It might be expected that many women-loving-women would choose to attend a historically women’s college. However, LGBTQ+ members of Meredith’s community may be less welcomed than one might think. According to several students, the culture at Meredith is not as open as it could or should be to LGBTQ+ individuals. Beyond just issues surrounding homophobia on campus, there are also questions about the college’s official stance on gender identity in admissions. What can Meredith as an administration do better, and what needs to change on campus? The Herald interviewed three students to find out.
Han Hudson, ‘22, who describes themself as a “queer, nonbinary person,” says that their “sexuality and gender identity affect [their] daily life on campus, especially because [they] do not identify as a woman at a traditionally women's college.” This is an issue which Meredith has been unclear about. The Daily Tar Heel reported in 2017 that “Meredith College…[does] not currently have policies explicitly addressing transgender admissions.” That article noted that while fellow North Carolina “women-only” colleges Bennett College and Salem College have addressed transgender and nonbinary student admissions by either explicitly changing their admissions requirements or including gender identity and expression in their nondiscrimination statement, Meredith has not addressed gender identity at all. Meredith’s nondiscrimination policy for undergraduate students says that “Meredith College admits women students of any age, race, creed, sexual orientation, national and ethnic origin,” but does not further expound on the admission of women who were assigned male at birth or about those who do not identify within the gender binary.
Regardless of the college’s official policy, there are students at Meredith who do not fit the role of a typical female student in their gender identity. Speaking about being a nonbinary student at Meredith, Han Hudson says, “I find myself hesitant to be open about my sexuality and identity on campus. In class when I am referred to as she/her by professors and students, this is when I'm uncomfortable about being officially out.” Hudson also says that as much as they wish they could say Meredith is welcoming to its LGBTQ+ students, they “honestly don't know.” They went on to say, “Although I have felt that certain individuals at Meredith have been welcoming, I have never felt fully comfortable...I find myself feeling like I don't fit into the mold of what it means to be in the sisterhood.” The idea of this “sisterhood” is often wound up in the idea of heteronormativity, too, as Hudson notes. For example, the traditions revolving around men from NC State coming to serve students pancakes or the frequent mentioning of Meredith students dating male NC State students assume that all Meredith students are attracted to men. This sort of male-oriented culture on campus disregards LGBTQ+ students’ experiences. However, on the other hand, Hudson says that something that has been encouraging to them has been the increase in students, including those who are cisgender, including their pronouns in their names on Zoom. They hope that this practice will continue offline and that students will begin giving their pronouns when they introduce themselves in class.
Kate Polaski, ‘23, agrees with Hudson that Meredith “could be doing a lot more to openly support and advocate for the rights of LGBTQ+ students.” Polaski identifies as a bisexual woman, which she further specifies means for her that she is attracted to her own gender and anyone not of her gender, including nonbinary people. She says that she experienced something uncomfortable on campus the first few weeks she was here as a student: she was playing a board game with several new friends and one person used a derogatory slur towards LGBTQ+ women. Polaski says the microaggression stuck with her because “the idea that without discussing it, [the other student] assumed everyone in the room was heterosexual, like she somehow would have been able to tell if we were queer...really hurt at that moment, for a girl who had sincerely been hoping she'd found an accepting group of friends at a new school.” Polaski says that Meredith should “make it clear that homophobia and transphobia will not be tolerated on campus” and ensure that students actually know how to report discrimination and be clear that they will take action against those who have been reported on.
An alumna from the Class of 2020, who requested to stay anonymous, says that while she was not commonly out as a bisexual woman during her time at Meredith, she wishes that Meredith would make more of an effort to show students that they are supportive of all sexual and gender identities. As someone who was on the leadership board of Spectrum, the campus’s club devoted to providing a safe space for LGBTQ+ students and allies, the alumna says that Meredith needs to “put more funding towards their minority organizations, not just Spectrum, and make a conscious effort to advertise their minority clubs beyond just listing them in student handbooks or having them present at the club fair.” She also states, similarly to Polaski, that “Meredith has to address the instances of minority harassment and discrimination on campus, and seriously punish students who break the Code of Conduct.”
All three students wish to share advice with other LGBTQ+ students on campus. Han Hudson recommends finding people “who you know will lift you up, support you and respect your boundaries!” The alumna emphasizes that whether someone is confident in their identity or just now questioning or experimenting, they are valid. She adds that “if you need someone to talk to, the LGBT+ Center at [NC] State or downtown Raleigh is a great place.” Kate Polaski reminds students, “You are worthy of love and respect and human decency. There are people here who will give you all those things. You might have to look around a little bit, but I promise you we're here. Keep being strong and amazing, and never stop fighting for the treatment you deserve.”
By Olivia Slack, Co-Editor in Chief