The bad news is gay and lesbian dating at Dartmouth closely resembles that at colleges ranked among the worst for gays. The good news is that some people think things are getting better.
“Dartmouth has a very small pool,” said Doug Mastin ’04 at a recent Dartmouth Rainbow Alliance meeting, “or, I should say, a small ‘out’ pool.”
Being ‘out,’ or openly homosexual, can make a big difference in any gay or lesbian college student’s life.
Having a small ‘out’ pool — and, according to many at the DRA meeting, a large number still ‘in the closet’– makes Dartmouth similar to schools like Duke University, which is ranked among the worst colleges for gays.
Like Dartmouth, Duke has a conservative reputation. Often, students feel intimidated about coming out.
Ironically, students at both schools say coming out can be rewarding. “I’ve had nothing but positive experiences here,” said Jules Sewer, co-president of Gothic Queers, Duke’s gay and lesbian organization.
Duke was ranked fourth worst college for gays by the Princeton Review’s “The Best 331 Colleges, 2002 edition.”
A small out pool can make dating tough. “There’s a difference between dating at Dartmouth and dating someone who will admit you’re dating,” said Kristen Foery ’04, DRA’s co-chair.
Because of the small group of out students, said Sewer in comments similar to those by Dartmouth students, “you all tend to become friends before you have a chance to date.”
Students deal with the small pool in different ways. “People import,” said Sheila Hicks ’04, “they find people that aren’t at Dartmouth.”
These can include students from other colleges, friends of friends, or people from gay or lesbian students’ hometowns.
Dartmouth’s rural environment is definitely a factor. Sewer says she was surprised at the number of homosexuals in Durham, the town near Duke.
By contrast, homosexual students at the DRA meeting cited Hanover as a good place to shock the locals. Large cities like Boston provide both constant activity and anonymity, which can help those just coming out.
At colleges with a larger, more open gay student body, dating resembles that of the entire student body.
Take Wesleyan University in Connecticut, which has a very open and politically active gay and lesbian student body, for example.
According to Queer Resource Center coordinator Phil Gentry, dating takes the form of either “Wes flings” that can be as short as a single night, or “Wes marriages” that last can for years, with little in-between.
Or take all-woman Mount Holyoke College in suburban Massachusetts, where, according to senior Nicolle Hamilton, the former chair of the lesbian and bi association True Colors, meeting a lesbian is as easy as crossing the street.
In both cases, comments by homosexual students sounded similar to complaints raised by straight students from the same colleges.
The level of openness in a college affects and is affected by what Mastin calls “the alphabets” on-campus organizations, whose names often reflect a movement-wide acronym obsession, that offer anything from support groups to campus visibility drives to social gatherings to political activism.
At Dartmouth, most organizations are like Queer Peers or Questioning and Curious, which offer support for homosexual students, or organizations like DRA and its graduate student equivalent, Green Lambda, which tend to be like groups of friends meeting.
The organizations used to be “we’re in your face, we’re gay, woo hoo,” said Foery, but now they have become more support-oriented. “Being loud can be intimidating” for those considering coming out, said Kamil Walja ’03.
Schools like Wesleyan have a very active political aspect. “That’s part of the culture,” said Gentry. At schools like Mt. Holyoke, where clear support for homosexuality is widespread, support meetings tend to be empty.
One thing gay Dartmouth students all agreed on with enthusiasm was that their situation was generally improving. The ’04 entering class was a major factor in this.
“This is the first time so many openly gay freshmen have come here and are participating in the DRA,” said one homosexual student.
“If you’re out when you’re starting out [at college], it’s so much easier,” said Sewer.
This is because students can gather a network of others that don’t object to their sexual orientation, and because it bypasses the complicated problem of coming out to very old, close friends who can react unpredictably.
At Dartmouth, straight students “are much more aware” than in the past of homosexual’s perspective, Mastin said.