In a forum set up to discuss whether University of Richmond's college coordinate system was advantageous or not, one of the most intriguing topics brought up was the possible need for a third college coordinate option.
The topic for Richmond's 6th annual "Forum at the Forum" was "The College Coordinate System: Outdated or Underrated?" Students were invited to ask questions to a five-person panel: Amy Gray, admissions counselor, Joe Boehman, dean of Richmond College, Juliette Landphair, dean of Westhampton College, Meredith Combs, sophomore WCGA class of 2014 senator, and Will Gordon, former RCSGA president.
The forum, organized by student consultants from the Speech Center, started slowly. Cathryn Winchester, one of three main coordinators, asked questions to the panelists herself because no one in the audience was volunteering to speak up.
Winchester asked Gray what she did to portray the coordinate system to prospective students and what Combs thought the advantages were of having separate student governments.
As more students stopped while walking across The Forum, the conversation heated up when freshman Diego Leal stepped forward. Leal said he thought the coordinate system helped reinforce the hyper-masculine image and that something needed to change.
"Guys are going to the lodges and talking about how many girls they're going to bring back home," Leal said. "We aren't dealing with these sort of everyday problems.
"I'm running for Senate, and I can only get votes from Richmond College. I can't change the way guys here think about masculinity, so I'd have to portray that image of hypermasculinity to get elected."
Boehman responded and said Richmond College faced the difficulty of having to deconstruct 18 years of what it took to be a man.
Boehman and Leal's back and forth got to a point where Shane McNamara, another main coordinator of the forum, had to step in and remind the audience to be respectful of other people's speaking time.
From that point, the discussion took numerous other controversial turns, including the burden the system placed on transgender students.
"The problem is these things are institutionalized," junior Christine Parker said. "I get emails referring to me as 'Little Daisy.' We get immediately separated on whether we mark male or female on the application."
Landphair said the Common App, which Richmond currently used, was binary, but the admissions office had discussed a private Richmond form where different gender identities would be options.
Landphair and Boehman both said students have the right to choose to be a member of the other college. Students can't be members of both colleges because logistical reasons, Boehman said.
Senior Johanna Gehlbach said she had difficulties dealing with the system in her four years.
"It's split into a binary," she said. She said she had worn a white dress during Proclamation Night her freshman year out of pressure to conform, a decision she regretted to this day. "I don't feel the administration is helping. I don't identify as a girl."
Gehlbach wore a suit to Ring Dance as a junior last year, she said. She said the photographer had told her to get out of the picture and someone's brother had pulled her arm to get her out of the way.
Landphair said numbers showed there had been advantages to being a woman at Richmond. Administration members in her office are trained to deal with female problems, she said.
Gehlbach said it was productive that Landphair's staff was trained to deal with females but wondered what would happen when she walked in the door.
"It's binary and nothing in between," Gehlbach said. "I would love to see opportunities in the future for people who don't conform to gender."
"Where is the institutionalized third option?" sophomore Erik Lampmann asked.
Boehman said he didn't know where the longterm future would lead the system.
Other topics that came up included the way the coordinate system dealt with Title IX, which deals with the sexual misconduct policies, and gender-specific bathrooms.
One senior Westhampton College student said she believed that the coordinate college system created a divide between the genders that made the issue of sexual assault seem like Westhampton College dealt with victims and Richmond College doled out the punishment. She said she personally had been sexually assaulted by both genders in her time at Richmond.
When one audience member asked Boehman to list specific progress Richmond College was making in preventing sexual violence of men against women, Boehman talked about the "It Ends Now" campaign.
The senior Westhampton student said one of her assaulters had worn the "It Ends Now" shirt the day before he assaulted her.
The forum ended with enough time for audience members to go talk to panel members personally.
"The panelists took some heat, but they responded well," McNamara said. "I think everyone's questions were answered pretty thoroughly."
Parker, who came to the forum with her Queer Literatures class taught by Julietta Singh, disagreed.
"I was a little frustrated by the answers," Parker said. "I felt like there wasn't much support for our ideas of progress, but on top of that, I didn't feel like we left with an idea of what to do next.
"But I'm really glad this conversation took place in general. I'm glad it was in The Forum so that everybody could walk by and hear and just come up and start talking. People I've never seen before in my life were saying things that I really agreed with."
Contact staff writer David Weissman at firstname.lastname@example.org