In the past few days it has become clear that there is a lack of female-owned social space, or a “lady wet space” if you will, on Swarthmore’s campus. Swarthmore’s social outlets currently include spaces like Paces, Olde Club, Danawell, or Wharton basement, which are multi-purpose and available only for short term use, and the Delta Upsilon and Phi Psi fraternities. While we appreciate the open campus events thrown by the fraternities and their efforts to remain welcoming to all Swarthmore students, these spaces remain exclusively male-owned. A proposed solution to this lack of female social space was the creation of a sorority on Swarthmore’s campus. However, this has been a controversial proposal (to see the debate click here), and fails to resolve the issue at its root. Instead, we would like to propose an alternative solution: the creation of a Swarthmore Campus Women’s Union which would have control of a wet social space in the same manner that the fraternities currently control their houses.
We hope that by establishing a female-controlled space on campus, we can strive as a group to provide a safer, more comfortable space for Swarthmore women to partake in “wet” culture. It should come as no surprise to Swarthmore students that drinking culture poses a very specific set of risks for women. With assessment and understanding of these risks, we would hope to collaborate with ASAP, SMART, DART, SHCs, and other relevant campus groups in determining specific policies to provide resources and to ensure that the space acts to mitigate these risks. More specifically, we feel that by knowing that they share ownership of the space they are in and have the resources and support of the Women’s Union, female identifying individuals would feel more comfortable partaking in social culture at Swarthmore.
The Structure of the Women’s Union:
All women’s groups are automatically members of the Women’s Union.The idea of the Union is not to enforce the gender binary, but to acknowledge the institutionalized difficulties that female-identifying students have faced and continue to face in the campus social scene. The Women’s Union will maintain the specific social space dedicated to mitigating these difficulties. All members and female-identifying students have the privilege to reserve the space for all types of social events.
Control of the space will be by the WU’s board of directors, consisting of one representative from each women’s group and any female-identifying students who choose to join. These women will in turn appoint/elect two booking managers in charge of managing space reservations. Issues with decisions made by the booking managers can be brought before the entire board.
The board is responsible for maintaining the physical space, discussing guidelines for use of the space and ensuring that the space fulfills its intended role (as stated above).
A Discussion on Membership:
The Union wants to prevent further marginalization of already oppressed groups. While identified as a Women’s Union, membership is inclusive and students who reject the gender binary should feel free to consider themselves members as well. In addition, we would really appreciate input by SQU and QSA about how best to serve the needs of the students who fall into this category. Proposed was the idea of an allying group, Trans*Union, which would also be able to access/control the space for events. However, as this is a group created by women, we feel unqualified to make decisions for these students, and instead will support any decisions they come to. Regardless, we remain dedicated to creating a space where all members of campus community can and will feel comfortable.
In response to this proposal, we call on the campus community to have an open discussion concerning the structure of the union, possible locations, and any other concerns.
Joan O’Bryan, member of Women’s Rugby and WICS
Sarah Dwider, member of Women’s Rugby
Lisa Sendrow, President of Swarthmore Feminists
Carmen Perez-Leahy, President of Ladies’ Soiree Society
Taylor Wuerker, President of Women’s Rugby
Emma Thomas, member of Grapevine
Marian Firke, WRC Board Member and member of Swarthmore Feminists