Thursday, October 13, 2011

When Hate Goes Underground

Diversity, multi-culturalism and minority students: these are the keywords in higher education today. Over the last 20 years, college and university leaders have been increasingly recognizing the benefit of learning in diverse and integrated college environments. Like other minority groups, this has meant great things for LGBT students, staff and faculty...many schools don't just tolerate us, they want us and they actively seek us out! This would have been inconceivable in the 80s, and only slowly became conceivable in the 90s and 00s.

In 1994, there were 5 LGBT Centers on college and university campuses. Now there are at least 200. In 1997, LGBT Center staff members founded their own professional group, the Consortium of Higher Education LGBT Resource Professionals, firmly asserting that LGBT student support is a legitimate field. Presently, senior leadership at some schools participate in It Gets Better videos, attend Lavender Graduations, and sometimes even publicly come out themselves. These actions speak loudly to LGBT students and staff.

I would posit that it's essentially undisputed in higher education communities that diversity is good, and that some kind of support for LGBT students is appropriate.

But what this means is that dissenting opinions go underground. Sure, homophobia is loud when you look at the Republican party's presidential candidates and the like, but in intelligent, open-minded communities, those who disagree with the widely-held tenets of diversity=good, LGBT support=good tend to stay mum.

On the surface, this seems delightful for those of us who are working to support and empower LGBT students. Less hate speech is always better, right? Ah, but this is where it gets complicated. If resistance to LGBT support and programming is underground, it does not get discussed in campus-wide forums or classrooms. Instead it gets compounded in dorm rooms and student group meetings. We need the open air to talk about both the importance of and the resistance to LGBT initiatives at schools.

So when my friend Caroline sent me this article by a Dartmouth student who disputes the need for an LGBT affinity house on campus, I was actually pleased. Thank you for speaking up, Roger Lott, so that we can openly and thoroughly refute your opposition to this type of LGBT support! A few choice quotes from the article:
"LGBT affinity house may constitute unnecessary favoritism and encourage students to needlessly define themselves by their sexual orientation."

"For some, the lack of LGBT social spaces is especially glaring. An LGBT affinity house, however, would only encourage sexual minorities to isolate themselves from the campus at large."
"The College does not need to go out of its way to seek more gay students."
 The comment section provides some excellent rebuttals:
"If your issue is with affiliation in general, write about that. But affiliation housing is a fact of college life. Dartmouth has a Spanish language house, a Native American house, a LALACS house, a Chinese language house, Hillel apartments, German apartments, Russian apartments, an African-American dormitory, and many others, I’m sure. There are physical spaces dedicated to shared heritage, shared religion, and shared interest. To deny such a space to LGBT students does not, as Roger says, 'combat the notion that homosexuals are essentially different from straight people;' it simply sends the message that LGBT-ness does not deserve the same consideration as other sources of affinity."

"Your argument is basically the same as the argument that we shouldn’t have gay pride celebrations because it calls attention to the fact that gay people exist as gay and that this somehow denigrates their common humanity, when in fact the existence of pride parades speaks TO the fact that gay people are human too, in the face of a status quo that behaves as if we are not."
If we really want to expand college and university communities' understanding of issues that affect minority students, we can't shy away from putting everything out of the table. Even the hateful, ill-informed and naive perspectives need to be examined and discussed by students and staff alike.

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