Professional Development: IvyQ Conference

Ryan Van Dyk (Acc. ’13) received a professional development grant from Batten to attend the 2012 IvyQ Conference at Brown University.

Last weekend, I had the privilege of traveling to Providence, Rhode Island to attend the 2012 IvyQ Conference hosted by Brown University.  The purpose of the annual conference was to  create a pan-Ivy community of LGBTQ students and allies equipped with the skills to examine self-identities, value the differences in others, and understand intersectionality.  IvyQ accomplished these objectives through a three-fold approach to professional development of participants. First, the conference created the opportunity and experiences for attendees to foster meaningful and productive social networks in the LGBTQ community.  Second, the conference served to educate participants further about the history and multiplicity of voices in the LGBTQ movement and the possible trajectories of its future. And lastly, the conference aimed to empower all students to feel confident in their identities and their potential to instill positive change in their own lives and the communities they inhabit; an aim at which I was truly hopeful to benefit greatly from given its application and relevance to public policy.

My participation in IvyQ allowed me to recognize and acknowledge the importance of applying one’s privileged position and influence towards positive and lasting social change for LGBTQ communities.  The conference permitted me to witness first-hand the different experiences and cultures LGBTQ students are exposed to within their universities, the diversity in opinions on the LGBTQ movement(s) currently, and the variety in approaches being used to advance LGBTQ communities in the future.  It was truly eye-opening to see the range of acceptance and the differing levels of salience that being a member of the LGBTQ community played in each student’s life.  Coming from the University of Virginia, arguably a southern, conservative, and very traditional university, being gay is not something that permeates every facet of my life and in fact, I would venture to guess at least some reading this who know me may be surprised to find out that I even identify as gay.  For the majority of my peers attending Ivy League institutions, being a member of the LGBTQ community was a badge of honour and a flag they flew routinely in every day interactions.  Many devoted all of their time outside of studies to advocating for and organizing groups of LGBTQ student and allies towards progressive change.  More than half of the students in attendance majored in “Queer Studies”; the University  does not even offer a minor in the subject area, though it has been proposed routinely by the LGBT Resource Center and student organizations on-grounds.

Turning now towards discussion of the various LGBTQ movement(s) and future initiatives, I find myself relating it strongly to a book we are currently reading in PPOL 6000: Political Institutions and Policymaking Processes entitled Agendas and Instability in American Politics.  In summary the book notes that public policy is advanced through periods of punctuated equilibrium in which policy monopolies are broken down when previously apathetic or excluded groups enter a policy debate and are able to challenge the conventional wisdom of the monopoly.  Many would argue that current successes around “gay marriage” could be signs of a mobilization of criticism resulting from a redefinition of the prevailing policy image and that given the ability of policy to reverberate across linked venues (in this case across States that are passing marriage equality bills) and the President’s support that positive feedback will surely lead to national marriage equality at some point in the near future.

Initially I was confident that this notion and image of the future would be seen as a positive change by all members of the LGBTQ community, how could it not be?  But this proved far from the truth.  Issues around the term “gay marriage” consistently came up.  Many questioned: What about the lesbians, bisexuals, transsexuals, and queers?  Are they not to be included?  Why is the movement being led by upper-middle class, successful, business oriented, gay men and are these individuals leaving the rest of the LGBTQ community behind in order to make short, incremental gains for themselves?  These questions each come back to a dominant issue in Agendas and Instability in American Politics, the question of the impact and effects of how an issue is framed.  Should the movement ensure no one is left behind today even it if means stalling the movement’s current progress and success?  Or should we accept what is argued for in Agendas and Instability in American Politics, that these seemingly incremental steps will actually result in a wave of enthusiasm and self-reinforcing change that will suddenly lurch and rapidly adapt to include these groups that are currently feeling isolated and left behind?  None of these questions are easily answerable and no consensus was ever reached, but all deserve attention and consideration by members of the LGBTQ community, especially those in a position of privilege to advocate one way or another to advance our position in society.

Post by Ran Van Dyk (Acc. ’13)

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