A Campus Tour Through a Queer Lens

Disclaimer: I am a current tour guide here at JMU. I have spent the past two years trying to make our training more inclusive for our guides after reflecting on the centrality of privileged identities in our tours. But even after an overhaul, there is still work to be done.  

It’s a sunny afternoon, the cherry blossoms in full bloom and dogs frolicking the campus – a picture perfect day for a campus tour. Newly admitted students are pouring into campus nowadays, making their last rounds before deciding where to spend their next four years.

Before meeting their tour guides, students and families usually get a water bottle or use the restroom to prepare for the 90-minute excursion. The options for bathrooms in Madison Hall where tours begin: Women, men, and a family bathroom. The family bathroom sign has the shadowed outline of a parent holding a baby and another small child – portraying that the use is meant for families with small children to go in together.

 

There are no restrooms that are explicitly gender inclusive in Madison Hall, leaving non-binary folks feeling invisible or really needing to pee. But unfortunately, this is not a new challenge. Transgender and non-binary individuals have been battling the bathroom situation for years now, and initiatives are being started all around the nation to dismantle the heteronormative structures in place that ostracize and oppress trans and non-binary individuals.   

And the tour itself hasn’t even started yet. Once the prospective student skips the restroom break, they head outside to meet their guide. While tour guides are strongly encouraged to use their pronouns when they introduce themselves, many forget or choose not to include them. Stating pronouns as a tour guide invites prospective students to share theirs,  and acts in accordance with allyship by not assuming anyone’s gender and pronoun preferences off the bat. 

After introductions, the group heads to the Student Success Center. While this building has a lot going on, it holds inclusive spaces that must be highlighted on the tour. Some of those offices include The Office of Disability Services, The Lavender Lounge, and The Counseling Center. Specifically, The Lavender Lounge is an LGBTQ+ safe space for students to go to connect to other students and explore their gender and sexual expression. And although an entire campus should act as a safe space, sometimes it is a necessity to dedicate a physically safe or brave space for queer students to connect with other students in the LGBTQ+ community. 

 However, many tour guides do not have firsthand experience with these spaces;, therefore, they omit them entirely. Or they feel afraid to say something wrong about the space, so they just say the name of the office and move on. If a non-binary student is on the tour and sees the lack of emphasis and inclusion from the guide, it gives the impression that the campus is like that as well.  Omitting these pertinent conversations that accept and include non-binary people is extremely common outside of JMU’s campus as well. This taboo and stigma around the discussion continues to hurt and oppress non-binary folks.  

After the Student Success Center, guides move on to the next stop and attempt to make small talk along the way. Throughout the conversations, guides are quick to mention heteronormative stories and narratives: “Who did you bring with you, Mom and Dad?” or “You will always be sharing a room and bathroom with students of the same sex.” When discussing residence halls, there is only one gender-inclusive freshman dorm on campus, but guides very often mention this to prospective students. Tran and non-binary students then leave the tour feeling unwelcomed, unaccepted, and invisible at JMU.   

Queer students, and specifically trans and non-binary students, should come onto this campus feeling welcomed and supported, and that feeling starts with their tours and their tour guides. We have come a long way in the past few years to make our tours more inclusive, but it starts with the tour guide having the knowledge and skills to make their groups feel at home.  

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