Queeriosity: How Friendly is Amherst?

Until middle school I wasn’t aware that people could identify as anything other than heterosexual. Freshman year of high school was when I first met other people who were open about their sexualities, and when I began to realize that it wasn’t a bad thing. Junior year, I realized I wasn’t quite as straight as I thought I was.

I consider myself lucky that the international school I attended for 12 years in Tokyo, Japan was extremely accepting. I joined the Gay Straight Student Alliance, a club that made rainbow baked goods for every fundraiser and sold shirts that said, “Gay? Fine by me.” Our vice principal was out, and was wholeheartedly supported by the administration, faculty and student body. My environment outside of school was definitely less liberal. Gay rights are hardly discussed in the political or social scene, and media portrayal of queer people makes it clear that Japan does not take these issues seriously. Even then, I was never worried about being harassed or attacked for being open about my sexuality.

One thing I was certain of going into college applications in the fall of my senior year was that I wanted a school that was LGBTQIAAP-friendly. I had never really had to hide that part of me before, and I didn’t ever want to, especially during college.

My counselor recommended a tool on collegeconfidential.com called SuperMatch. What the site did was match your preferences (school size, student to faculty ratio, campus location, diversity level and other factors) to colleges that best fit them. I remember being excited when I saw that Amherst scored a 98 percent, but was dismayed when the percentage went down after I clicked the option for “GLBT-Friendly.” My image of a liberal arts school in the northeast was that it was … well, “liberal.” SuperMatch simply categorized Amherst as a school without a “very strong gay, lesbian, transgender support system,” and that really took me by surprise.

What confused me even more was that a lot of other sources suggested the very opposite. The Amherst Queer Resource Center page, for instance, gave me the impression that Pride was very active. Other articles and forums had mostly positive things to say about the school.

Anxious to look into the matter, I started corresponding with a few current students at Amherst. I asked them about their personal experiences with the queer community at Amherst, and I got a wide array of answers. Some praised the community for being inclusive and hosting a wide variety of events, while others thought their presence on campus wasn’t prevalent enough.

And so I started my time here at Amherst unsure of what I was getting myself into.

It was hard to gauge how open and friendly the school was during the first few days of orientation. I was meeting new faces left and right, and because I did not think my sexuality was first impression material, I kept my mouth shut on the matter. It was finally during open house for cultural organizations when I saw the rainbow flag waving outside Morrow — the first sign of the presence of Amherst’s queer community.

My concern started to melt away when I walked into the QRC for the first time; at the first Pride Alliance meeting I felt as though there was nothing to worry about in the first place. Club attendance was high, and the supportive, open-minded atmosphere of the resource center proved SuperMatch wrong.

My favorite part of Pride and the QRC was the encouragement for discussion. Although not every member of Pride identified as queer, everyone I met within the colorful walls of the resource center were willing to talk. There were discussions at each Pride Meeting, and Queer Talks on Friday afternoons. I liked that even though Pride was busy with upcoming events like the GAP, it was just as interested in listening to what its members had to say.

I have only been here for a little more than a month now, but from what I observed there seems to be little discussion about sexuality outside of the QRC. But Amherst is not a place where things aren’t talked about because they are uncomfortable issues. My impression is that queer life isn’t talked about here because it is just so readily accepted. For the majority of people here, they don’t care that you’re bisexual or gender queer — which is both good and bad. Maybe this lack of campus-wide acknowledgement and activism is why SuperMatch didn’t think Amherst was “GLBT-friendly.” Maybe because one had to walk through the QRC doors to see a support system, that support appeared to be lacking.

I am not saying that the QRC needs more work. I am looking forward to being involved with all that Pride has to offer. At the same time I understand where the negative comments are coming from. While I am glad to have gone to a school where they don’t consider gay rights a big issue, I wonder if that is a healthy mentality to have when it still is a big issue in the rest of the country. I think that the balance of accepting and acknowledgement is something we could definitely work on here at Amherst.