Home away from 24 College: SWAG center supports intimate community-building
September 18, 2020
A space known for its open doors to women and LGBTQ+ students on campus, the Sexuality, Women and Gender Center (SWAG) at 24 College Street offers warm conversations and friendly companionship over tea in the kitchen or around pizza in the garage. However, as many students cannot gather on campus, this semester, the SWAG center must reimagine its ways of providing support to students virtually while also offering immersive, inclusive events to students on campus.
One of the SWAG center’s signature traditions, the weekly “Quinner” (queer dinner), brings queer-identifying students together for discussions, community-building and games, sometimes with on- or off-campus guests and alumni joining. This semester, Quinners are held on Tuesdays, conducted both online and in-person. To further develop a sense of camaraderie, the SWAG center started a new weekly “Quessert” for on-campus students to gather over dessert.
Kate Stern, director of the SWAG center and associate dean of student affairs for inclusion and diversity, observed that student need for finding community is more prominent now than ever—roughly 30 students signed up for the inaugural Quessert this semester, exceeding the original capacity and compelling the organizers to open up another time slot.
“It was a real eye-opener that there are people who are [still] looking for community and looking for connection,” said Stern in a phone interview with the Orient. “So we’re trying [to] balance doing some things virtually and some things in person because there’s definitely a need for community connection in both of those cases.”
“We’ve only had two [events so far]. The energy felt really positive; people are sharing ideas for what they want to do,” she added. “The feedback I’m getting makes me glad that we have the capacity and the space to do the programs in person.”
While these public events draw larger attendance, the SWAGcenter also offers more intimate and private interactions to accommodate different needs of queer-identifying students, especially those who prefer one-on-one meetings. This is aimed at addressing the specific realities of living as a member of the queer community—realities that are still present despite the unique circumstances of this semester.
“Every year, there are students who are not out with their floormates and roommates and nervous about coming to 24 College—what will that mean and how would that be perceived—and I’m sure that’s still the case this year,” said Stern.
For students with adverse home environments, being off-campus—which reduces their accessibility to College institutions such as the SWAG center—means more barriers to meeting and catching up with their campus community. Stern assures students that a variety of timing, location and platform preferences are available, should they be needed.
“If someone is looking to connect but nervous to come to one of our events, they can reach out…and we can meet them somewhere else on campus to chat if people aren’t ready to show up at an event,” she added. “We’re able to, maybe on our phone and their phone, wherever they are in the world, we can go for a walk and talk together.”
This semester, the SWAG center’s usual training programs such as OutPeers and OutAllies will continue to help train respectively LGBTQ-identifying and non-LGBTQ-identifying students to serve as mentors and advocates for the queer community.
In keeping with previous semesters, the center is also maintaining student leadership and allyship this fall through a variety of organizations. Stern stressed their importance for a mostly remote Bowdoin semester.
“[We] have been working with some student groups to help them think creatively, whether it’s the Bowdoin Women’s Association, the Womxn of Color Coalition or Gender Matters, QTBIPOC… there are different student groups that we’re supporting that can reach out and connect with students as well,” she said.
Under campus status yellow, Stern is encouraging on-campus students to reach out and schedule an in-person visit to the SWAG center.
“This is my thirteenth year at 24 College, and throughout the years, I periodically hear students say, ‘I love sitting in the kitchen,’ or, ‘I love sitting in the living room; it feels like home.’ And then some students will add, ‘Not like my home, but like home,’” said Stern. “I want to find ways to recreate [the center] as a home for them.”
“I do worry about people who are feeling really alone, wherever they are right now. And I just want to put out the invitation to connect,” she added. “Wherever you are in the world, we can go for a walk and talk together.”
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