Mug nights usually come and go without consequence. They’re hot, sweaty and loud but still persist as a Vassar weekend staple for many.
Last Friday, Feb. 6, the Queer Coalition of Vassar College (QCVC) hosted “Queer Night at The Mug,” an event meant to be exclusively for LGBTQ students. What was meant to be a place of understanding and comfort for QCVC soon took a sharpely different turn. A post from one of the event’s hosts provoked an immediate backlash.
Rishi Gune ’17 originally approached QCVC about the idea and they embraced it fully. Ellie Vamos ’17, a leader of QCVC said, “A lot of queer parties happen in individual rooms and houses…so we thought a [M]ug night would be accessible to a wider range of people.”
The group was able to set up their event with little to no adminstrative hurdles, giving them hope for their event. “The only problem we had was setting up a date, simply because the mug was so booked up,” said Gune. Said Vamos, “Plenty of other orgs host them.”
Unexpectedly, the biggest problem arose when Vamos wrote on the event’s Facebook wall reminding students to be conscious of the safe space she and QCVC were trying to create.
She wrote, “Just to clarify the purpose of this event: we want to create a queer space for queer people in the Mug. Our aim is to reclaim what is traditionally a straight space that can be uncomfortable and even unsafe for queer people.” She continued, “Please keep this in mind when making decisions about whether or not to attend.”
A number of students commented on the thread, taking issue with the exclusion of straight people. One student wrote, “I don’t joke about exclusion. It’s wrong. It’s wrong. It’s wrong. I hope that Queer night is a fun night at the Mug where queers feel comfortable and can hang out with other queers. But if some straight people show up, I hope they have a good time too.”
Another student commented, “I do not appreciate what you are saying here. All are welcome. How is it a traditionally straight place? All should be included.”
Over 24 hours, there were almost 100 comments on Vamos’ post.
“For those people who objected, I feel as though they don’t fully understand the ways in which marginalized students go about claiming spaces,” said Gune. Gabe Ramos ’17, another leader of QCVC, said neither he nor the organization anticipated the adverse response when advertising the event. “The controversy honestly came out of nowhere and was quite shocking actually.”
Vamos agreed, adding, “It certainly made the event a lot more stressful.”
For Andrew Murphy ’15, a student not planning on attending, the hostility invigorated him to attend even more.
“Exclusion for the purpose of creating a very rare nighttime fun and safe space for queer students is alright,” he said. Murphy said he recognized that his certainty in his identity, combined with his whiteness and male privilege, were factors that encouraged his attendance and comfortability.
For Vamos, there is no such thing as bad press. “On the upside, we didn’t have to advertise the event nearly as much as we’d expected; the controversy did that for us,” she said.
This seemed to ring true for Murphy, who said he was excited for the event, preparing for the night with friends.
He recalled, “I excitedly threw on a friend’s skirt, some leggings, a crop top, my six-inch platforms, and beat my face a bit…I ran down the spiral staircase with some friends and started dancing.”
Ramos said he could only describe the night by acknowledging its differences from more typical Mug nights.
“[I felt] comfort for a variety of things: It wasn’t packed to the brim with people grinding on each other, it wasn’t empty either, it was a happy medium and that allowed the mug to not be so unbearably hot,”
Gune and Vamos also expressed feelings of comfort. “I really felt good being in that space, and since I was DJing, I could really feel the crowd,” said Gune.
Vamos reflected, “I usually find the Mug pretty stressful and unpleasant…it’s super intimidating to approach other girls when you have no way of knowing whether they’re straight. At the queer Mug night, I felt more comfortable and more able to just enjoy myself with my friends.”
In terms of safe spaces, there are a small number of queer affinity groups that exist on campus. To combat this, Murphy began to host queer movie nights at his house last semester. “We thought it would be fun to watch queer movies with a bunch of queers on campus, so we began making a list of all of the queer people we knew at Vassar,” he said.
Murphy and a friend created a list of queer movies and sent out an email invite. They advertised the gathering as an expressly queer space. Additionally, he requested that non-queer identifying housemates leave, if able, in order to create a comfortable space.
Describing the few movie nights they held, Murphy said, “It was exciting and reassuring to finally be in a space that wasn’t dictated by straightness. Honestly, they were two of the very few times that I felt completely comfortable on this campus last semester.”
Vamos, Ramos and Gune all agree on the importance of creating alternative queer spaces to build community on Vassar’s campus and in the world.
Said Gune, “It is vital to have informal spaces where queer people can turn loose without feeling uncomfortable. In the world, we have plenty of spaces, although many are often meant for gay men…This is obviously a misogyny problem that we in the queer community need to work through.”
The LGBTQ center hosts a few organizations such as Transmissions, QCVC, others and keeps its doors open to students. But, creating more informal spaces is vital, Murphy insisted.
“There are countless straight spaces on this campus—sports teams are the primary ones. Creating lasting queer spaces in a scene where there are so few is difficult,” he said.
Vamos said she envisions a community that reaches out to a broader range of individuals.
“I also think there’s a lot of work to be done in terms of making queer spaces more intersectional; I know that QCVC and other SPECTRUM orgs are hoping to work more with ALANA Center orgs this semester to help make that happen,” she said.
Gune said that specifying something as a queer-only space means reclaiming a space that is often not welcoming.
Moving forward from this weekend, QCVC plans on hosting more queer Mug nights as well as a talk-back to discuss the backlashes the event and hosts faced. “[We’re also looking to] invite POC trans and queer artists and activists on campus,” said Gune.
Gune and Murphy agree that there needs to be self-education by Vassar students on how to deal with topics of queerness. Additionally, deepening the level of understanding on how to be an ally, and what an ally is, is necessary to move forward together.
Vamos said, “It’s certainly not marginalized people’s job to educate others on the necessity of affinity spaces, but as an activist org QCVC is definitely thinking about doing some kind of outreach on this topic.”