27 May 2011

A&M administration silent as anti-GLBT rhetoric flies

Cross-posted at Left of College Station.
We ask that the administration address the recent series of events surrounding the Gay-Lesbian-Bisexual-Transgender (GLBT) community on campus. We, as faculty, condemn the recent TAMU Student Senate Bill 63-106 (Sexual Education Equality in Funding Bill). By suggesting that students seeking guidance from the GLBT Resource Center are not represented by the terms 'family,' 'tradition,' or 'values,' this bill blatantly goes against Texas A&M's commitment to a diverse, unified campus that incorporates multiple perspectives as part of Aggie tradition and values. Other recent events--such as the secret recording and then broadcasting of GLBT meetings on YouTube--ostracize GLBT students form the safe space that the TAMU campus should be for all students. Such events, and TAMU administration's silence in the wake of these events, reflect the institutional forces that limit the representation of and support for historically marginalized and disempowered groups in our university. We acknowledge that these current events have incited a sense of fear and mistrust among the GLBT community. We reach out with empathy to all those affected and remain committed to addressing injustice as members of the campus community and as anthropologists. Further, we hold the administration accountable for addressing this issue in a timely manner.
-Statement unanimously approved by the faculty of the Department of Anthropology in May, from a memo to the upper administration at Texas A&M University, May 10 (emphasis added)
A&M students holding a sign reading "We are all part of the Aggie family" at the "Hands Across Aggieland" Unity March on April 15. (From the Texas A&M GLBT Resource Center Facebook page)
Following the groundswell of support from faculty, staff, and students in the Department of English, and with the advice and support of the department's directors and diversity committee, I am writing to endorse the statement of the Anthropology faculty in the memo addressed to you on May 10 concerning support for the Texas A&M Gay-Lesbian-Bisexual-Transgender Resource Center in particular and more generally the GLBT community on our campus and the call for a positive response from the upper administration that affirms a re-commitment to diversity inclusive of sexuality and gender differences. The GLBT community, as a growing part of the Aggie family, deserves the support of our higher administrators, as well as our support at the departmental level. [...] Many members of the English department have expressed a desire to sign a petition in support of this position as well, but in the interest of acting quickly, I have decided not to collect those signatures at this time. Please note that many others do not feel that they can safely sign their names to such a petition. Let us hope for a future when the feelings of vulnerability that these silent ones experience will be dispelled by a campus community known for its civility, tolerance, and respect.
-Memo from the head of the Department of English, Dr. Killingsworth, to the upper administration at Texas A&M University, May 12 (emphasis added)
An A&M student at the GLBT Resource Center's "gay? fine by me." t-shirt giveaway on the National Day of Silence, April 20. (From the Texas A&M GLBT Resource Center's Facebook page)
You may think of me as a faggot, a queer, a poof, a fairy, or a dirty homo. You may think that I will certainly die of AIDS…some of you may even think that I should die because of it. I know people on this campus and in this community who think that I deserve the death penalty for being gay. That is the reality of being gay on this campus, Senators. Even if a GLBT man or woman never once experiences outright discrimination, the knowledge that if it weren’t for Texas politeness they almost certainly would stays with them. It is fear, a constant awareness that we have to have when we’re on a date or walking across campus, an undercurrent of uncertainty about how people will react to us holding hands, wearing a GLBTAggies t-shirt, or standing in front of an Aggie Allies table by the Academic Building.

That is why the GLBT Resource Center is essential. It was part of what kept me alive a year ago, having a community where I knew I could find support, be able to talk to people who knew what I was going through and had the funding and resources to help get me (and every other person who visits the center, gay or straight) the information and support that they need to make it through a day, a week, a year, a lifetime.

