Gay, Lesbian, Advocacy
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In this paper, it will be my objective, firstly is to discuss the integration of Gay and Lesbian Literature in the College Classroom as a means of redefining Cultural Diversity (CD). Secondly, with the addition of texts centrally focused on sexual identity and/or orientation will aid in perpetuating the on-going idea of anagnorisis, that is to say a movement from ignorance to knowledge. I will also discuss the criteria that are governed by my university when a class goes through the process of being CD certified and how with the addition of sexual identity/orientation to the list of accepted topics, will encompass a more unified campus life for both heterosexual and homosexual students and faculty alike.
"GAY AND LESBIAN LITERATURE IN THE COLLEGE CLASSROOM: A REDEFINITION OF CULTURAL DIVERSITY"
Professors from the time they are undergraduates to the transition of being graduate students find their voice via the fundamentals of what makes a good teacher. One major fundamental is the idea of Enculturation- the ability to incorporate diversity of either a cultural, ethnical or a sexual nature in the classroom without fear of reprisal from the department. The premise of this paper is to inform people of the growing interest as well as the growing necessity of incorporating gay and lesbian literature in the college classroom.
For every gay, lesbian and bisexual (GLB) individual, the coming out process is one of the most excruciating experiences. It is also more difficult than one could ever fathom. In a study conducted by Gilda Lopez and Nancy Chism in an article entitled “Classroom Concerns for Gay and Lesbian Students: The Invisible Minority” (1993) it is stated that “Teachers should offer students who appear to be having difficulties with sexual identification indirect rather than direct offers of help” (pp.98). The article goes on to say that “making supportive general statements rather than singling out particular students was thought to be the safest course of action, whether the teacher is heterosexual or is gay or lesbian” (pp.98).
In terms of redefining Cultural Diversity, one can look at the possibility of integrating literature, which deals with issues of sexual identity and/or orientation into a classroom of any discipline to further the on-going struggle for acceptance and validation from heterosexual peers. For example incorporating such texts in Biology or Chemistry classes will aid in the discussion of one being born homosexual or being one’s choice and having sufficient scientific data presented to support such findings. Furthermore, incorporating such texts in an English class could also open the floor to discussion through a term known as personal narrative. An example of this could be having the students put themselves in the mindset of a gay, lesbian, or bisexual student, writing their own coming out story including what adversity one would face and how one goes about coming out. This will in turn expose them to a different side of cultural diversity. not just that of race, ethnicity and gender, but being that of sexual identity and/or orientation and applying it to real life situations that are faced daily by GLB students and faculty alike will make the discussions more intimate and well rounded.
Further evidence supported in Lopez and Chisms’ study indicates that in one students’ ethics course the instructor set aside an entire week to talk about gay, lesbian and bisexual issues, whereas another student in a different section of the same course stated that the instructor skipped over the topic entirely (pp.102). The article continues to say that in this particular section, topics of gay, lesbian, and bisexual issues, when they correlate to such acts of deviance and sodomy, but never discussed as a part of a broader cultural issue.
According to Lopez and Chism, “An instructor may avoid gay and lesbian issues in the classroom either because of their own ignorance because they feel as though they do not possess sufficient knowledge to respond to student work on the subject. On the other hand, they refuse to see that there is an issue and they are uncomfortable with presenting materials of a controversial nature (pp. 102). Another reason as to why professors are uncomfortable is a lack in pertinent textual resources to aid them in the instruction of the aforementioned topics. A valid fear could come in the form of possible violence towards the instructor or the students in the class.
Incorporating GLBT content in the curriculum, however would offer a sense of validation, legitimacy, and even give a sense of visibility to the gay and lesbian community. Lopez and Chism conclude that “For students in the coming out process, such experiences can be immensely supportive and that, for heterosexual students, these can be good opportunities to become more open-minded and less homophobic” (pp.102).
