The Gender and Sexuality Center: “Queer-ly” a safe space for Oles of any orientation

At the top of Holland Hall, up the steepest flight of stairs on campus, lies a corner classroom: 606C. A piece of computer paper is taped to the door with a message written in red Sharpie: “The GSC will be opening in October, 2012,” signed with a cheerful “Thank you” and a smiley face. This classroom is the home of St. Olaf’s Gender and Sexuality Center: a place for students identifying with any gender or sexual orientation to co-exist, have conversations, learn more about gender and sexuality and just hang out.

For many student organizations – such as Sexual Assault Resource Network SARN, Students for Reproductive Health SRH and Gay, Lesbian, or Whatever GLOW – the re-opening of the Gender and Sexuality Center will provide a way to stay connected.

“The center itself is a space,” GLOW Coordinator Brian Walpole ’13 said. “It’s got a lot of great resources from books on feminism, queer theory and how to pick up your first same-sex date. It also acts as a hub between all the gender and sexuality groups on campus so we can stay close and support one another.”

The GSC also sponsors St. Olaf’s annual “V-Week,” a well-known set of events on campus in the spring, including “The Vagina Monologues.” A documentary-based play, “The Vagina Monologues” tells the stories of women from a variety of cultures, and discusses issues from sexual assault to visits to the OB-GYN.

Another event of V-Week is the information tables sessions where, most memorably, students can get pictures with someone dressed in a festive costume.

“My freshman year, I remember seeing a person in a vagina costume and St. Olaf’s rendition of ‘The Vagina Monologues,’ which were totally shocking to me,” SRH President Robin Cole ’13 said. “My background is conservative, small-town Wisconsin, and it was a good feeling knowing that people make [V-Week] fun and everybody knows about it on campus; it’s a really good movement.”

Cole realized her sophomore year that she wanted to become a reproductive rights activist and looked up Students for Reproductive Health on the St. Olaf website. After emailing the former president, Cole was invited to a meeting. This past year, Cole took over as president.

“[The GSC] is important on campus because we have an amazing presence of organizations representing sexuality, but some students don’t always feel comfortable connecting with GLOW. The Gender and Sexuality Center fills in the gap between them,” Cole said.

The GSC will be open Monday-Friday from 3-5 p.m. Besides the optimistic “we’ll be back” sign, a blue sign stresses that the GSC is a safe, equal space for everyone, especially those who have questions about their own sexuality.

“I had a friend who had an ‘I-don’t-know-what-I-am’ question, and I went with her to the Gender and Sexuality Center,” Annie Stewart ’15 said. “They had a wide range of texts to look through, and there was someone there to help talk through things with, and that definitely helped her.”

Although the GSC hasn’t officially opened yet, opportunities for getting involved are on the horizon, and Walpole knows firsthand the good experiences that can come from working with the GSC.

“If anyone wants to get involved with GSC stuff, I’d say go for it.” Walpole said. “It’s never too early to get involved with organizations you care about, and the GSC is a great spot to start and see how different organizations can work together.”

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