Because guess what Senators? Somehow, most of us still love Texas A&M. Despite everything, we still bleed maroon. That’s why we are still here, why we haven’t just up and left, packed our bags, and hit the road for California or New York. The people who work at the GLBT resource center could have just given up years ago; it would have been easier. GLBT Aggies and their allies are still bettering this campus through our involvement in the student body. But we will continue to fight to be recognized fully as Aggies, despite the Student Senate’s clear position that we are not.
 -from an open letter to the Texas A&M Student Senate, signed "An Aggie No More" (emphasis added)

A&M student holding a sign reading "Hate is not an Aggie value" at the "Hands Across Aggieland" Unity March on April 15. (From Dallas Voice)
You may have heard of of the Texas House of Representatives passing a bill, introduced by Wayne Christian, that would require any public school with a GLBT student center—or any center "for students focused on gay, lesbian, homosexual, bisexual, pansexual, transsexual, transgender, gender questioning, or other gender identity issues"—to have an equally funded center on "traditional values." While the supporters claim that they are only requiring equal time and funding for all sexualities, critics argue that the goal of this bill is to shut down university funding of GLBT centers altogether. Universities, after all, are all facing hard financial cuts, and the bill effectively forces them to choose between shutting down GLBT student centers or increasing expenses by funding two centers. And according to Inside Higher Ed, "the Young Conservatives of Texas, a group that worked with Christian on the legislation, did so with the hope that public colleges would respond to a law, if the bill passes, by ending support for existing centers." Supporters claim that GLBT centers preach the values of homosexuality, and make it difficult for students with "traditional values" to feel accepted on campuses. 

The preposterous nature of the implicit claim of this bill—that is, that straight students with "traditional values" are unrepresented and marginalized, just as much as GLBTQI students—is captured by a column at the Texas Observer that begins 
Imagine the plight of the heterosexual student stepping on to a college campus for the first time. How will he fit in? Should he tell his new roommate about his alternative hetero lifestyle? Will he be bullied, just like he was in high school, where he was mercilessly teased for being a sexual deviant? Where does a straight person turn?
This is not a reality for straight students. Heteronormativity is everywhere on college campuses, which is precisely why GLBT student centers exist. They are there to support GLBTQI students who face harassment and ostracization, precisely because homophobia is tacitly accepted by fellow students, faculty, coaches, and administration at most universities. There is a culture on campus that believes homosexuality is wrong, immoral, deviant, and chosen, and that culture is mainstream. It is sometimes clever and sneaky, to avoid accusations of outright bigotry, but it does not have to hide. It rears its head in the classroom, in the campus bookstore, in the local bars and restaurants, in the university policies and administrative action and inaction. Homophobia is institutional and societal, which is why GLBT student centers are vital to combating it.

What this bill intends is to cut off one more avenue for gay students who are depressed and/or harassed, to make it just that much harder to find justice when they are discriminated against, by their peers, their professors, or their school. These students don't have that much institutional power, and this bill is attempting to take away the small bit they do have, so that the mainstream university culture, of homophobia and heteronormativity, is unchallenged and unchanged.

This is all particularly true at Texas A&M, where outright homophobia, racism, and misogyny, are so common as to be unremarkable, and where "tradition" is a buzzword used to keep marginalized groups in their place. The Princeton Review ranked Texas A&M the 17th most LGBT-unfriendly university in the country.** In 2008, the Department of Student Life Studies did a study on the campus climate (which refers to the general attitudes toward diversity) at A&M and found that 70% of gay or bisexual students (as opposed to 2% of straight students) have felt uncomfortable at Texas A&M because of someone's reaction to their sexual orientation. The comments from straight students, however, are the most telling:
Having grown up with mostly women and being a male, I have picked up a few effeminate mannerisms which prompts some males to depict me as "gay" or "fruity", which is not the case. (Senior Hispanic male)
 If I were gay I would not feel safe unless I hid that fact on campus. (Senior White female) 
A&M is not a safe place to be gay, lesbian, bi, trans, or queer. These students recognize the culture of heteronormativity that exists at A&M, and the dangers of counteracting it, whether through your behavior (acting "fruity"), your sexual choices, or your identity. 

