Tai Williams, Sydney Giacalone, Selena Groh and Harper Hopkins, the organizers of Avian pose for a group photo. (Margot Day / The Tufts Daily)

New student organization looks to offer supportive space for female, non-binary students

Avian, a new student organization that aims to create a conscious and supportive space for female and femme-aligned non-binary students, was formed this semester.

Harper Hopkins, Avian’s consciousness education chair, said that the group was created in order to provide a space for people impacted by what she referred to as “first-order misogyny.”

“Everyone is, of course, impacted by misogyny, but the people who experience it directly in their daily life are people who I would say are impacted by first-order misogyny,” Hopkins, a sophomore, said.

According to Tai Williams, the organization’s meeting coordinator, Avian is unique because it aims to fuse together the public service missions of several existing organizations at Tufts.

“Looking around campus, I think there are a lot of incredible organizations currently focused on having a specific cause or for solely social purposes,” Williams, a senior, said. “What we’re trying to do is create one that combines the best parts of these.”

Hopkins feels that Avian is important because it caters to an existing demand on campus for a group with Avian’s core social justice ideals.

“It’s simply a matter of ecological niche. There isn’t really an organization on this campus that is basically a purely social organization that also has heavy founding social justice principles,” Hopkins said.

Williams believes that Avian could play an important role in strengthening the Tufts community.

“We have the opportunity to create a unique and needed space where people get to socialize and form new friendships while strengthening existing friendships and also contributing to social justice causes,” Williams said.

Publicity Chair Selena Groh said that friendship is one of the core tenets of Avian.

“A big part of our aim is to have social events, grow friendships and have women and female-identifying non-binary people gain leadership positions,” Groh, a sophomore, said.

Groh also commented on how her experience as a member of a Greek organization at Tufts shaped the organizers’ vision for Avian’s philanthropic work.

“Having been a part of Greek life before, I had experience of the ways in which philanthropy works in those organizations. For Avian, I wanted something that would be more personal and local,” Groh said. “We’re looking at local groups, campus organizations and smaller national causes. We don’t feel like we would be able to contribute meaningfully to some of the larger national charities.”

Williams discussed the importance of varying the type of work that Avian will eventually do.

“We would like to choose a different cause to support each month so that the purpose of our group in terms of social justice is fluid, and we’re able to have an impact in a lot of different ways,” Williams said.

According to Groh, Avian also plans to collaborate with the Group of Six centers at Tufts to ensure that the organization is self-regulating and community based.

“In the future we want to have workshops with Group of Six centers and possibly guest speakers from Tufts faculty,” Groh said.

Williams believes that working closely with other groups on campus will be beneficial to all members of Avian.

“We want to create a heightened awareness and diverse involvement of our group members so that we can come back together, and share these experiences and develop more as people,” Williams said.

As of now, Avian is not officially affiliated with Tufts.

“We are simply a group of people who all happen to go to Tufts. In the future that may change, depending on the needs and wants of our members,” Hopkins said.

Groh discussed the challenges that the organizers faced in Avian’s formation.

“We want it to be created in a very community-based way with everybody’s input,” Groh said. “Also, part of the challenge has been creating the organization [by] trying to keep other people’s interests in mind, but also recognizing that people might not be interested until they know what the organization is.”

According to Hopkins, articulating the goals and purpose of Avian has also been a hurdle.

“It’s been difficult refining the language with which we talk about ourselves and refining what exactly we want ourselves to be,” Hopkins said.

Williams agreed with this, commenting on the obstacles they have faced in gaining recognition on campus.

“I just want people to hear the name Avian and understand what that means,” Williams said.

According to Williams, Avian will be having a holding a general interest meeting next week.

“I’m really excited to get this group off the ground. I’m looking forward to growing our membership, becoming an active part of this campus and meeting everyone who is interested,” Williams said.

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3 Responses

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  1. Mike
    Feb 25, 2017 - 06:00 AM

    So this is a sorority?

    • Harper Hopkins
      Mar 12, 2017 - 04:40 AM

      Hi Mike!
      First of all, thanks for taking the time to read and comment. As one of the five council members mentioned in the article, I’d be more than happy to answer your question. To put it simply: No, we are not a sorority. I definitely see where you’re coming from, as some aspects of our organization do overlap with certain aspects of what we might call the “sorority model”. However, our organization places its focus more heavily on issues of empowerment, privilege, and social justice work than most sororities do (not that sororities don’t pay attention to these issues, but our organization is hoping to incorporate these conversations much more deeply into our fabric than other, existing types of organizations do). Additionally, we are not currently planning to go gain members through a recruitment and pledging process, or to maintain the same social structures within our organization that most sororities do. Selena mentioned in the article that she has had some experiences with Greek life. So have I, and so have other members. As such, and with Greek organizations being a major topic of discussion on campus at the moment, it is inevitable that there will be certain similarities between our new organization and the primary types of social organizations that currently exist on campus. If I were to attempt to classify Avian, however, I would say that we are neither a Greek organization nor a pure social justice organization. Rather, we exist at an intersection as a gendered social space (specifically for women and nonbinary students) that is attempting to be socially just.

      Let me know if you have any more questions!

      • J'83 Alumna
        Mar 23, 2017 - 09:34 PM

        I’m glad to hear that, because there is so much internalized misogyny in Greek culture and the recruitment and pledging process itself is not one that starts off with a basic acceptance of everyone who is interested in being a member. Everyone who wants to should have the ability to participate in an organization such as this one, and I love to see that Tufts has something like this on campus.

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