College is a magical realm over the rainbow and a world away from Deerfield Academy. Here at RIT, the pride flag is framed in the entrance to the Student Alumni Union, and small colorful ribbons line the student bulletin boards. As a member of the LGBTQ+ community myself, I not only feel welcome, but also a distinct lack of other-ness that tends to follow those who fall outside the norm.
At my graduation from Deerfield last year, I wore a suit and tie in place of the typical white dress and flower. This is because I believe women should feel free to wear what they choose, no matter what others may assume. I believe that gender expression should not be inhibited by out-of-date standards like the current dress code. Gender-queer or gender questioning people, upon stepping onto Deerfield campus, are forced to make a very public, very bold statement about their identity, something extraordinarily daunting when around 78% of trans youth report significant abuse at school. In college, people wear whatever they feel like wearing and, surprisingly, it never seems to get in the way of anyone’s education.
Deerfield Academy operates on the idea that standards for men and women should be decidedly separate. The Hess Center displays two statues exemplifying the “Deerfield Boy” and the “Deerfield Girl,” dorms are strictly gendered, and visitations are fundamentally heteronormative.
If a straight person wants to spend time with a member of the opposite gender, they need only follow the ordinary rules; non-hetero people are faced with a moral dilemma. They must first ask themselves whether they trust their hall resident enough to disclose their identity, something many kids aren’t even safe to tell their families. (Note: LGBTQ+ youth face more than twice the average rate of homelessness in the US.) On top of that, in making their visitations request, they disclose the orientation of the other person as well. If others on the hall notice the trashcan or shoe in the door, both of them are “outed” to the hall, and we all know how rumors spread. Finally, there’s the technicality that no other same-gender person on hall or off can enter their room without visitations permission. Personally, I find this absurd. A truly welcoming community would not support alienation of this kind.
But again, this brings into question the purpose of visitations. The idea behind having a process is to protect students from unsafe sexual interaction. But the underlying assumption in this setup is that any member of the opposite gender would only care to enter your room if they intend to have sex. Similarly, it also assumes that any member of the same gender would never intend to have sex. Visitations create both uncomfortable stigmas about opposite gender friendships and unfair expectations for same-gender relationships.
People who fall outside the standard should not need to feel like a burden to the rest of the community. Gay people shouldn’t need to follow a meticulous and otherwise anxiety-inducing process that only further isolates them from their hall and the broader student body.
I’ve found that many students are afraid of straying from campus norms, concerned that they’ll become estranged from the community. Being original on Deerfield campus means accepting that eyes will be on you, a lot. Furthermore, the Academy’s constant, looming expectation not to be proud of being oneself, but to be worthy of something passed highlights DA’s resistance to change. I’m a strong advocate of creating a more equitable system for all: gender-neutral bathrooms, gender-neutral dorms, and, at long last, a gender-neutral dress code. These inequitable standards have held up for too long, and it’s high time DA implements policies that help solve the issues rather than perpetuate them.
PS To any DA student reading this: remember that your self-worth is not defined by the length of your skirt or the expectations for excellence imposed by the Academy. Continue to listen to others’ ideas and challenge your own--but don’t be afraid to challenge other ideas too. Deerfield can be a daunting place, but you reserve the right to be unapologetically you. Let nobody tell you otherwise. If you have an opinion, express it, discuss it, and always fight for what you believe in. You make your own path through Deerfield; I know I did.
Published in Deerfield Academy's Newspaper The Scroll