Making Her Own Schedule, Setting Her Own Pace


HER SOPHOMORE YEAR Sheila C. Allen was co-chair of the Bisexual, Gay and Lesbian Students Association (BGLSA), co-director of Contact, a peer counseling group, and one of the founders of the feminist magazine, 'the rag.'

Next year Allen is moving back home to Washington and getting a dog.

"I don't want to think on anyone else's schedule next year," Allen says. She talks of working at some irregular menial job and seems almost wistful when suggesting she'd like to wait tables.

Such statements sound odd coming from Allen, who is known as much for being an Adams House intellectual as for her activism in feminist and gay and lesbian causes.

But as she says, "I'm not a symbol, you know. I'm just me."

ALTHOUGH IT'S BEEN A WHILE since the media called her every time they needed a quote about homosexuals at Harvard, Allen definitely feels that she was a token for much of her time here. She describes herself somewhat ironically as being "the dyke of the Class of '93," and is conscious of the notoriety that caused.

"Certainly, my freshman and sophomore year, it was like I was the paradigm of the Harvard lesbian," she says.

This was not necessarily a definition she shied away from. As Allen says, she came to college "primed to be political, primed to be out."

In high school Allen worked for the national peace organization, SANEFreeze. At SANEFreeze Allen served as an "in house feminist," working to raise awareness of women's issues within the organization itself.

From her experiences at SANEFreeze, Allen says she recognized the impact that actively working to combat homophobia could have. It was also from her experiences at the peace organization that Allen developed her commitment to transforming ideology into action, a quality that is one of the first things people mention about her.

Although she had planned to become very involved in the lesbian and gay scene at college, Allen was initially disenchanted with the BGLSA.

"Freshmen week, I went to practically every event that had gay in the name, but the women didn't appear," Allen recalls. "The first couple of times I went to the BGLSA I was appalled at how many men were in it and how the two women running it weren't feminists."

As she recalls, it was some "relatively early event," perhaps National Coming Out Day, that brought her back to the BGLSA. She quickly got involved in BGLSA activities, becoming an at-large member of the board and helping organize protests against ROTC's presence at Harvard. She was elected co-chair in the spring.

Allen's year in office came at the same time as a resurgence of right-wing activism on campus. Two new groups, the far-right journal Peninsula and AALARM, the Association Against Learning in the Absence of Religious and Morality, started up just as the Republican Club began staking out a more conservative and more outspoken stance under the leadership of then-President Sumner E. Anderson '92.

The groups claimed to represent oases of conservatism in Harvard's politically correct desert and took gay rights and the general acceptance of the homosexual lifestyle as direct targets.