While the Student Activities Fair on Wednesday presented a vast range of organizations for students to join, two groups—Gender Matters and the Mental Health Group—went unrepresented among the tables as they once again chose to forgo the Bowdoin Student Government (BSG) charter process this semester. In doing so, both groups forfeit their recognition as official BSG clubs and their ability to receive funding from the Student Activities Funding Committee (SAFC). However, leaders say that the privacy that students maintain and the freedom of discussion in these groups are worth the tradeoff. 

Gender Matters is a discussion-based group for students who identify as non-binary or trans.

Paul Cheng ’17, who has helped run the group since his sophomore year, points to issues of privacy as a reason the group has never sought a charter.

“Most of the people in our group are not anonymous, but the idea is that if someone wanted to be, we wanted to give them that option to join the group and remain anonymous and not appear on any lists,” Cheng said. 

Similar to Gender Matters, the Mental Health Group, a discussion-based support group for students who have had personal experiences with mental health issues, has also been unchartered since its inception in 2015. Leaders cited privacy as a benefit to remaining unchartered. Co-founder of the group Pat Toomey ’17 explained that because mental health issues tend to be stigmatized on campus, he and the other leaders believe that “anonymity is key” in boosting attendance and peer support.

“Anecdotally, we’ve just heard from a lot of people that they have fears of being forced on medical leave or things like that,” Toomey said. “We really wanted to make sure that people who needed to come to the meeting were able to come and not be afraid to.”

In addition to privacy, Cheng said that Gender Matters’ status as an unchartered group allows it to be a safe space exclusively for student who identify as trans or nonbinary to discuss struggles with gender identity.

“Chartered groups need … to not have restrictions on who can join the group,” said Cheng. “[Gender Matters] is a group for nonbinary, trans students, etc., so the idea behind that is we want it to be a group just for those students.” 

While the group typically has six or seven members, it rose to the forefront of campus news at the end of last semester in response to a proposed “Gender Bender” party at MacMillan House. Members of the group spoke out against the party in a letter to MacMillan which was then published in the Orient. 

Toomey also explained that being unchartered allows the group more freedom in its discussions of mental health.

“We could either charter it and have it be closely associated with ResLife and the Office of Student Life, but in that case we would have to have really set guidelines in terms of what we talked about and how we talked about it,” said Toomey. “We also wouldn’t want students to fear that what they said might get back to the administration, whether that meant ResLife or the Counseling Center.”

The Mental Health Group receives funding for poster advertising and tea at weekly meetings through the Health Education budget, managed by Assistant Director of Health Promotion and Education Christian Van Loenen and Gender Matters receives funding through the Resource Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity Director Kate Stern to put on trans visibility day in the spring.