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8 of 10 peer leaders leave GSC amid leadership turnover

Only two students are currently employed as Gender and Sexuality Center Associates (GSCAs) as of week nine of Spring Term, of the thirteen originally hired to the position for the 2018-2019 academic year.

In Spring 2018, under the leadership of Laura Haave, the office hired thirteen GSCAs for a peer leader position that was to cover the duration of the 2018–19 school year. Three of those students did not return to Carleton in Fall 2018, and ten GSCAs worked Fall term under the interim directorship of Rae Horton, a former Residential Life Area Director.

During winter break, Carleton hired Danny Mathews as GSC Director, and Horton took on the role of Assistant Director. By the end of Winter 2019, Mathews’ first term, eight of ten GSCAs had left their positions.

Current and former GSCAs’ concerns include the development of an unsupportive work environment where student opinions are disregarded, a loss of community in the GSC and a significant decrease in campus engagement with the GSC.

“I initially applied to work at the GSC because there was a strong sense of community among the GSCAs,” said a woman of color who worked as a GSCA in Fall 2018 until leaving midway through Winter term. “The new administration really drove a wedge between every single one of the GSCAs because we felt like we were put under a lot of stress. Things were not being communicated properly. It was a really toxic and unpleasant environment for me to work in, and I was unwilling to be in a space that didn’t feel comfortable for me.”

The GSC, which is located in Clader House, has served as a support system for students on campus in the past. “The GSC was really helpful for me my first year at Carleton,” said Chiraag Gohel ’20, who worked as a GSCA Winter term before leaving the position during finals period to accept a job with the Data Squad.

“Queerness was a very new concept for me when I came to college, and the GSC helped me explore that,” said Gohel. “I learned a lot about myself and I’m very grateful to the GSC for providing that space. But the GSC when I was working there felt like a space where queerness had to be expressed in a very specific way.

“It’s interesting because there’s been a lot of conversation being had campus-wide about why there was almost a mass exodus from the GSCA position,” Gohel continued. “People had valid reasons. Some of them were because of the new leadership, others were for other reasons—a job at Carleton is very stressful.”

“My decision to leave was not purely because of changes in the office,” said Connor McNamee ’20. McNamee worked as a GSCA for nearly two years, beginning in Fall 2017 and leaving the position halfway through Winter 2019. “I was also very academically stressed, and had a lot of other things going on. That being said, I was quickly seeing that what I’d signed up
originally to work for did not exist anymore. The position I enjoyed no longer existed, and the professional staff—specifically Danny—was promoting a toxic work environment that was not cohesive with what the GSCAs wanted and what the student body that used the GSC needed.”

“The Gender & Sexuality Center is amidst transition,” said Mathews. “We believe the GSC is an important part of campus, and we hope to build a team that is excited about engaging the community around topics related to sexuality, gender, and healthy relationships.”

Gohel attributed the shift in the GSC role to the change in leadership. “Maybe it isn’t literally Danny, but more so a lack of Laura,” said Gohel. “When I talked to her I felt very comfortable.”

During Gohel’s interview in Spring 2018 to become a GSCA, Haave asked why Gohel wanted the position. “I wanted to give back to an organization that helped me grow,” said Gohel. “But also I wanted to learn more about myself through this position. The response Laura gave me at the time made it seem very clear that the position is as much for the GSCA as it is for the community.

“With Danny, I didn’t feel like there was a lot of space for self-exploration. It kind of felt like we were doing activities just to do them. It felt like a checkbox, like ‘Do we have Tea Time? Do we have workshops?’”

Gohel perceived a shift in the GSC’s priorities. “Laura made it a point to be a decentralized space where people can feel very comfortable, and it wasn’t necessarily about producing resources constantly,” he said. “To me, that’s what I thought I was signing up for. It wasn’t about results in that very clinical manner.

“I don’t want to say it was Danny’s fault, because there is a lot that the administration is telling him to do that I just don’t know about. I just feel that the GSC was one thing, and then it quickly became this other thing that people couldn’t really recognize. I think change in that acute timeframe is pretty hard to deal with.”

In the 2017-18 year, Gohel worked as an Office of International and Intercultural Life Peer Leader (OPL). “I really liked that because my job felt almost like mentorship, and being a person people can look up to on campus,” said Gohel. “This year, it felt like no one was seeking out the GSC. It didn’t feel like my
job was to be a mentor, or to be an emotional resource—it was sort of like, ‘you are a person who does administrative tasks and puts flyers up,’ which was disappointing.

