Every Saturday at 6:00pm in Kohlberg 116, a group of students meets to discuss issues of gender equality and how it is affected by other aspects of personal identity.
The group, called Gender Equity Discussions, or GED, was started by several first years, including Isabel Cristo ‘18, Priya Dieterich ‘18, Leo Elliot ‘18, and Elizabeth Whipple ‘18. These students, inspired by similar groups in their high schools, wanted a space on Swarthmore’s campus to talk about issues of gender equity.
“Isabel and Priyah, who are both part of the founding group, both had a feminism club in high school that was really focused on discussion,” said Whipple, “I was looking for a space, personally, where I could talk about these things that wasn’t just randomly in a dorm room or at Sharples. Then that ended up combining with [Isabel’s] history and other people’s desire for the same thing.”
Christo said she believes that “having a nuanced understanding of these concepts of gender and gender issues […] is a really fundamental part of having a comprehensive civic education.”
Discussion topics for the club cover issues of gender equity that affect all genders. Past topics include discussion of virginity, healthy sexual relationships, and street harassment. Some future possibilities include discussion about friendships between people of different genders, the roles of the mother and father in family life, and hookup culture. Though the founders of the club have compiled a list of possible topics, they are open to suggestions, and each week the next topic of discussion is voted on in the club’s Facebook group.
As the group is fairly new, the club is working to bring in new members. So far, each meeting has only attracted about 15 people.
“We’ve been trying to bring in more people to the meetings of different class years and to create and maintain as much diversity in gender — as well as other forms of identity — as we can in doing so,” said Elliot.
The hour and a half long discussions are relaxed and informal. Each discussion begins with an article or video that serves as a conversation starter. Members then relate their own personal experience regarding the topic, and conversation flows naturally as people discuss their experiences and their implications in society.
The founding members stressed that the club is not a strictly feminist group.
“You don’t have to identify as a feminist to be part of the discussion,” said Gerstmann. “Just be willing to hear people out and understand that there’s different perspectives.”
While the founders believe the club has been relatively successful so far, there are several aspects that they would like to see improved.
“It’s not a very diverse group in a lot of ways,” said Whipple. “We’re entirely cisgender, so when you’re talking from […] your own personal experience, that leaves an entire group of people’s experiences out. We’re missing a huge, important chunk of knowledge and experiences.”
Cristo hopes that this lack of diversity is due to the the fact that the club is still new.
“Hopefully as we continue and get a larger and more solid base, those experiences will naturally enter the space,” she said. “And if [not], then we’re going to have to find ways to bring that perspective into the room in one way or another, either by bringing in a guest speaker, or watching a movie, or reading something.”
Despite these problems, the founders expressed confidence in the future of the club.
“I’ve been extremely impressed by […] the respect that people have shown for each other and with the bravery people have shown in sharing their personal experiences, and respecting each other’s personal experiences,” said Elliot. “I think that these conversations are conversations that it feels good to have, it feels empowering and important to have if they’re done correctly.”