Gender Inclusivity in Service Organizations: Is it Enough?

Monday, March 9, 2020

Gender Inclusivity in Service Organizations: Is it Enough? 
By Kellie Toyama

On Feb. 24, the Super Tuesday of LMU’s Service Organization Community (SOC), a new class of members was invited to join the school’s ten service organizations. 

Each service organization has a unique social justice focus (save for Ignatians and Crimson Circle who are focused on social justice overall) and requires each of its members to complete at least 30 hours of community service per semester. These hours are mostly done at nonprofits that work with their respective organization’s cause.

Members also meet weekly to engage in social justice-oriented dialogue, creating community amongst themselves around their shared passion for their org’s focus.  

Service organizations also have gender requirements for applicants, some organizations accepting members of all genders while others only accept members of one. The subject of gender inclusivity has sparked debate, prompting questions of how certain gender requirements can be seen as gatekeeping when it comes to doing service around a particular focus.

Under LMU’s Center for Service and Action, SOC consists of the following orgs with their respective focuses (if applicable) and gender requirements: 

All-gender organizations: 
  • Agape: Mental health
  • Creare: Youth engagement
  • Ignatians
  • Sursum Corda: Food justice

Female-identifying and gender-non-conforming organizations:
  • Belles: Domestic violence
  • Espérer: Human trafficking and environmental justice
  • Gryphon Circle: Education justice 
  • Marians: Women and children

Single-gender (male-identifying) organizations:
  • Crimson Circle 
  • Magis: Homelessness 

While service orgs are not meant to be exclusive, the selection process for each org is intended to cultivate a community around authentic philanthropy. If everyone with a commitment to service is meant to have a spot in a service organization, it’s worthwhile to consider the limiting aspects of SOC that can lead organizations to unconsciously exclude diverse perspectives from all parts of the student body. During recruitment season, it’s especially important to consider the ways gender non-conforming individuals may feel barred from joining SOC entirely since only four of the ten organizations accept applications regardless of gender. 

Acknowledging LMU’s gender non-conforming, non-binary and transgender students is essential for true inclusivity. Genderqueer individuals offer a unique perspective as a deeply marginalized population. Students who identify with one or multiple marginalized groups often have the human understanding necessary for accompanying underserved communities. Many orgs have a mission statement that works to further humanize the marginalized and there is arguably no one else who knows how to do that better than marginalized people themselves. 

Few gender-non-conforming (GNC) individuals have the chance to be heard in a space of privilege. If given more opportunities to share their experiences in safe spaces, perhaps being affected by the org’s central focus themselves, they could provide exactly what is necessary to continually push each organization towards the end goal. 

Formerly single-gender orgs have opened applications to gender non-conforming and non-binary individuals in the past few years, including Marians, Belles and Gryphon Circle. The change is appreciated and should not be discredited, but is it enough? Should all service organizations accept members of all genders? Will gender non-conforming members be truly welcome in spaces dominated by a certain gender just by being accepted? An honest answer to that question can only come from the mouths of those who do not identify as cisgender. 

While it is understandable why single-gender orgs exist, it’s also interesting to consider how gender operates as an intentional variable of service in outreach. The following are brief statements from a few service organization presidents on the subject of how they engage with gender in their org:

“As the president of an organization that is not open to people of all genders—I think a lot about gender in specific spaces. I recognize that even our best efforts at inclusive language can alienate and exclude people. Gryphon Circle was historically a women's organization and opening that to include non-binary and gender non-conforming people comes from [a] recognition that womanhood is not biological or defined by specific ways of thinking, being or acting. At each of our service placements, we are doing gendered work—educating children, providing care and companionship for both children and the elderly, and distributing food. I don't think that women or GNC people are more suited to this work… however, I do think that this kind of service provides us with important opportunities that transcend or resist societal ideas about gender: to seize power and use privilege to advocate for those we serve, and to identify how the issues we see at our placements disproportionately affect marginalized genders, namely women and those who fall outside of the gender binary and norms.” 
Lauree Anne DeMattos, Gryphon Circle President

“I think [including GNC individuals] was a really important step for us. By doing this, we can still allow a safe space for women, but we also include people who identify with underrepresented genders. A community of service should find value in representing a diverse group and I think it is very important that SOC and LMU as a whole [continue] to move toward inclusion. Gender non-conforming people belong at this university. Our org is focused on serving women and children. Specifically, women of color [who] are disproportionately affected by lack of access to childcare. Having a shelter dedicated specifically to women allows their specific needs to be addressed in a safe and compassionate way.” 
Lila Roades, Marians President

“What I value most about Magis being a male-identifying org is that it has helped me navigate my sense of masculinity. It is a community that is willing to discuss and confront toxic masculinity while also constructing a more positive sense of what it means to identify as a man. Most of all, it is a place for men to be vulnerable with each other—which is a sadly rare occurrence in society. Being a male-identifying org helps our service by deepening our sense of gender. This especially is useful in mentor positions such as El Espejo and Verbum Dei in which we are able to teach young men about masculinity as a positive force. This allows us to challenge the current social view of what masculinity means as well as gives us many experiences to reflect on and deepen our own understanding.”
Griffin Devine, Magis President

“Ignatians, which was the first all-gender service organization at LMU, values itself in celebrating multiple perspectives and backgrounds. We believe it is extremely important to recognize the different life experiences, whether it be due to where they are from, their gender, their nationality, their belief systems, etc. In doing so, we are able to foster a safe and welcoming environment in which people can learn and serve through an intersectional lens. This awareness of differing voices helps members really embody and understand the Ignatian motto of being people with and for others"
— Nelson Poon, Ignatians President 

“The members of Espérer have recently voted to include gender-non-conforming individuals within the past week. This change will be officially recognized after my current e-board is allowed to amend our constitution at the end of the semester. When I first joined Espérer, I was an incredibly insecure person when it came to social interaction, so being with a group of women who were willing to care for me, consider my emotions and fears with me [and] empower me as a leader and a person was a life-changing experience for me. I do not know where I would be if I did not have those women of Espérer supporting me. As we transition to include gender non-conforming individuals, I believe they [will provide an] important view and opinion to share with other women as they have valuable experience when it comes to understanding the boundaries (or lack thereof) of gender. Admittedly, gender does not matter for our org's placements. We work with children and we work in the environment, but there is no reason that gender should be a boundary to service.” 
Christina Martinez, Espérer President

This is the opinion of Kellie Toyama, an English and women and gender studies double major from O'ahu, HI.

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