Theory to Praxis: Gender Inclusivity in Eating Houses at Davidson College

Trigger Warning: mentions of sexual assault

Central Question:

Should eating houses move away from being “all-female” spaces to include other gender minorities and/ or men?

Introduction:

Davidson College has four eating houses on its campus, which serve as dining locations for female students, and one house that includes all gender minorities. Each house is linked with a service mission and hosts social events throughout the year. The four houses are Turner, Warner Hall, Connor and Rusk. Turner House, as can be seen on its website, is the only eating house that explicitly mentions that it is “gender inclusive and welcomes all gender minorities.” Does this policy force closeted trans and non-binary students out of the closet in order to be accepted in the space? For gender minorities who do not identify as female, Turner house is a hit or miss, and if they do not feel comfortable in the space, they lose out on the opportunity to be in an eating house altogether. Additionally, fraternities and eating houses have a more diverse range of meal options than the main dining options provided by Davidson College Dining Services, and eating houses do not have the same national affiliations (which often string along terrible reputations) as fraternities do. This begs the question: should eating houses aim to be more inclusive?

Potential Perspectives from Participants:

While researching the topic, I came across a number of viewpoints from students of different social groups, gender identities and class years. It would be important to consider all these viewpoints, as well as any others presented during the discussion, when deliberating over the central question. 

  1. Davidson was an all-male college till 1973, so it is important to reserve eating houses as a sacred space only for women (and gender minorities, in the case of Turner house)
  2. Eating houses exclude closeted trans and questioning students or force them to come out of the closet in order to be included in the space. This article by Ross Hickman ‘22 (they/them) may be helpful in understanding this perspective
  3. Many members of eating houses feel “safer” without the presence of men
  4. Eating houses provide an alternate meal plan for students who don’t want to be involved in Greek Life at the college but would like a better range of options than Davidson’s Dining Services. This article by Santiago Navia`17 (he/him) provides a male perspective on why eating houses should be coed
  5. By making one of the existing eating houses coed, existing members may either feel unsafe or unsatisfied with the decision and may be corned to drop the house
  6. A new coed eating house runs the risk of being a majority male-dominated space, which takes away from the central idea of an eating house as a sacred space for women and gender minorities 

Intended audience:

Members of the PCC eboard, members of eating house eboards and one member of each eating house from each year should be present to provide a diverse range of opinions. A prior Google form should be sent out to male students to see how many would be interested in joining a coed/ all-male eating house, and a few should be randomly selected from this pool to participate in the discussion as well. The eboard and a few members of Queers and Allies and You Are Not a Stranger Here (YANASH) should be present to discuss the issues of closeted queer and trans students. Members of the Students Against Sexual Violence (SASV) organization on campus should be present to contribute information about sexual violence in fraternities and eating houses.

Background:

To have a fruitful discussion on gender inclusivity in eating houses, one must first familiarize themselves with the history of eating houses on Davidson College’s campus. This article in the college archive provides information on the existence of coed eating houses and how the current eating houses were formed. To understand the service missions, social events and policies of the current eating houses, a look through their websites and Instagram pages would be useful.

When addressing the issue of meal plans, it would be helpful to read through the dining services Davidson College provides as well as the menus of the eating houses per week to understand the differences in meal options, which can be found in each house’s website link.

Warner Hall House: Instagram, Website

Turner House: Instagram, Website

Connor House: Instagram, Website

Rusk House: Instagram, Website

Eating houses at Davidson straddle the line between social organizations and fraternities. They offer the same social and dining opportunities as Davidson College fraternities, but unlike fraternities, eating houses do not have national affiliations.

As a key element of the discussion concerns trans students, it is important for all participants to familiarize themselves with the GLAAD Media Reference Guide for Transgender People, which includes what language should be used and avoided.

Conversation agreements:

  1. Since many of the topics being discussed can be potentially triggering, especially when concerning sexual assault, trigger warnings should be issued when necessary 
  2. Hands must be raised before speaking at all times to ensure that no participant is spoken over
  3. Be empathetic and listen with open ears even if a perspective does not mirror your own
  4. If personal experiences are shared and are not meant to be discussed outside of the space, respect the confidentiality of the speaker
  5. Be respectful at all times and do not use language that could be harmful pr derogatory towards any individual or group

Deliberation Format:

1.5 hours total 

  • 5 minutes to discuss the background material 
  • 30 minutes to discuss the Potential Perspectives from Participants and to provide alternate perspectives, as well as to discuss the Group Discussion Questions 
  • 30 minutes to propose solutions and potential action plans for the central question
  • 15 minutes to reflect  

Group Discussion questions:

  1. How can eating houses maintain the safety of their members while being inclusive of men?
  2. Would there be a change in the social environment and customs of the house if it were adapted into a coed space?
  3. What are the social differences between a fraternity and an eating house?
  4. Would an increase in meal options reduce the number of men and closeted trans students interested in joining an eating house?

Reflections:

  1. What is something new you learnt through this discussion?
  2. Is there a perspective you still want to learn more about?
  3. Did you challenge your previous perspective on the central question?
  4. How can you, as an individual, contribute to solving this challenge?
  5. Do you plan on researching and discussing this topic further?

One thought on “Theory to Praxis: Gender Inclusivity in Eating Houses at Davidson College

  1. I really like this topic and think you did a good job, especially when brainstorming potential perspectives. I also think it was good that included a trigger warning about discussions around sexual assault, and your conversation agreements were really thought out. I would like to be a part of this conversation if something like that were to happen.

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