Hamilton College for the NY6 Spectrum Conference coordinated by Amit Taneja, Director of Diversity and Inclusion at the Days-Massolo Center. The conference was designed to “help students make connections with peers on other campuses, talk about what it’s like to be an LGBTQIA student, faculty or staff member at an NY6 school and discuss how to foster positive change on our campuses.”
The conference opened with activities that challenged participants to think critically about their intersecting identities and how in each aspect of our identity, whether it’s spirituality, race, class, gender, sexual orientation or citizenship, we can carry privilege or experience discrimination. The goal of these activities was to begin a dialogue highlighting the broad range of experiences students at NY6 schools have within the LGBTQIA community.
A subsequent goal of the conference was to bring attention to the “friendliness” of each of the NY6 campuses. Participants evaluated their respective colleges’ level of LGBTQIA acceptance based on the college’s discrimination policy, attitude toward gender-neutral or gender all-inclusive bathrooms and insurance policies toward LGBTQIA faculty, among other factors.
This activity segued into a discussion on making the NY6 campuses trans* inclusive, or inclusive of all students that identify as non-cisgender.
The unforgettable highlight of the NY6 Spectrum Conference was the inspiring keynote speaker Laverne Cox, a transgender actress who currently stars in the Netflix original series, Orange is the New Black. Cox delivered her speech to about 350 listeners in Wellin Hall on Saturday, speaking about her life growing up in Alabama and her process coming out to her family as transgender. She ended the speech with a Q&A session with the audience members, followed by a meet and greet in which conference members took photos with her.
The second day of the conference featured a panel of speakers under the topic, “Voices from the Margins.” These panelists spoke as underrepresented voices in the LGBTQIA community, their stories ranging from growing up with an intersex identity, to the difficulties encountered when transitioning gender in college, to finding a balance between religion and a queer identity. The conference closed with leaders of various organizations exchanging contact information and participants seeing off their newly made friends.
As stated on the NY6 Spectrum Conference page of the Hamilton College website, “The consortium seeks to facilitate collaboration among members in fulfilling educational missions, serving the public good and enhancing options for students, faculty and staff.”
The NY6 Spectrum Conference served as a vehicle for students to encourage discussion on their own college campuses, trigger intellectual curiosity in various LGBTQIA topics and deepen their understanding of each other, both as a system of higher education and as multiple student bodies.