About 40 students casually gathered on the second floor of the Joe Rosenfield ‘25 Center last Monday night to discuss their views on Cunnilingus, a private party that was recently named a bias-motivated incident by the College (see S&B 5/7).
This unofficial forum allowed students to talk in small groups to try to understand the views of others, especially views they would not normally encounter. Gretel Carlson ’10 and Eleanor Nelson ’10 helped facilitate the forum after they were approached by Jake Thompson ’10, Kevin McConnaughay ’10 and three other male athletes about their response to the incident.
Carlson, Thompson and McConnaughay all wanted to understand the opinions of each other. Furthermore, they wanted to give more students an opportunity to have productive, small group discussions that might be more personal and less intimidating than the official all-campus forum held Thursday.
“We felt that we didn’t really have an appropriate avenue for our voices to be heard,” McConnaughay said. “[The official forum on Thursday] was such a charged and motivated forum that we felt there was no way it would be truly open.”
Carlson also wanted to provide people with a way of talking before the official forum, which was held nearly two weeks after the incident occurred.
“People needed something in the interim other than the rumor mill,” Carlson said.
The forum was attended by athletes who also went to the party, women named on bowls at the party and many other students with no direct involvement with the incident.
Allison Wong ’12 was named on a bowl.
“I’ve felt comfortable [at Grinnell] since the day that I prospied,” Wong said. “[This incident has] really shaken my trust in the community.”
Wong hoped that attending the forum would help her understand other views on what happened.
“I knew exactly how I felt,” Wong said. “What I really was at a loss for was … the mindset behind planning the party or some of the mindsets behind people who had told me it wasn’t really a big deal.”
Thompson tried to explain.
“I can’t condemn the party,” Thompson said. “I know a lot of the people involved, and almost all of them were just looking to enjoy some Jell-O shots.”
McConnaughay explained students at the party felt they were in a “safe space,” and the humor they used—which was, he admitted, at times offensive—would be kept within the group.
“People felt like this was an invasion of privacy,” he said. “There are plenty of football players and people at the party who would have raised these concerns … and we would have done it differently next year.”
Though Wong does not agree with some of the comments she heard, she feels she can better comprehend how most of the people at the party viewed what happened.
“I do recognize that it’s hard in that situation to really self-govern,” Wong said.
Other groups focused on different responses. Carlson’s group discussed, among other things, how prospective students are chosen.
“It’s not fair to say we don’t want a certain kind of people at Grinnell,” Carlson said, referring to the idea that athletes should be judged differently.
Overall, Carlson thinks the forum was a success.
“A lot of those groups went upwards of an hour,” she said. “I think that that speaks to the kinds of conversations that were being had.”
Wong agreed that the forum was productive, especially in terms of involving all who attended.
“I think the small group discussions on Monday allowed some people to talk who wouldn’t necessarily have been able to use their voice at the forum Thursday,” Wong said. “It was a respectful place, and everybody was listening.”
McConnaughay appreciated that he could express his opinion, and even though others disagreed, he appreciated that they genuinely listened to him.
“I’m looking at a Grinnellian right now and that Grinnellian is disagreeing with me,” he said. “They have a perfect right to do so.”