Concerns rise for LGBT faculty

by Diana Ming | 7/23/12 10:00pm

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by Yomalis Rosario and Emily Leede / The Dartmouth

In June, the College announced that Associate Dean of the College for Campus Life April Thompson would be leaving Dartmouth after accepting a student dean position at Binghamton University. Pam Misener, the Office of Pluralism and Leadership's advisor to LGBTQA students and Thompson's wife, will also leave the College in January 2013.

"[Thompson] and [Misener] were tremendous Dartmouth figures to not only the LGBTQA community but to everyone they came across, so I can understand why people may think it's a concerning sign for the LGBT community at Dartmouth," Gus Ruiz Llopiz '14 said.

Discussion of retention and vitality among LGBT faculty and staff has become particularly pronounced in light of both Thompson and Misener's departures as well as recent reports of similar retention issues at Harvard University.

Seven "prominent" faculty members, administrators and staff at Harvard who identify as gay or lesbian have left the university in the last two years, The Crimson reported on July 18.

"This queer exodus is a terrible thing for Harvard, its students, and its intellectual, political and moral orientation," Harvard Kennedy School lecturer Timothy McCarthy wrote on his Facebook page, according to The Crimson.

While Ellis said that the College is not facing a significant departure of LGBT faculty members and staff, she said that the College's small size and intimate community makes individual departures seem more impactful.

"Someone leaving the COllege is always a big event, and while two people leaving may seem like a crisis, it's really not," Ellis said.

Ellis pointed to the College's regularly high ratings as a LGBT-friendly campus from third-party sources as a testament to the strong and active LGBT presence on campus.

"If faculty at an institution are unhappy about LGBT issues it's going to trickle down and affect students," she said. "But from what I have drawn that hasn't been the case."

In September, the College received a five-star rating from Campus Pride's LGBT-Friendly Campus Climate Index. Dartmouth was one of 33 American schools to receive the highest ranking out of nearly 300 participating universities, Campus Pride reported.RETENTION ISSUES

While the College has not faced noticeable difficulty attracting openly gay and lesbian faculty members to teach, the largest challenge is retaining them over the long-term, women's and gender studies professor Michael Bronski said.

Hanover's isolated location and lack of a strong LGBT community are challenges for gay and lesbian faculty and staff members, especially younger professionals who may be single, according to Bronski.

Bronski will join Harvard as a media and activism professor and will advise students interested in LGBT scholarship. He will retain his position as a senior lecturer in the College's women's and gender studies department. Bronski said that there is faculty concern over the effect the Greek system has on LGBT students. While Bronski said he is unsure if this has directly affected retention of LGBT employees at the College, many faculty members view the Greek system as an impediment to the College's academic priorities.

"As an openly gay professor in women's studies, I probably hear more than many others incidents of homophobia related to fraternities or Greek life," Bronski said. "These kinds of discussions with students clearly affect what we do as educators."

The issue of retention is not exclusive to LGBT professors, according to Ellis.

"Retaining people we hire is a constant issue every institution faces," Ellis said. "Our hires are going to be competitive for other positions all the time."

New hires are first acclimated to campus through their academic department, and the Office of Institutional Diversity and Equity also offers support group programs, Ellis said. These are geared to help faculty members develop relationships and create another community outside their academic departments based on common experiences.

The LGBT group, led by Misener, has been one of the most active employee networks in recent memory, according to Ellis. The group's membership typically ranges from ten to 25 members at any given time and serves as an important resource for the LGBT community on campus.

The group will be led by Misener until she leaves the College in 2013, and Ellis said they are currently looking for a replacement leader.

Other College faculty members have also engaged in efforts to address issues facing gay and lesbian professors.

Religion professor Susan Ackerman said she was part of a faculty coalition that addressed LGBT concerns in the 1990s. The group worked with the College administration to allow LGBT faculty to place their partners on the College's health insurance policy, which previously only provided coverage for married couples.

They also secured gym membership and library benefits for the partners of gay faculty and convinced United Way, a beneficiary of the College's charitable work, to curtail its support for the Boy Scouts of America, which bars openly gay members, Ackerman said. LGBT STUDIES

Recent efforts to raise the profile of LGBT studies on campus mark an opportunity to increase discussion of LGBTQA culture at the College, which was been previously led by just a few faculty members.

"[LGBT studies] has waxed and waned because, with the exception of [Bronski], nobody else is hired explicitly to teach it," Ackerman said. "It depends on who is on the faculty at any given time and what they're interested in."

In 1996 and 1998, Ackerman co-taught an introduction to LGBT studies course with history professor Annelise Orleck as a college course, she said. This designation means that the course is separate from any department or program. Because college courses can only be funded twice, they struggled to secure long-term funding for the class, Ackerman said. Bronski said he has been teaching the course since joining the WGST department in 2000.

The WGST program is currently seeking approval to hire a full-time tenure-track professor who specializes in LGBT studies, according to department professor Ivy Schweitzer.

"That would strengthen and make prominent that position and its role in the curriculum," Schweitzer said. "That's a really big step."

During her time as chair, Schweitzer encouraged WGST faculty teaching core courses to incorporate LGBT authors into their syllabi. In October 2009, Schweitzer chaired a panel targeted at LGBT alumni and the WGST programs to discuss the advancements made in queer theory and the program's own progress in prioritizing the field.

Bronski said that there exists an assumption that the "burden of teaching" LGBT studies and knowledge falls upon openly gay and lesbian faculty.

"LGBT material transcends across all academic departments," Bronski said. "In the long run, I think we need to train all academic areas to teach their material in a more inclusive manner."

Bronski said that this call for change is not exclusive to Dartmouth, but includes all higher of higher education.

"We all need to think bigger and conceptualize how other academic fields can be more inclusive," he said. "Having more openly gay faculty is also one way of doing this. It's a new way of thinking holistically about things."

Thompson and Misener did not respond to requests for comment by press time.

Staff writer Daniel Bornstein contributed reporting to this article.