It is clear that A&M is not in need of a "traditional values" center, and that its straight students do not face institutional and widespread oppression that needs to be countered with a center that would  "encourage chastity or marriage between male and female students."* Seriously. If you were to sit in on one of my classes this last year, you'd have heard students call a woman a "prostitute" for wearing pink high heels, suggest that "men always want sex, and women never do," claim that it's "a compliment" for a woman to be catcalled by a stranger, argue that abortion should be illegal because women should "face the consequences" of sex, and that it is okay for men to browbeat women to make them shut up. And when that crap comes up in the classroom, I'm usually the only one to counter it. Which means either a) all of my students believe that heteronormative rapey nonsense or b) they are too scared to speak up. I know that a) is definitely not true, and I also know that I do everything I can to make sure that b) isn't true either. But I can only do so much in a classroom when those students know that an entire university tradition and history and tacit administration approval leave them vulnerable if they step outside of heteronormative value systems. Encouragement from a teacher can't overcome teasing, harassment, and ostracization from fellow students, and many of my Corps students have actually told me that they don't feel they can say things in class because it could get them harassed by their fellow members or in trouble with their section leaders. 

"Normal" at A&M is being politically conservative, and being a "real Aggie" means supporting heteronormative conservative politics and values. "Traditional values center" could describe almost every building on campus, including the student health center.

Bumper stickers on a Texas A&M student's car, reading "Keep College Station Normal" and "Real Aggies Choose Life."
In late April, the Texas A&M Student Senate passed SB 63-106, the so-called "Sexual Education Equality in Funding Bill."*** This bill formerly supported Wayne Christian's amendment in the state budget, and proposed that the funding for the A&M GLBT Resource Center be halved, and allocated to fund a center on "traditional sexual education." Further, the bill claimed to speak on behalf of A&M students. It's weird, because the Student Senate bill seems to argue that the problem here is not one of political agendas, in which a dichotomy between "traditional values" and "not hating on the gays" is the main concern (like the Christian amendment), but focuses instead on "sex education." As if the main function of the GLBT Resource Center is provide sex education for queer people, and this needs to be "countered" by offering sex education for "traditional values" people. (Nevermind the whole lotta people on campus who are neither of those things.)  

This misconception may be because of the smear campaign the Texas Aggie Conservatives (yes, those Texas Aggie Conservatives) have launched against the GLBT Resource Center since Wayne Christian's amendment became a thing. TAC is all for this Student Senate bill, and to prove it, they secretly taped an event on "butt play" in March, hosted and funded by the GLBT Resource Center, put it on the internet (heavily edited, of course) and proceeded to call it "pornographic" and thus inappropriate for a student group. (And, of course, since we are adults, there is absolutely nothing in the school's rules about pornography and funded student organizations. So go to hell, TAC.) From the TAC blog:  
Is this really an appropriate use of university funds, mandatory student fees, taxpayer dollars, facilities, and donor contributions to Texas A&M University? Do A&M donors have any idea how their money is being spent?
Um, yes it's appropriate for university-recognized organizations to spend their money however the fuck they want to. That's kind of how it works. For example, if TAC, as a university-recognized organization, wanted to invite an Islamophobic speaker to campus, to talk about how dangerous Islam is, they should be allowed, and the university should allow them to use university facilities to do so. (Unless, of course, the university believed the speaker would be participating in hate speech or endangering the Muslim community on campus.) The point is, TAC doesn't get to arbitrarily decide that A&M won't fund and recognize groups that have seminars/speakers on what they personally find gross, like butt sex. (By the way, the video of the seminar they posted was so fucking tame. It was merely about how to engage in anal play while being safe and not hurting anyone.) I mean, I find TAC to be utterly abhorrent, and really fucking offensive, but that doesn't mean I should demand that A&M pull their recognition or funding. (They claim they get no university funding, which may or may not be true, but as a recognized group they do get privileges like the use of A&M facilities, which has monetary value, comped by student fees.) So when TAC claims with outrage that 
Most Texas A&M students do not support the GLBT agenda, yet they are forced to pay for the GLBT activism center through mandatory student fees.
all I have to say is, no shit. I don't support your agenda, TAC, but I still pay for your privileges with my student fees. That's how it fucking works. When the university picks and chooses what organizations get funding based on their political or ideological agendas, that violates their commitment to viewpoint neutrality funding, which you claim to support by supporting the Student Senate bill.

