(Columbia) Over the Rainbow: College ignores student outcry

By Editor-in-Chief

As reported on the Front Page, the college hosted a forum Nov. 18 to discuss the LGBTQ issues on campus following the angry reaction from the campus community to the news that the Gay and Lesbian Studies I and II classes offerings would be reduced to one section each next semester.

 Vice president and Provost Stan Wearden advertised the forum in several emails to the college community, pointing to underlying issues being the source of anger rather than the actual reductions.   

 I have to agree with Wearden. On the surface the issue may be the section reductions, but the underlying problem is the lack of respect and consideration exhibited towards the LGBTQ community by the college’s administration and leadership.  

 Having grown up gay in a small, conservative city in Michigan, I understand the need to find a sense of community and a place that inspires a feeling of acceptance.

 Though I never experienced bullying or being ostracized for my sexuality in high school or during my time at the local community college, I always felt like I was stuck in an atmosphere that just couldn’t understand what it is like to be different in a sea of the same.

 It wasn’t until I transferred to Columbia that I got to experience a world where sexuality is inconsequential to how people are perceived. One of my first classes at the college was adjunct professor Terrie Griffith’s Gay and Lesbian Studies II course. A fascination with the concept led to my enrollment.

 Not knowing what to expect, I entered the class and was immediately struck by its open nature. Several of the other students were like me—freshman or transfers looking for some connection to their sexual identity. Not only were they able to learn about LGBTQ history, they had the opportunity to talk about issues relevant to the community in an environment that offered unconditional support.

 It’s an amazing and soulful experience to be immersed in a class of people that innately understands your brand of diversity. There is no price that can be put on it, which is why the college’s decision to decrease the section offerings of the classes is so disgustingly heinous. By effectively cutting seats in the program from 100 to 50, the college is depriving its LGBTQ students of that opportunity, and for a college that touts its diverse nature, it is an indescribable injustice.

 Both GALS classes attract enrollment numbers that rival several major requirements and other elective classes. Additionally, there is an obvious call from the student body for these classes. The issue inspired so many students to attend the forum that there was standing room only. When the attendance at a forum inspired by a curriculum change attracts more students than any of the past four Strategic Planning round table discussions combined, the college needs to swallow its pride and acknowledge that it made a poorly thought-out  decision. Frustratingly, there still only remains one section offering for each class.

 While the college’s decision to host a forum is commendable, it appears to be a stall tactic meant to placate people until it becomes too late to open additional sections of the class. Steven Corey, the chair of the History, Humanities and Social Sciences Department who decided to reduce the section offerings after receiving a section reduction directive from Wearden, should take the LGBTQ community’s feedback and displeasure as a sign that the reduction was the wrong move on the college’s part. When a class has a record of full enrollment it is illogical to cut it.

 Last year a similar situation occurred when adjunct professor Iymen Chehade’s Israeli-Palestinian Conflict course was reduced from two sections to one. Admittedly, there were allegations of violations of academic freedom, but the large outpouring of support for Chehade and his class—and the national press—helped contribute to the reinstatement of his class. Rather than learn from the incident, it appears as if the college has resigned itself to perpetuate the same cycle.

 Columbia has a longstanding reputation as being a gay-friendly college. Many students playfully recite the motto “Assume gay until stated otherwise” because of the large LGBTQ population on campus. But the college is jeopardizing its standing as a gay-friendly institution, and it needs to place more emphasis on listening to what its LGBTQ student body says it wants rather than what the administration thinks it needs.