“Danny made it a point to say that as we lose GSCAs, we were also going to reduce the amount of work we were doing,” continued Gohel. “It’s not like he wanted us to pick up the extra work. But it definitely felt that way.

Student body relationship to the GSC

“Campus-wide it became known that the GSCA was not a coveted position,” said Gohel. “Which is sad, because the GSC was definitely a huge place of community last year. I really felt welcomed and like it was a space that Carleton needed. Then this year, when I came back, people just didn’t come to the GSC. There are only a few freshmen, and people who are friends with GSCAs, who come to the space. I think as the number of GSCAs diminished so did the reputation of the GSC on campus.”

Sergio Demara ’20, McNamee and Gohel all noted a lack of student body use of the GSC.

Demara is one of the two current GSCAs. He will not be staying in the role for the 2019-20 year, and has accepted another job position.

“Now in the office we don’t get any traffic, almost at all. It’s mainly people who live in the interest houses who come by the GSC. Nobody has come to Tea Time for the past two weeks,” said Demara early Spring term.

Tea Time is a weekly event put on by GSCAs in Clader. The recurring event is open to the entire campus.

In Fall 2018 and the 2017-18 school year, Tea Time saw high attendance, according to Demara. “The room was just full of all these people—prospective students came, people from all class years came, it was a very robust trans community and nonbinary community that felt very safe on campus.”

Last year, according to McNamee, turnout varied from five to 35 people. Demara, who led Tea Time in Spring 2019, reported that the event saw, on average, one to three attendees this term.

According to McNamee, lack of Tea Time turnout might be due to Mathews’ approach to the event. “Danny did not like that Tea Time was a purely social activity,” said McNamee. “He thought it was a waste of money. He wanted the GSCAs leading it to come up with topics to discuss that were serious and productive, and for every single Tea Time, they would have to record the number of people who showed up, and write down every single thing that was discussed at the Tea Time. Which I think is creepy and unnecessary.”

“In the past with Tea Time, people have made scones, or really elaborate art projects— getting magazines, collages, making crowns,” said Demara. “There was a playfulness that I felt money could buy. And now, it’s like we’re more contained. The culture shifted. In the past, money was never viewed as an issue with community building.”

“There’s a different adherence to rules and regulations rather than an adherence to community-building, that I think a lot of people are craving on this campus,” said Demara. “In the Fall, we had a radio show around queer solidarity and mental health. We interviewed the artist 2fik. Now, it feels like there’s no money for that type of work to be happening.”

“Danny often would say that he didn’t understand the point of Tea Time and was considering stopping it altogether,” continued McNamee.

“The GSC will continue to provide programs that aim to meet the needs of students,” said Danny Mathews. “There are no plans to discontinue Tea Time or Queer Peers.”

Queer Peers is a GSC-run program intended to “facilitate mentor/mentee relationships between LGBTQA+ students,” as described on the GSC’s website. Currently, students who sign up for the program remain anonymous to everyone besides their assigned mentor and the GSC’s professional staff.

“Danny does not want Queer Peers to be private anymore,” said McNamee. “He did not fully explain why. He said that people
shouldn’t be ashamed of their identities, and it’s empowering for it to not be private. Danny wants the mentee list to be public to all mentors and mentees.”

According to McNamee, such a change would be detrimental to the program. “A lot of people are coming in here not completely knowing what their identities may be, or not fully feeling comfortable being out,” said McNamee. “To encourage everybody to be able to come to Queer Peers as they are and to participate however they want to participate, we do not want to out them. We want the program to be what the mentee wants.

“Last year we started implementing social, fun activities, because that was something heavily requested by Queer Peers. But, similar to Tea Time, Danny did not understand why we were focusing on the social aspect. Carleton already forces so much onto you academically. For queer students at Carleton who want to be introduced to the queer community, those social things are important—especially when the only place to do that otherwise is alcohol-related events.

“Danny does not value community-forming. He is furthering the problems that the community sees at Carleton,” continued McNamee.

“Danny told us: ‘Sometimes you know what people want before they know what they want.’ That’s an almost direct quote,” said McNamee.

Intersectionality issues

The 2017-18 school year was Demara’s first year as a GSCA. According to Demara, that year’s office prioritized “adherence to disability awareness.”

“It was something that our office talked about last year,” said Demara. “It feels like with a smaller staff, there isn’t a lot of room to talk about accessibility and who’s entering the space, and fewer people keeping an eye on different initiatives we want to run.”

