By Reunion 1993, OAC members were starting to talk about hosting their own reunion. “They were so much more comfortable hanging out in that group than they were being out with their classmates,” says Fikse.
That summer, Lewis asked Mauk to help turn the dream of an OAC reunion into reality. “I felt confident about making it all happen because of the support Steve Lewis expressed for it,” says Mauk. “I came away from that conversation absolutely convinced that this was going to work.”
Mauk partnered with Fikse and Potter to cochair the reunion, which ultimately would take five years to plan. If anything, the work deepened the trio’s commitment to Carleton. Potter would stay active with OAC until her death in 2012. Fikse served on the Alumni Council from 2013 to 2017, and Mauk became president of the Alumni Council and chaired his class’s 50th reunion committee.
While the reunion was being planned, OAC continued to grow and develop. First, members started raising funds. In 1993 they collected about $300 at Reunion to buy subscriptions to gay and lesbian journals for Gould Library. With the arrival of the Waterburys’ endowed fund, interest in philanthropy increased. By the end of 1994, 70 alumni had contributed an additional $80,000 to the fund.
“This was the first time some of these people gave any money to the college,” says Fikse. “They did it because they could use their money to encourage change at Carleton.”
Next, in 1996, OAC moved its annual Reunion gathering from the basement of Severance to a more visible outdoor tent bedecked with a rainbow flag. Later that year, the group took a poll and decided it was ready to transfer custody of its membership rolls to the college.
Indeed, trust in the college was growing and, by October 1998, many LGBTQA alumni were ready to come back to campus—some for the first time since graduation—for their own reunion.
The primary goal of that first OAC reunion was to restore relationships with Carleton. It was dubbed the Family Reunion both as a nod to repaired relationships and to facilitate discreet communication about the event for alumni who still needed it. Plenty of activities on the schedule were typical of a regular reunion: sports and recreation, receptions, student-led campus tours. But there also were oral history sessions and discussions about the evolution of LGBTQA student life at Carleton through the decades to help alumni share their stories, vent their frustrations, and affirm their experiences.
“It was compelling, because it felt like a big, broad family,” says Fikse. “People old enough to be my parents were telling their stories about being gay at Carleton.”
The Family Reunion offered practical benefits, too, via discussions on financial planning for same-sex couples, how to support LGBTQA rights in the political arena, and being out in the workplace.
The event ended with a Sunday-morning brunch in Great Hall, where Lewis asked the group for input. Participants said that LGBTQA students needed a dedicated staff adviser—especially given Davis’s departure for Columbia two years earlier.
The very next year, Carleton hired its first adviser for LGBTQA students, and the year after that opened the Gender and Sexuality Center.
“It was breathtaking how quickly it happened,” says Fikse.
“We were heard,” says Mauk.
For the first time, many OAC members felt that Carleton accepted them and valued them.
OAC has continued to host Family Reunions every four years or so. The most recent one, in 2015, drew 100 people. Organizers hope the next one, scheduled for this October, will bring even more alumni back to campus. “Healing is still a big priority,” says current OAC cochair Elliot James ’04. “Many members of the community are still struggling to think about Carleton as a place that isn’t oppressive.”
James, a history professor at the University of Minnesota–Morris, points out that although LGBTQA rights have made impressive strides, some members of the community still face marginalization and oppression. “Matthew Shepard was attacked just as people were coming to Carleton for the first Family Reunion,” says James. “Now we’re talking about the high rates of trans women of color who are killed. The faces we see and mourn have changed, but the violence around gender and sexuality is still something we share.
“I don’t know if it’s useful for this pain to be our shared point of connection. But as a historian, I do believe it’s useful to recognize the fissures in how we identify who we are as a community so we can work together across generations to heal these things.”
“For me, the Family Reunion is all about the intergenerational connections and the opportunities we have to learn from each other,” says cochair Lisa Nordeen ’90. “We’ve built a group that is hopeful, healing, and actively looking for intergenerational bridges across eras.”
OAC members continue to mentor students and serve as advisers on everything from being out in the workplace to finding LGBTQA communities in various cities after graduation.
OAC has helped many alumni come to feel affection for Carleton, but group members still think of themselves as “the rabble-rousers,” says Nordeen. There will always be more work to do and more stories to share.
“If you’d asked me 10 years ago whether I’d be involved with Out After Carleton, I would have said not really,” says Nordeen. “I came into it with skepticism, but I have met so many amazing people. I’ve loved being part of it.”
“I’m excited to welcome alumni back to campus for the Out After Carleton reunion,” says Carleton president Steven Poskanzer. “I’m looking forward to a terrific set of events and speakers and, especially, to the chance to see friends old and new. The OAC reunion is a great opportunity to connect across generations of Carleton’s LGBTQA alumni and allies to create and strengthen our community.”
To alumni who wonder whether they should participate in OAC, Nordeen says: “Give it a try. Just show up. Maybe you’ll feel at home.”
Register for the OAC Family Reunion.