On Thursday, November 14, Carleton Student Association (CSA) President Anesu Masakura ’20 sent a campus-wide email entitled “GSC Statement.” “I invite folx to share their feelings about their experiences with the GSC and its changes,” reads the statement from Gender and Sexuality Center (GSC) Director Danny Mathews. A URL included at the end of the email links to an anonymous feedback form with one question: “What are your feelings about the GSC and your experiences with the office?”
Last Spring, the Carletonian reported that of the ten students employed as Gender and Sexuality Associates (GSCAs) in Fall 2018, only two had retained the position by the end of Spring term. Mathews was hired during December 2018, and all eight departures occurred after the change in leadership.
Four former GSCAs interviewed in the Spring 2019 Carletonian article raised concerns about “the development of an unsupportive work environment where student opinions were disregarded, a loss of community in the GSC and a significant decrease in campus engagement with the GSC.”
“Over the last several months, the GSC has experienced some changes,” reads Mathews’ statement. “The professional staff in our office are available to meet one on one for conversations about these topics.”
“We care about supporting LGBTQIA+ people and communities at Carleton and maintaining a space that is welcoming and inclusive,” Mathews continues.
The statement came about largely because of the efforts of Ozzy Cota ’22, who met with Mathews individually on Tuesday, November 5. “I met with Danny to voice my concerns, as a queer and nonbinary student, about what the GSC was doing,” said Cota.
“I suggested he send me a statement about what the GSC was doing,” said Cota.
“I suggested that he send me a statement about what the GSC will be doing as a next step forward, considering all the harm and chaos that has been happening,” said Cota. “I also suggested he acknowledge any residual and rightful anger that some of these students may have by attaching an anonymous Google form for feedback.”
Cota, who serves as a Class of 2022 Representative on CSA Senate, reported on their conversation with Mathews to Senate on Monday, November 11.
In their Senate address, Cota said “I have been working on fixing the relations of the GSC. During my conversation with Danny, he made a series of acknowledgements and apologized for the way that space has been characterized and more importantly has acted. We shifted the conversation to talk about what would rebuilding trust look like.”
Cota believed Mathews’ statement should be released by the students in Senate, as opposed to the GSC or the Dean of Students Office. “CSA Senate represents the student body,” noted Cota. “Sending the statement to students via Senate shows that this message has been deliberated on by straight, cisgender, and queer students on Senate. I didn’t want it to be a clinical thing presented by Danny, whose credibility is underground, or the Dean’s office, because then it might appear like the administration had been doing this work. The reality is that students worked on this. It was a student-led initiative—it shows that students have the power to get things done through conversations.”
Cota met with Vice President and Dean of Students Carolyn Livingston on October 16 to discuss the GSC. “She said that if students did have concerns about Danny, they’d have the liberty to file a Human Resources complaint,” said Cota. “It’s interesting because I didn’t know we had Human Resources.”
“Students should complete community concern forms if they have concerns, observations, or questions regarding faculty, staff, visitor, or student behavior,” said Livingston. “Faculty concerns are addressed by the Dean of the College, student concerns by the Dean of Students. Human Resources is involved if there is a concern relating to students employment and each division is made aware of the concern and will work with HR to resolve the student employment issue.”
“One of the things Senate is working on, and that I will be working on, is trying to understand the Human Resources process and streamline that information,” said Cota. “So if in the future a situation comes where another staff member is being problematic to the community and action needs to be taken, there will be an accessible and easy way of doing it without having to go through all this work.”
GSC office staff
Of the two GSCAs employed at the end of Spring 2019, one is currently studying abroad, and the other is now working for another Division of Student Life office.
Currently, three students are employed as GSCAs, all of whom are new to the position: Anna Bridgeman ’22, LouLou Ferrer ’21 and Veronica Alvarez-Zavala ’22.
This Fall, the GSC hired eight office assistants, a new GSC position. The position was not assigned as a summer employment assignment to first-years, but rather advertised and filled early fall term. While GSCAs are considered peer leaders, office assistants are not, and their tasks are more administrative than programmatic, said Bridgeman. Six of the eight office assistants are first-years, Bridgeman said. Mathews declined to confirm this number.
“Our GSC Office Assistants have been a great addition to the team,” said Mathews. “Students are an important part of the work happening in the GSC, and we will continue to offer opportunities for students to get involved at whatever level they are comfortable.”
Bridgeman applied to be a GSCA during the peer leader application period in Spring 2019.
As a prospective student, Bridgeman attended a GSC event. “I loved it, and had a great time. I thought: ‘This is the job I want to have when I come to Carleton.’ Last year, things were going on with the GSC, but I just said to myself: ‘I’m going to make prospie Anna happy, and apply for the job anyway.’”
“Some days after I applied for the job, the Carletonian article came out, and that was stressful, definitely. I thought: ‘What have I done?’ But I talked to one of the GSCAs who stayed, which was a reassuring conversation,” Bridgeman continued.
