“Anyone who identifies as LGBTQ+, step into the circle.” The silence that ensued in response to this statement at my Welcome Orientation Adventure held an eerie note of awkward tension as not a single person was willing to step up. My mind racing, I knew I had just two options: either step forward and out myself to a group of students I had only just met or choose not to step forward and feel as though I was actively rejecting who I was.
Ultimately, I chose the former and walked into the circle, hoping to encourage others in my position to do the same — but the anxiety and discomfort I felt trying not to shrink as I stepped forward alone was only a preview of what my experience would be as a queer student at Claremont McKenna College: isolated, lonely and uncomfortable.
This year, ASCMC held CMC’s first annual Pride-Fest in a commendable effort to celebrate the queer community at the Claremont Colleges. However, ASCMC’s good-natured attempt at a pride celebration was not successful enough to veil the existing campus culture which consistently fails to create inclusive and safe spaces for LGBTQIA+ identifying folks.
Seeing the contrast between the limply flying pride flags pinned up around the cage the party was held in and the utter lack of queer culture present at the party was discouraging. But, more than anything, it broke my heart to see that even at the so-called “Pride-Party” of CMC, many queer students who chose to express themselves freely were standing at the sides of the cage.
But Pride Party isn’t really the problem; rather, the happenings at Pride Party are just a reflection of the greater exclusive and alienating CMC culture. When it comes to LGBTQIA+ inclusivity, CMC fails on both the administrative and social level.
Claremont McKenna has one club, the Sexuality and Gender Alliance, or SAGA, that supports the campus’s queer students. Though SAGA does work with other organizations to organize parties, events, and mixers, the general trend of such events is that a handful of queer students will show up, but overall campus support of the event is impressively disappointing. The existence of off-campus 7C resources like the Queer Resource Center is not enough either, and though the 5C resource is great, it is highly underutilized, in part because it is isolated from and unintegrated into campus culture.
Although CMC went co-ed in 1976, campus climate often still feels driven by a hyper-masculine culture and its accompanying homophobia and sexism. Because students who identify as LGBTQIA+ are more likely to struggle with severe mental health issues, the potential ramifications of CMC’s hyper-masculine culture are dangerous. In fact, research proves that queer students display significantly more risk factors for suicide than their cisgender and heterosexual peers, and 30 percent of queer college students report that they seriously considered dropping out due to mental health. If the comfort of LGBTQIA+ students isn’t enough for CMC to acknowledge, their mental health and physical safety should be.
Currently, queer expression is often quietly repressed at CMC. Many queer students feel that they must disregard their expression of themselves in order to fit in to a severely straight campus climate. Students at CMC are currently far too comfortable expressing discomfort about another student’s sexual identity. The school, and the administration should make it clear to their students that homophobia will not be tolerated.
Furthermore, representation matters. CMC needs to take initiative to include more queer representation all across the campus. This is not a request for more pride flags or pride parties. Instead, queerness should be made visible at all levels of the college experience, through more Athenaeum talks which address the queer experience, queer events organized by queer students and spaces for queer expression and connection.
Above all, students are here to learn, and discrimination should not hinder that process. Introducing yourself with pronouns in professional and learning environments should be second nature to everyone on campus. Professors misgendering their students should not be excused or brushed past. Faculty should be required to undergo gender-sensitivity training so they do not put queer students into uncomfortable and identity-disaffirming situations. For many adults on campus, the issue is not a lack of willingness to be inclusive but more so the lack of awareness on how.
However, this is not an issue that can be solved by administrative changes alone. We, as students, need to make an effort. Show up to queer events. Research what it means to be an ally. Make a conscious effort to respect peers’ sexual and gender identities. If you misgender someone, apologize, correct yourself and then try harder to never do it again. Do not stand by and accept the fetishization of queer identities and call out peers on their actions. Above all, communicate. Stand in solidarity with your LGBTQIA+ identifying friends, and make it clear that you are a safe person for them to express themselves freely to.
Ashley Park CM ’25 is from Claremont, CA. She loves the outdoors, watching “Community” and finding the perfect late-night snack.