When Haave led the GSC, the group held white staff meetings and POC staff meetings, according to Demara. “The white and POC staff meetings would happen every single week. The white staff discussed the book ‘My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies.’ The debrief was always brought to our weekly staff meetings so everybody would be on the same page—and of course separate experiences exist, though the purpose was to encourage a dialogue.”

“Anti-racism was at the forefront of what our office stood for,” continued Demara. “I think coming in from the fall with a new staff, people didn’t think there was a need for it. But I think there’s always a need for it. Obviously we love people, no matter what. But it doesn’t mean people can’t be harmful.”

“We’re told not to be political,” continued Demara. “We’re told to just serve cookies and have people talk about their day. In our meetings we don’t really delve deep into any issues about queer life on campus.”

Rainbow Retreat

The Rainbow Retreat is a weekend-long retreat run by the GSC but facilitated by outside professionals, open to all students who wish to sign up.

Historically, attendance at Rainbow Retreat has been optional for GSCAs, said McNamee, because of conflicts like comps. This year, Mathews required GSCAs to attend.

“He told us Winter term that it was not optional,” said McNamee. “I wouldn’t have minded that if he had told us from the beginning of the year and it had been a discussion. But it was not. We were told.”

Programmatic aspects of the Rainbow Retreat were successful this year, said McNamee. But according to McNamee, Mathews did not approve of the facilitators. “He would talk about them behind their back. To some of the GSCAs, he would say they were unprofessional. He said he does not see the reason for bringing in outside facilitators and he said he did not agree with the way they wanted to run things.”

“Last year, the facilitators suggested that there be times during the retreat when professional staff was not present, so that students could talk about Carleton freely,” said McNamee. “Danny did not like that, and he did not allow it to happen.”

Dynamics between Mathews and GSCAs

“It was already a really difficult decision for me,” said McNamee on choosing to leave his GSCA position. “The GSC was very important to me at Carleton—I just didn’t want to get into it with him. I gave him a note. I told him honestly that I needed to prioritize my mental health and academics, and he took it well.

“But then he did something that made me feel very uncomfortable,” said McNamee, “which was to contact SHAC, give them my name and try to schedule me an appointment to talk about my mental health. Which I thought was unbelievably inappropriate. It was specifically after I said that I did not want him to do that. He’d asked me if I wanted
him to help get me resources and I said I wanted to do it myself. And then he still did that.

“If he’s going to talk about professionalism—it’s unbelievably unprofessional to be revealing personal matters disclosed to you in private,” said McNamee.

“Danny would make unnecessary changes to things, and when we’d ask why he wouldn’t be able to fully explain why,” said McNamee. “He would become combative to the point that after people would bring up issues calmly in staff meetings he would require them to come to office hours after to discuss their aggressive tone.”

“It’s not necessarily that things were communicated improperly, but there was a really large switch about how much input GSCAs had,” said the anonymous former GSCA. “From the beginning of Danny’s time here he essentially said that he was in control of the decisions, and that he could consult us if he felt like it, but ultimately he was going to decide what was and wasn’t going to happen in the GSC.”

“He really laid down the law about talking about inner-office issues, and he framed it in a way like, ‘no more office with gossip,’” the source continued. “When in reality, a lot of the GSCAs including myself had issues with how things were running and we wanted to talk about it—and I would not consider that to be gossip. And it sort of felt as if we weren’t allowed to talk about our own issues.”

“Danny is very much ‘my way or the highway.’ But refuses to admit that,” said McNamee.

According to McNamee, in two instances, Mathews did not immediately inform GSCAs when coworkers left their positions, but rather “pretended” that these GSCAs were still working in the office. “It was this weird secrecy thing—we would mention this person was working there, and he would just go along with it, and we’d find out later that the person didn’t work there anymore.”

The hiring process

Interviews with GSC Director candidates took place in October 2018 and were organized by Human Resources. GSCAs were invited to participate in candidate lunches and talks, and were asked to provide feedback about their opinions on the candidates.

“They hired Danny after every single GSCA that met him said no, he’s not appropriate for the position,” said McNamee. “And every single GSCA who met Marina gave her absolutely fantastic reviews and said that this is who should be the new director.”

Marina Eskander is a queer woman of color who has developed programming and facilitated workshops at universities around the country on queer life, queer and trans people of color (QTPOC), intersectionality in higher education and allyship training, according to her CV. Eskander has professional experience in corporate recruiting, grant writing, and compliance, and has a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and a master’s degree in public health, with a focus on community health and preventive medicine.

