Funds for gay studies approved

by Breeanne Clowdus | 5/20/94 5:00am

After five years of planning and waiting, the first gay and lesbian studies course will be offered Winter term 1996.

The course, titled "Introduction to Gay and Lesbian Studies," will introduce students to the contemporary debates and historical conceptions about homosexuality in western culture and the struggles of gay and lesbians to achieve recognition and rights.

The course will also examine the formation of gay and lesbian communities as well as the impact of the AIDS crisis on gay and lesbian political activism.

"The course will have both an overarching historical structure as well as a humanities effort to document homosexuality and its evolution through film, literature and religion," Religion Professor Susan Ackerman said. She will team teach the course, with History Professor Annelise Orleck.

"There will also be a lecture series on multicultural perspectives of homosexuality and how it is treated in different countries," she said.

Trevor Burgess, Co-Chair of Dartmouth Gay, Lebian and Bisexual Organization said he thinks the course will help College community members "work through their homophobia."

"I think the introduction of gay and lesbian issues into the curriculum will help to empower the gay students while educating the non-gay students about an often displaced, yet large sector of our society," he said.

Idea originated in 1991

The idea for the student-initiated course came in the winter of 1991. "Two students who graduated in 1990 who were active in the Dartmouth Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Organization were worried about the lack of gay and lesbian curriculum at Dartmouth," Ackerman said.

The students then formed a curriculum group composed of students, faculty and administrators. Members began meeting in the winter of 1991 to develop a syllabus for a new gay and lesbian introductory course. Both Ackerman and Orleck were involved in the group from the beginning.

Like any new course proposal, Introduction to Gay and Lesbian Studies then went before the Committee on Instruction,where it was approved. Both the Humanities and Social Sciences Divisional Councils then approved it for distributive credit.

The course is listed in the Organization, Regulations, and Courses as College Course 3 as distributive credit in either the humanities or the social sciences.

After passing the Divisional Councils, the course then went to Dean of Faculty James Wright's desk to await funding.

Wright did not return repeated telephone calls or BlitzMail messages over the past two weeks.

Funding problems

Ackerman said a strain on course funding has made it difficult "to get the course off the ground."

"Because the religion and history departments need both Professor Orleck and myself to teach departmental classes," said Ackerman, "they expect to be compensated by the Dean's Office in order to hire someone to teach the courses we were unable to."

"The difficulty has been a financial one, not a conflict or hesitance over course content," said English Professor Peter Saccio, an initial member of the committee on the course.

The funding for the course is only for one year, but if student interest is high, Ackerman said it could receive funding for future years. "Our hope is that the course will become popular and will become a course taught every year or every other year," Ackerman said.

Students have mixed reactions

Students' initial reactions to the course have varied greatly.

"I think it's an excellent idea to have the class. My reservation would be that those who need to know the history, i.e. homophobes, will not be taking it," Jodi Scarpa '97 said. "I think it is important to emphasize that the course is an academic study, not an encounter group."

Ackerman said she does not "want this to be an [encounter] group or a confessional -- it's not appropriate. I want it to have academic integrity."

Some students also voiced concerns about the class make up, "I would assume it would be people who are gay or people who are intrigued by it," Michael Lu '96 said.

Another Dartmouth student, a freshman who asked to remain anonymous, reacted negatively to the offering. "It will produce a whole lot of controversy we don't need."

Ackerman also said she hopes the course will have a strong impact on the student body.

"I hope the course will have an impact on the way the students think about themselves, their communities and their friends," she said. "The course says to gay and lesbian students that 'my college takes me seriously, I'm important.'"

Prospects of a department

With the introduction of this first course, several professors and students said a gay and lesbian studies program will probably follow.

"The prospects of a gay and lesbian program are not that far in the distant future," said Ackerman. "I definitely see a program within the next 10 years."

Saccio said, "I see a gay and lesbian studies program and department coming about in much the same way that the women's studies curriculum evolved to a present day major."

"I would hope that Dartmouth would follow many other prestigious institutions by creating in the not so distant future a Gay and Lesbian Studies Department. As the college community continues to work through its homophobia this may become a reality," Burgess said.

Ackerman said the introductory course is a good place to start. "This promises to be an exciting course," Ackerman said, "I encourage freshmen and sophomores to keep their schedules open."