Gender Takes Focus in Second Student Co-Presidential Forum

(L to R) Student Body Co-President Sebastian Romero ’20, Salvador Gomez-Colon ’21, Megan Cui ’21, Summer Seward ’21, Jack Palfrey ’21, and Student Body Co-President Shahinda Bahnasy. The candidates touched on topics of gender, including gender-inclusive language, bathroom accessibility, and equitable policy changes.

The two remaining Co-Presidential pairs debated issues of gender and sexuality on Tuesday, February 25. The debate was sponsored by the Brace Center for Gender Studies, which has been trying to organize a gender-centric co-presidential debate for over a year, according to Emma Slibeck ’20, a member of the Brace Student Board and co-moderator of the debate.

“Last year ,we tried to get [the debate] organized, but timing with Co-Presidents is always very complicated because turnover is so quick… This is a wider conversation. It starts with everyone, but if there are people at the top—the Co-Presidents—talking about issues of gender and how we can change our culture to more of a consent, sex-positive culture, then that filters down. It’s actually really powerful. We want to set the precedent that these are conversations that are important, we should be having, and we need to have every day,” said Slibeck.

Alex Ashman ’22, another member of the Brace Student Board, hopes to see future Co-Presidents utilize their roles to create significant and lasting change around issues of gender

“I hope that this sparks conversation about gender-based issues on campus. I hope that these candidates step into their leadership roles as people who can create change toward making a more equitable campus related to gender,” said Ashman.

Flavia Vidal, Director of the Brace Center for Gender Studies, emphasized the importance of having co-presidential candidates that support conversations related to gender. Vidal likened the encouragement of student engagement to feminist “coalition-building.”

“The intersectional femininist agenda is based on the idea of coalition-building… I really want us to think deeply about this idea of coalition building because if we are to make change, at least where social justice issues are concerned, we really need to think broadly about making coalitions with a variety of institutions. There needs to be leadership at the top that will be guiding some of these conversations, but they need to be embedded in the work of different groups that want to make change happen,” said Vidal.

Co-Presidential candidates Jack Palfrey ’21 and Summer Seward ’21 described their plans for a Diversity and Inclusion Committee during the panel. According to Palfrey, the committee would consist of students currently involved with the Office of Community and Multicultural Development (CAMD) and the Brace Center in an effort to create lasting change.

“In our Diversity and Inclusion Committee idea, it’s an extension of the committees that Sebastian [Romero ’20] and Shahinda [Bahnasy ’20] added last year. We want to fill it with people that are doing really important things in CAMD and Brace, so they have the ability to work from the top… The Brace Center and CAMD, these are institutions that are going to be around a long, long time until well after we leave. If we’re able to work with them, set a close precedent of working together between Co-President pairs and CAMD, that’s actually really important,” said Palfrey during the debate.

Seward talked about non-gendered spaces on campus for future students. She explained her plans to destigmatize sanitary products in bathrooms on campus. According to Seward, part of her motivation to run for Co-President was to create equitable and intersectional spaces for all Andover students.

“We want to make sure… that all spaces are comfortable spaces for anyone who identifies as any gender on campus. I want to make more sanitary products and bathrooms for anybody… My whole goal in choosing this leadership role was to make sure that everyone feels like Andover is a home, they have someone they can talk to, they have a welcoming environment, and that goes with inclusivity. This conversation just happened to talk about gender, and we know that all these things connect,” said Seward.

The other Co-Presidential pair, Megan Cui ’21 and Salvador Gómez-Colón ’21 explored the concept of the student body helping one another learn more about inclusivity and gender issues both on and off campus. During the debate, Cui touched on the role that older students have when new students enter the Andover community. Cui also explained how she feels gender is an under-discussed topic at Andover that she and Gómez-Colón would work to emphasize, along with sustainability.

“I think it is an important characteristic of our platform that we tap into topics that are just brushed upon. Some topics we want to tap into: one about gender issues. We are going to dive into it and use our resources on campus to host discussion[s] and forums. And second one is sustainability and how we want to incorporate a climate curriculum into our current institution and have sustainable practices in the dorm. These ideas make our platform exciting,” said Cui.

In the debate, Gómez-Colón emphasized how he wants to destigmatize talking about issues of gender outside of academic settings and structured time like Empathy, Balance, and Inclusion (EBI) courses. Gómez-Colón explained how casual conversations can sometimes be the most effective way to promote gender equity.

“I think that there’s kind of this idea that these conversations only have to happen in a classroom or a dorm. It goes beyond that. These are conversations we should be able to have in [Paresky Commons], in the dorms, in the library, in rooms, just walking around the paths. We need to be actively working to destigmatize these situations and these conversations,” said Gómez-Colón.