“My biggest attribute was that I came in from multiple fields, not only collegiate, so I had corporate behind me and I was a recruiter,” said Eskander. “I was most excited about helping students not just survive college, but thrive after college, and being able to really intertwine their passion with their work so that they didn’t have to go through those dry twenties of just trying to figure it out.”

Eskander said the students she met are “mind-blowing. I was motivated mostly by these students.”

Carleton did not offer the position to Eskander, despite reportedly unanimous student support.

Eskander applied on August 16, 2018, visited Carleton for final-round interviews on October 4, 2018 and found out the college did not select her on October 16, 2018. During her visit to campus, Eskander had group interviews with administrators in the Division of Student Life; many GSCAs who were still in their roles at the time; the search team for the role, which included two staff members, one professor, two students, and one alumna; and several one-on-one interviews with senior leaders in the Division of Student Life—in this case, Dean of Students Carolyn Livingston and Assistant Dean of Students Sindy Fleming, in addition to a meeting with Employment Manager Kristy Sybilrud in Human Resources.

Eskander noted that, in the hiring process, she was told that student input would be the tipping point in her application process. “I was told that these students were the most pivotal point of my time there. They had eleven students scheduled to meet with me,” she said.

“I was told student interviews were the majority and that they were the ones to win over, so I definitely emphasized my efforts there,” said Eskander. “Carleton is not the only college or university that I applied to work for, and it’s becoming kind of clear that there’s a trend in ignoring students when it comes to voicing who gets the next position placement.

“The consistent thing that I’ve witnessed across the board is that queer women of color, specifically black women, are routinely overlooked. And then when they do get hired, they are concentrated in and then basically utilized for every ounce of effort that they have and then removed from the university, whether by force or by pushing them out the door, either by underpaying them and overworking them, or coming in with pretty terrible reviews even after years of committed work. I’ve never seen in my professional career a black woman stay in her position for longer than two or three years,” said Eskander.

Eskander expressed concerns about her interview with Fleming. “She [Fleming] kind of sat me down and let me know that my acumen needed work because I believe I answered a question less than competently. And I remember thinking of that as her taking me under her wing and kind of coaching me, and I’m now realizing that may not have been coaching as much as it was dismissal,” said Eskander.

“I just assumed from another woman of color that she was trying to help,” Eskander continued. “But it was probably the most aggressive of the interview processes, in regards to question-answer—where a lot of folks ask you questions and note your answers. She would ask me a question and then correct my answer. That was a little different for me.

“The entire interview process actually felt like it was going well until I met with her,” Eskander said.

Eskander indicated that her interaction with Fleming reflects larger issues for working women of color, especially in institutional settings. “I think it falls a lot on the fact that, for women of color, there only seems to be room for one or two of us. So when someone else comes in, that does threaten your positionality with the university,” Eskander said.

“There seems to be some kind of maximum quota, and for some reason if you are not in that top one or two, and someone else comes in to challenge that, of course you’re going to get defensive over your job. That’s your survival. I get it, to an extent. I think it’s a behavior that’s been taught.”

The Carletonian reached out to Fleming for a response regarding Eskander’s interview. In email correspondence, Fleming replied that “Carleton is careful to follow all Federal Laws Prohibiting Job Discrimination in our hiring/recruitment processes. In order to protect and maintain employer and applicant privacy, we do not disclose information gathered during the interview process.”

“When it comes to academia, there’s just this weird infection and no one wants to call it what it is,” added Eskander. “Everyone wants to pretend to be incredibly woke when, in fact, it’s incredibly neoliberal and frustrating to insist nothing’s wrong when you have cis white men taking these positions and no femme presence.”

“Danny knew nothing about the GSC coming in,” said McNamee. “The excuse I heard given for why Marina wasn’t hired was that she wasn’t familiar enough with what the GSC was. Danny has shown that he knew nothing about the GSC. He didn’t know what Queer Peers, Tea Time or Rainbow Retreat was, well into the second week. And he had the entire break before to learn. And he never asked us about how things worked.”

“Danny seemed to have no faith that the GSC was a functioning institution before he arrived,” said McNamee. “He never listened when people would say how things used to be, and he would ask them to challenge themselves to think in different ways. Which, to me, translated to ‘You have to think in my way.’”

Looking forward

Eighth week of Spring term, a group of students organized a programming series called Queer Week at the Cave. The week’s events, which included a meet and greet, movie screening and student drag showcase, were not affiliated with the GSC.