Martin Esslin, a literary critic, in his essay Aristotle and the Advertisers: the Television Commercial as Drama anthologized in Text Book: Writing through Literature, states that “Aristotle believed that plots are more interesting if they lead to a change from ignorance to knowledge. He called such a change “recognition” or “anagnorisis” (Scholes, Comley, Ulmer, 2002, pp.51). The precise movement from a person being ignorant about homosexuality, that is to say not having sufficient knowledge about the subject, to becoming more knowledgeable about one’s peers is achievable through exposing college students to materials of a homosexual nature, therein perpetuating this idea of anagnorisis.
A huge comfort for students in the coming out process is to know that an instructor is ready, willing and able to be a safe haven in which to discuss issues of identity and orientation freely without the fear of reprisal or ridicule on the part of the instructor. In her essay Including All Voices In The Classroom: Teaching Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Students Kristen Renn states that “Being knowledgeable or supportive does not necessarily imply a great deal of advocacy or action on the part of the faculty, it has however a positive impact on our LGB students” (pp.130). This is crucial when dealing with students whom feel as though they have nowhere to turn nor that they are wanted, needed or even accepted by faculty.
As Renn states “…college provides the first opportunity for many students to explore their lesbian, gay or bisexual identity” (pp.131). This idea of anagnorisis though proven beneficial to students using this example; however, faculty as well can be greatly influenced. Professors to some varying degree play a pivotal role in capitalizing on the experiences and insights of their students as they learn to live their lives as gay, lesbian, and bisexual individuals. Renn goes on to say that “We are also in a position to affect the lives of these students and their peers----all of our students---by helping them unlearn incorrect assumptions and prejudices about various sexual orientations” (p.133).
Anagnorisis is valuable to any aspect of learning, whether it is in the classroom or the real world. Any opportunity one has to learn something new and exciting about the world they may have perceived as wrong or unjust, is just another example of their ability to move from ignorance about a prejudice to gaining more knowledge and being more apt to discussing issues of that nature.
In the book How to succeed on a Majority Campus: A guide for Minority Students it states that in order to “foster a more empathetic and understanding culturally diverse community on campus, we each must take responsibility for supporting and respecting one another” (Levey, Blanco, & Jones, 1998, pp.147). The sentence goes on to say that being lesbian, gay, bisexual, heterosexual, African American, Asian American, Native American, and Latin American is not a crime, however the true crime as the text supports is to “dismiss or prejudge a fellow student by some personal qualities that do not necessarily have anything to do with the person’s character” (pp.147).
When considering a class for CD accreditation one must look at the “structural and policy-related implications for an institution seeking to honor diversity in general and queer lives in particular” (Tierney, 1997, pp.142). According to the WI/CD Committee Governance Document of 2008, it states in regards to Cultural Diversity approval that:
The purpose of the Cultural Diversity requirement is to introduce students to non-Western cultures (such as those of Africa, Asia, and Latin America) and to give voice to traditionally underrepresented groups in America and Europe.
1. In Cultural Diversity courses, issues of race, ethnicity, or gender must be integral to the design of the course. That is, they must not be mere add-ons, even if substantial ones.
2. Cultural Diversity courses must take a comparative approach giving appropriate amounts of attention to all groups.
3. Cultural Diversity courses may focus on topics in the United States, Europe, or in the non-Western world.
4. Courses focusing on the United States should incorporate substantial discussion on issues of race, ethnicity, or gender and must feature at least one of the following groups:
- African Americans
- Asian Americans
- Native Americans
1. Courses focusing on Europe should incorporate substantial discussion on issues of race, ethnicity, or gender and must feature groups that are not traditionally considered as being in the mainstream of Western culture.
2. Courses focusing on the non-Western world should emphasize the cultural interactions between the Western and non-Western worlds, and/or the interplay between various racial, ethnic, and gender groups.