“I’ve had a good experience working at the GSC,” said Bridgeman. “It’s been nothing where I’ve thought I needed to leave. I don’t want to invalidate people who had those feelings, because I’m sure there were reasons. But for me, it hasn’t been bad; it’s a nice job. My experience with Danny has just been in staff meetings, when he’s mostly just checking in on what everyone is working on.”
“My experiences with Danny’s leadership are very different than the GSCAs from last year,” said Ferrer. “The past and the present are very different things. He’s trying to adapt more to the Carleton system. He has good intentions, entirely. I personally don’t have tension with him—not to invalidate anyone else’s experience.”
Current GSC efforts
Tea Time, a weekly social event hosted by the GSC, has seen low attendance this term, according to Bridgeman.
“Attendance has been pretty low, and it’s about half people who work at the GSC,” said Bridgeman. “So it’s kind of disappointing.”
“In terms of who comes to the GSC, the demographics are different this year,” said Ferrer. “We have a significant amount of first-years. My first year at Carleton it was more of a balance between first-years and upperclassmen.”
A November 5 GSC e-newsletter included a link to a “Tea Time Experience Survey,” which included questions regarding students’ attendance at and preferences about the event.
“We’re trying to get student feedback to try to revamp it and bring it back to life,” Bridgeman continued. “We’re trying to figure out ways to make it more interactive, to keep things exciting.”
“In looking at survey responses, a lot of the reason people enjoy Tea Time is for community-building,” said Bridgeman. “And it’s kind of hard to build a community when there’s no one there.”
On August 30, an Instagram account by the handle @c.a.r.l.s2019 posted an image of a rainbow-striped raised fist, with text reading: “What else do we need to prove? Fire Danny Mathews now! Protest Danny Mathews, save the GSC; LGBTQ+ Carl Communities deserve better.”
The post was uploaded by a new coalition called Carls Advocating for the Rights of LGBTQIA and Sexual Identities (CARLS), founded by Cota and two former GSCAs.
The Instagram account currently has 81 followers, and the post advocating for Mathews’ firing received 35 likes.
“We made the post because we were upset over the things that had transpired during Danny’s leadership,” said Cota. “We decided to make the first agenda item the firing of Danny Mathews and the restoration of the GSC as a safe space. That was our position coming into fall term.”
CARLS no longer advocates for firing Mathews. Neither does Cota personally.
“I changed my mind the moment I left Danny’s office,” said Cota. “I thought: it actually seems like we can do something now. All the effort and resources we would’ve put into firing him can be put into creating new, diverse initiatives.”
“I think that Danny has proven himself to care about making a positive change on our campus,” said one of the former GSCAs who founded CARLS with Cota. “He is simply learning to familiarize himself with our campus and its infrastructure.”
“There was a lot of anger and hurt that was very much palpable and evident in the queer communities at Carleton,” said Cota. “But we are no longer advocating for firing Danny Mathews.”
Cota pointed to other dynamics that caused CARLS to reconsider its stance on Mathews. “The problems that arose with advocating for his firing were connected to the conflation of anti-Danny rhetoric with general animosity for the GSC,” said Cota.
“Since the Carletonian article came out, there has not been any visible effort toward trying to fix the GSC situation. Cisgender and heterosexual folk are capitalizing on this ‘woke’ activism, where now it’s the ‘right’ thing to be against the GSC, without any genuine concern for what that means for queer communities.”
“I think the route I took was very difficult, personally and emotionally,” said Cota of their activism this term. “Change can happen on campus, but if you’re going to have such a strong initiative, make sure you’re taking care of yourself first. And make sure you do most of the work when you’re on break—that made this a lot easier for me. I’d done a lot of the researching, reaching out, and brainstorming over the summer.”
“This all goes to show how important dialogue is, continued Cota. “In a perfect world, I would’ve liked to have been my radical self. But for the sake of bettering the queer community as it stands, there was that ideological sacrifice I had to make. And it seems to be working for the better. So, here’s to change.”
“Right now, we’re in a stage of trying to figure out what role the GSC can serve for students, and trying to figure out how to re-engage students who’ve stopped coming,” said Bridgeman. “We’ve had pretty good engagement with the first-year class, which has been really exciting. We’re just trying to make sure people know that the GSC is a space that’s open and available for them.”
“We knew going in that there was this tension around the GSC,” said Ferrer. “That was part of why I wanted to work there: to help ease that tension. We need positivity.”
“The GSC is going through a process of healing,” Ferrer continued. “We’re trying to connect with other offices, and we’re trying to expand more around campus. We’re trying to heal. We want people to come to the GSC, we want people to show up, and relax.”
“I have full confidence in the leadership of GSC, the GSCAs, and the student assistants who are conducting meaningful and thoughtful work with and for the GSC,” said Livingston.
“Ultimately, it is my goal to communicate that the GSC still cares and that we’re here for every student,” reads Mathews’ statement in the all-campus email. “I hope each of you will join us as the Gender and Sexuality Center turns the page and begins a new chapter.”