October 24, 2013
This year, Hamilton’s third annual “Out & Ally List” received a record number of total signatures—895. According to Director of Diversity & Inclusion Amit Taneja, the list grew 56 percent from its 573 total signatures in 2012. Taneja believes Hamilton could have one of the largest lists in the U.S.
“As a percentage, I would be shocked if we were not…the biggest list period, across the country,” he said, noting that he has not yet been able to verify this assertion.
While no national database exists on the out and ally lists that American college campuses publish each year, a comparison of Hamilton with its neighbor to the west, Syracuse University, is illuminating. In 2012, Syracuse published a “You are not alone” list on National Coming Out Day in support of the LGBTQ community that garnered only around 400 signatures. The campus is home to 21,000 students, making its student body about eleven times the size of Hamilton’s.
Unlike Syracuse’s list, Hamilton’s is broken into two sections. Hamilton students, alumni and faculty have the option of signing the “out” list, identifying themselves as members of the LGBTQ community. Those who sign the “ally” list declare themselves allies to LGBTQ individuals at Hamilton, promising to actively support their rights “to live and learn in an environment free of harassment and discrimination.” This year’s out list grew to 60 students, up 46 percent from 2012, and the ally list skyrocketed to 592 students for an increase of 85 percent.
In the planning stages of the 2013 campaign, Rainbow Alliance co-chair Jose Vazquez ’15 set a goal of 1000 signatures. While the list did not reach that number, he was still “very excited” about this year’s numbers.
The main role of Hamilton’s Rainbow Alliance in coordinating the list was publicity, which Vazquez believes was a stronger effort this year.
“The outreach and marketing this year was fantastic, and I think that really brought us up to almost double the amount of signatures this year,” Vazquez said.
The club publicized the list sign-ups through a variety of avenues such as social media, both individual and all-campus emails, and a poster campaign. This year, Rainbow also collected signatures by setting up a table in the Beinecke Student Village where participants could sign their names on a Google Doc using iPads. Hamilton students whom The Spectator spoke to noticed this year’s increased publicity efforts. Candice McCardle ’15 saw more posts on Facebook, and Melissa Segura ’14 observed an increase in all-campus e-mails.
Taneja introduced the list to Hamilton when he came to the Hill in 2011 as director of the then newly-established Days-Massolo Center, which promotes diversity and inclusion on the Hill. Similar LGBTQ support lists exist on campuses all across the country, though they are a fairly new trend.
“When I came out in college in 1996, there was no way to figure out who else was queer, and before I had come out, I didn’t know who to talk to,” said Taneja. “I wish I had something like this.”
As Taneja explained, the lists serve as a resource for LGBTQ students, especially those who may be questioning or who may feel unsafe.
“It’s a way to share to them that hey, not only are there out people on campus who are here to be supportive if you decide to come out or even if you’re questioning… but that there are also allies who are doing work to make the campus a safe space,” Taneja said.
Rainbow Alliance e-board member Doug Santoro ’14 came out as gay during his freshman fall at Hamilton—a year before Taneja introduced the lists. When he had the option to sign the “out” list his sophomore year, he thought it might put too much emphasis on his sexuality and felt strange about assigning himself to a list.
“I decided to sign it because by signing it I was letting people know that I was out, and that it’s okay to be out on this campus,” said Santoro.
This year, Vazquez liked that Rainbow decided to focus more heavily on what it means to be an ally. Taneja believes that promising to be an ally signifies “taking it a step further and saying I’m actively pledging to do something.”
Levitt Center Leadership Programming Coordinator Sharon Topi signed the list as an ally to make LGBTQ students aware that she is a resource for them. “It’s important for me that students know that I’m a supportive person that they can come to. Not just my students… but anybody on campus.”
Topi, as well as McCardle and Segura, who also signed the ally list, cited their own personal views of LGBTQ issues as being important as a main reason for signing. Topi noted that the increased visibility of the campaign helped bring her to actually sign.
So what do the 895 signatures mean?
“People are finally paying attention,” Topi said, “but also I think people are becoming braver about having their name made public… I do think we’re seeing a cultural shift in the direction of acceptance.” Santoro agreed that the jump in signatures means “a shift in the campus culture in general,” but one that is in part rooted in a shift in U.S. culture.
Ultimately, Taneja values the pledge that signers have made over the increased numbers.
“It’s not about a number thing for me,” he said. “It’s about what commitment people make. I hope that folks who are out continue to provide support to those folks who are new to the coming out process or questioning.”