Red Tent Chapter Reaches Beyond Name

Jackie Brant, Columnist

Many students around the country are facing increased levels of political and social distress in the wake of the tumultuous presidential election and subsequent increase in hate crimes. In response to this, juniors Hannah Cook and Caitlin McCuskey are seeking to build a safe space for women and nonbinary people on campus through their efforts to officially charter Oberlin’s Red Tent Foundation chapter at the College.

The Red Tent Foundation is a national organization named for the tradition of requiring women to gather in red tents during menstruation in certain early Jewish customs. During these times of exclusion, women developed strong bonds of friendship, support and unity among themselves. The Red Tent Foundation’s goal is to create a space for women on college campuses to promote this same sort of support and unity, but Oberlin’s Red Tent chapter is unique.

Because of Oberlin’s commitment to social education and activism, the president of the Red Tent Foundation, Sarah Rose Attman, has helped Cook and McCuskey adapt the foundation’s goals to Oberlin’s unique environment. Rather than focusing on raising awareness of gender inequality on a national scale, Oberlin’s Red Tent chapter focuses more on creating a safe space for women and nonbinary individuals to share ways in which they have personally experienced gender inequality and techniques for educating others and combating gender prejudices. Each month, the foundation sends out discussion topics for all chapters to discuss at their monthly meetings. These topics are typical general questions about sexism meant to educate chapter members and raise awareness on these issues.

Spaces like Red Tent, in which women and nonbinary people can freely and safely share their personal experiences with gender issues, are vital on college campuses. They give people a strong support system and can help them deal with emotional distress. Further, Red Tent strives to create an environment of support and community between its members to ensure that every voice is being heard, especially in a time when so many voices are being threatened.

Though Oberlin’s Red Tent chapter has been officially chartered by the foundation, the founders are still in the process of trying to get the chapter chartered by the College. There have been some concerns on campus about the inclusivity of the foundation because of the implications of the name. Some are concerned that the name “Red Tent” is only inclusive to ciswomen and excludes gender nonconforming students.

Cook shared these concerns with Attman, who affirmed that the Red Tent Foundation, despite the connotations the name might have, is inclusive to all women and nonbinary people, regardless of whether they identify as cisgender, transgender or gender nonconforming. The official Oberlin charter uses the spelling “womyn” rather than “woman” to emphasize its deliberate effort to make Red Tent inclusive to all people who identify as a woman or nonbinary. The Red Tent Foundation welcomes and encourages people of all sexual orientations, cultural backgrounds and other perspectives to attend and participate in meetings. Red Tent is a place of support on campus for all women and nonbinary students to gather and connect through each person’s individual experiences. The focus should not be on the name of the foundation, but on supporting the ultimate goal of the foundation, which is to build an inclusive safe space for all women and nonbinary students in order to foster community and support for its members.