Princeton recognises asexuality

Asexuality has historically been under-represented in discussions in the LGBTQIA+ community. Exciting developments show that may be changing.

Princeton’s ‘Ally Project’ focuses on asexuality this semester.

In an exciting (and quite possibly world first development), Princeton University has scheduled a session aimed at training its staff to understand the identities of asexual students and colleagues and help them be more effective allies to asexual members. Even more excitingly, the session comprises nearly half of Princeton’s day-long ‘Ally Project’ event programming for the March session, giving asexuality considerable visibility in the University’s discussion of LGBTQIA+ identities.

The ‘Ally Project’ is one of dozens of events held by Princeton’s LGBT Centre across the academic year celebrating and empowering their institutions’ Rainbow community. Held over a full day once a semester, half of each seminar is devoted to equipping Princeton’s staff to better use language, campus resources, and the LGBTQIA community to support Rainbow students and colleagues from across the queer community. The topic of the second half of each semester’s workshops rotates. In the second half of 2017, for example, the participants discussed trans peoples’ experiences.

Princeton is the fourth oldest university in the United States, being founded two years before the American Revolution. Located in New Jersey, a few hours from New York, the college is one of the most prestigious higher learning institutes in the United States. Its alumni include 43 Nobel prize winners, and such famous figures as Albert Einstein and US President Woodrow Wilson have taught there.

The University’s LGBT Center was created as the sixth office of its type at a United States university in 1989 and moved into purpose built premises in 2006. The Center is highly conscious of avoiding erasure of asexuals and agendered individuals in its work, noting on its website:

We use the phrasing “a/sexuality” and “a/gender” to acknowledge that sexual and gender diversity includes people who identify as asexual and agender, as well as those who identify with a particular sexuality and gender.

Asexuality at other universities.

The Princeton approach offocusing on the particular experiences and identities of different parts of the Rainbow community each semester is a positive development. The rotating focus on different groups provides a useful model for combatting the risk of some parts of the Rainbow community receiving more attention in forums like the ‘Ally Project’ than others.

In New Zealand, none of our eight universities publicise initiatives similar to the ‘Ally Project’. However, all of the universities, and all their students’ associations, do have active LGBTQIA+ support groups, organisations, and policies in place. The University of Auckland’s LGBTI community and allies are particularly visible, attending the Big Gay Out and Pride Parade in large numbers with the support of the Auckland University Students’ Associations’ Queer Rights Officer.

Of these organisations, the Victoria University of Wellington and the Otago University Students’ Association are the most express in affirming asexual spectrum individuals’ place in their communities. Regrettably however, both in New Zealand universities and overseas the experiences of asexual spectrum individuals are not at the centre of discussion in Rainbow community organisations.

A brighter future is dawning.

Sadly, the recognition of asexuality at Princeton remains in sharp contrast to these more common experiences of erasure at universities. However, the future looks promising. There has been a slow but steady trend of universities expressly recognising asexual  (and aromantic) spectrum individuals’ experience in their policies and events. The University of Boulder, Colorado, in what may be another world first, is home to an aromantic society. In 2016, the University of Leeds, England, held ‘Asexuality in Fiction’ and ‘Asexuality in History’ events featuring its academics as part of the Asexuality Education and Visibility Network promoted annual Asexual Awareness Week.

Recent years have seen a continued rise of tolerance and good will towards members of the LGBTQIA+ community by decision makers and the broader public. Support for the Rainbow community from institutions is growing all the time. Unfortunately, asexuality has historically been somewhat under-represented in discussions and community organising in the Rainbow community. However, developments such as those at Princeton, Boulder, and Leeds universities are exciting proof that the ace community is benefitting as part of the broader progress of LGBTQIA+ causes worldwide. 2018 will hopefully bring even more good news.

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