Pageants, auctions, speed-dating and similar events are fairly common on college campuses across the country, but they can also be laced with sexism, racism, cultural bias or heterosexism. Zachary Beaver of Springfield, Director of Student Engagement and Leadership Development at AIC, said frequently these types of programs serve to reinforce sexism, racism, and stereotypical gender roles, often unconsciously and disguised as tradition.

Beaver, along with Jennifer Ferrell, Director of Student Involvement at Keene State College, recently presented "Pageants, Auctions, and Similar Events: Recognizing and Challenging Isms, Stereotypes, and Assumptions at the Symposium on Gender in Higher Education. The symposium was held at the University of Maine.

The symposium served as a day-long professional development conference exploring issues of gender in higher education. This year’s keynote addresses and panel focused on intersectional approaches to gender within higher education

Their presentation targeted practitioners responsible for or involved with student programming. "These events can perpetuate assumptions about gender roles, promote heterosexism, or objectify members of all genders if not thoughtfully planned and executed," Beaver said. "It has been shown repeatedly how the planning of programs provides students with a myriad of opportunities for learning and development."

Beaver said these events can send both overt and hidden messages about what is normal, creating an environment of discomfort or even hostility for members of the campus community. "Often these events exist as traditions and require direct challenges by advisors to enact a cultural shift towards inclusivity, creating opportunities for critical discourse around issues related to gender, sexual orientation, power, privilege, and intersectionality," he said.

While intentions may be good, Beaver said, many student organizations use date auctions as fundraisers without recognizing the allusions to slavery, devaluing a person's worth, assumptions about gender, and the expectations that come from "winning" the date.

Although an unbiased, completely objective education does not exist, Beaver said those involved in education cannot take an inactive role. "As educators, it is imperative to create an awareness of potential issues and assumptions and be proactive in every opportunity for student learning. Advisors must be active participants, directly involved in the student learning process, with a working knowledge of applicable theories. Intentional interventions address and combat underlying stereotypes and assumptions, promote intersectionality and healthy gender expressions, and lead to more inclusive environments," he said.