3. Readings and other material used in Cultural Diversity courses must give substantial voice to the selected groups and must be an integral part of the course. The materials may include artwork, archeological materials, and other non-written forms of primary sources created by the specific group.
(www.unk.edu/uploadedFiles/.../CD/WI-CD%20Governance.pdf, 2008, pp.5).
Nowhere in this statement does it ever mention the fact that sexual orientation is a part of what cultural diversity stands for per the university’s standards. The addition of sexual identity/orientation to the abovementioned list will not only clarify what it means to be culturally diverse, but will give a sense of validation and a visible voice to the gay, lesbian and bisexual community as being part of a whole body, not just the outsider within. Adding the prospect of sexual identity to the world of cultural diversity will open up many classes in which professors can begin to teach subject material over what gives meaning to being gay, lesbian, or bisexual and therein giving a voice to an underrepresented group of individual within the university system.
Cultural Diversity anymore does not just relate to race, ethnicity or gender. It encompasses much more than that, and to be limited to just the five groups mentioned above, is leading in the sense that the university’s own ignorance and intolerance shine through and that these issues are deemed too controversial as well as politically suicidal to discuss openly. William G. Tierney says it best in his book Academic Outlaws: Queer Theory and Cultural Studies in Academy (1997) states that “These struggles are about moments when men and women can express affection for their partners without fear, and a straight person can understand the connections we have with one another, in so doing, we keep hope alive” (pp 176). Through this process, we can begin to see a more unified and cohesive campus life not just for the straight students, but the “invisible minority”, that is to say the gay, lesbian and bisexual students and faculty.
In conclusion, throughout this paper, the redefinition of cultural diversity as it pertains to the college classroom as well as the curriculum surrounding the institution needs adjusting. Through the acceptance of sexual identity/orientation to the list of approved groups that which can be discussed openly and freely by college faculty, will not only perpetuate the movement from ignorance to knowledge (anagnorisis), formulating new opinions about sexual identity, (dianoia), and also giving way to a reversal of homophobic attitudes, and leading to the acceptance of differences (peripetia). This process will also aid in opening up the discussion, as to maybe why these issues tend to be so trivial. In so doing, reaching a broader audience which is done by allowing the students to gain sufficient knowledge as to why they are prejudiced against GLB students and therein-finding ways to become more tolerant and accepting of issues surrounding gay, lesbian, and bisexual persons.
William G. Tierney: Academic Outlaws: Queer Theory and Cultural Studies in the Academy
Andrea Weiss and Greta Schiller: Before Stonewall: The Making of a Gay and Lesbian Community
Ritch C. Savin-Williams: And Then I Became Gay: Young Men’s Stories
Deb Price and Joyce Murdoch: And Say Hi To Joyce
Wes Muchmore and William Hanson: Coming Along Fine: today’s gay man and his world
Craig A. Rimmerman: Gay Rights, Military Wrongs: Political Perspectives on Lesbians and Gays in the Military
Diana Fuss: Inside/Out: Lesbian Theories, Gay Theories
Gilbert Herdt and Andrew Boxer: Children of Horizons: how gay and lesbian teens are leading a new way out of the closet
Lopez, G, Chism, N. “Classroom Concerns of Gay and Lesbian Students: the Invisible Minority” College Teaching, v41, n3, pp93-103, Sum 1993
Renn, K. “Including All Voices in the Classroom: Teaching Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Students” College Teaching, v48, n4, pp129-135 fall 2000
Scholes, R., Comley, N., Ulmer, G. (2002). Text Book: Writing through Literature. Boston/New York: Bedford/ St. Martins.
Levey, M., Blanco, M., Jones, W. Terrell. (1998) How to Succeed on a Majority Campus: A Guide for Minority Students. Boston/New York: Wadsworth Publishing Company
Tierney, W.G. (1997). Academic Outlaws: Queer Theory and Cultural Studies in the Academy. London/ New Delhi: Sage Publications, Inc.