Oswaldo Cota ’22, a Cave student worker, had the idea for Queer Week in April 2019. “The need was to have a space specific for LGBTQIA+ Carls that does not involve staff and has Carls from all levels of queer expression,” said Cota.

Cota does not directly attribute Queer Week programming to the GSC’s situation, but said the interaction with the office informed its development. “The plan was to put on Queer Week regardless,” he said. “My original plan was to do it informally through the GSC. However, the lack of organization and the censorship that the GSC has exhibited this term has disgusted me and made me feel that once again institutional bureaucracy is bogging down the sociopolitical liberation that queer Carls deserve on campus.”

“I think Queer Week mainly arose out of a desire for queer students to take the direction of Carleton queerness into their own hands, said Ilan Friedland ’21, a Cave student worker. “It wasn’t meant as a ‘fuck you’ to the GSC, but rather out of a respect that community has to come from the bottom up. Institutional queerness has been largely disappointing because institutionalizing is largely disappointing!”

“Where’s the anger? Where’s the need for justice?” asked Cota. “The need to reclaim space that we deserve just as much as our white cis-hetero counterparts? Queer Week would have happened with or without GSC’s competence.”

“We hope that the Gender and Sexuality Center can be a welcoming place for all members of the Carleton community, and we will continue to provide programs and resources that support students,” said Mathews over email.

McNamee expressed doubt that the GSC would recruit new GSCAs for the 2019-20 year. “I know one freshman who was ecstatic about about applying at the beginning of the year and then became so uncomfortable with how the office was going that they no longer wanted to apply, and I do not know of any freshmen who have applied,” said McNamee. “I don’t know of any freshmen who like the GSC.”

“We are currently hiring staff for the 2019-2020 calendar,” said Mathews. “Anyone interested in applying to be a part of the GSC team can access the application on the GSC website.”

Campus-wide Peer Leader position offers were sent out on April 24, 2019. A mandatory peer leader training was held on the evening of Tuesday, May 21.

“I don’t think there is a future if we continue down this path,” said McNamee. “We don’t have enough staff now, we won’t have enough staff next year, students are not interested in it. We’ve seen every single program dramatically decrease in interest and attendance.”

“From any cultural organization, the removal of students changes the functioning from emotional and aimable to administrative,” said Gohel. “The GSC can still function as a literal resource for queer students on campus. It can provide the pamphlets, it can provide the condoms—which are necessary things. It will just struggle in terms of outreach, and the support that only students can provide for other students.”

Gohel mentioned an instance during his New Student Week when a GSCA introduced themselves to him and described the GSC. “I was just starting to become comfortable with how I view myself in terms of queerness. And that very human connection— and student connection, with someone else who has probably struggled with this and exists in the same sort of space that I do—is so helpful, and I don’t think the GSC can provide that if there are no GSCAs.”

“The GSC is dependent on students,” said McNamee. “Danny is frankly incompetent. He is resistant to any critique or suggestions that he didn’t come up with himself. He makes students uncomfortable. He makes the staff not want to work there—which is pretty obvious by the number of people who’ve left. I think it’ll become an obsolete office if he’s still there. I genuinely think that nobody will ever use the office if it continues down this path.”

“I see the only solution as removing Danny,” said McNamee. “He will say it himself: he’s a 40-year-old man, and he knows better than the students. He’s told that to every single one of the GSCAs. I just have no faith in Danny whatsoever.”

“Danny is the biggest evidence I’ve seen of the disconnect between the Carleton student body and professional staff,” said McNamee.

2 Comments

  1. JLS JLS May 31, 2019

    I also have no faith in Danny. I used to love going to Tea Time, and now it’s a completely dead space. I want the social aspect back. We need someone who actually cares what the students want, and doesn’t try to tell us what we want.
    I would rather see the entire LGBT+ community reorganize away from Danny than try to deal with him further.

  2. Nathanael Nathanael June 21, 2019

    Unbelievable. This is a clear-cut case: Mathews should be fired, and should never have been hired in the first place.

    Carleton Administration will probably not be willing to hire Eskander because of a cover-your-ass inability to admit error, but they *have* to fire Mathews. It’s also worth finding out *who the hell made the final decision to hire Mathews in the first place*, because whoever that person is is not suitable for *their* job.

    At least when I was at Carleton the terrible hiring decisions (and there were several very bad staff hiring decisions) all appeared to be honest mistakes. This, by contrast, is malicious.

    Nathanael Nerode ’00.

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