The problem is that idea that politically conservative is "normal" at A&M. This is what allows TAC, the Student Senate, and various other A&M students to believe that their outrage about "alternative" or "deviant" sexual practices are something that the school should pay attention to. They are right, because they are "real Aggies." Because they are what A&M is supposed to be. Because they are normal, and everyone else is not. That's what caused student Bryan Neale to post this on the Texas A&M Student Senate Facebook page on April 24:
The fact of the matter is that A&M has always been known as a conservative university. That makes us different than 99% of colleges in the US. A lot of aggies past and present love that about A&M. The majority of Aggies are conservative, so a resource center for them is a great way to spread awareness on a number of issues. Frankly, the LGBT group is lucky to receive any kind of funding or recognition at all. (emphasis added)
That last bit is important. Students like Neale think that the conservative politics should direct the actions of the university, and if you aren't conservative, you're lucky that the university even listens to your needs. So if you want to counter homophobia, do it on your own time and money, and don't do it on campus. If you want to create a resource center that gives queer students a haven in a university full of discriminatory harassment, fuck you. Because you don't count. You aren't real Aggies. And that, that dichotomy between "real" and legitimate A&M students and those that are different and don't count, is precisely what is wrong with the culture here at A&M. That is what our administration should be discouraging and countering every goddamn day.

A black outline of an A&M Corps member playing a marching drum, surrounded by rays of rainbow colors.

On May 10, the Department of Anthropology sent a memo to the upper administration, criticizing them for their inaction after all this anti-GLBT activity. They condemned the Student Senate bill and stated that the bill and other actions (like TAC's secret taping of the seminar) made the campus an unsafe place for GLBT students. The head of the English department sent a memo seconding the Department of Anthropology's sentiments, and I know that a petition signed by faculty and graduate students is also under way in the English department. The Department of Psychology and the Women's and Gender Studies program faculty and staff have also publicly supported the GLBT community and the Department of Anthropology's memo. The Graduate Student Council (GSC) passed Resolution F2011.11 on May 11:
Whereas:        The Texas House of Representatives has passed the Texas Budget bill, HB 1 with Amendment 143, “Funding of Student Centers for Family and Traditional Values” (sponsored by Representative Wayne Christian), that requires Texas public colleges and universities, if they use state funds to support “a gender and sexuality center,” to provide equal funding to support a “family and traditional values center”;

Whereas:        The term “family and traditional values” is not defined by HB1 or Amendment 143 and is therefore difficult to promote and/or implement such education beyond services currently provided at Texas A&M University (through, for example, courses, current counseling services, and health care services);"

Whereas:        The term “family and traditional values” implies a false dichotomy that suggests “family and traditional values” and the GLBT community are mutually exclusive;

Whereas:        The Policy Institute of the Gay and Lesbian Task Force commissioned a Campus Climate Assessment Project which found that, of the respondents: 19% fear for their physical safety on campus, 51% have concealed their sexual identity to avoid intimidation, and 34% have avoided disclosing their orientation or identity to an instructor, supervisor, TA, or administrator due to fears of negative consequences, harassment, or discrimination; and that 36% of GLBT undergraduate students had experienced harassment in the past year;

Whereas:        The Princeton Review’s “The 373 Best Colleges: 2011 Edition” found Texas A&M University the 17th most “LGBT-unfriendly” campus in the United States;

Whereas:        The GLBT community at Texas A&M University (including students, faculty, staff and administrators) has been a historically marginalized and traditionally underrepresented group that faces distinctive challenges, therefore requiring mandated assistance and education to fulfill the Texas A&M University anti-discrimination policy;

Whereas:        Texas A&M University’s Diversity Plan states, “Our commitment to diversity, broadly speaking, encourages respect for individual differences. Respectful treatment of others affirms and encourages individuals to take pride in their identity and results in the inclusion of all in the ‘Aggie Family.’ The Aggie family is diverse. Diversity involves an exploration of individual differences in a safe, positive, welcoming, and nurturing academic environment.”;

Whereas:        The Texas A&M University Statement on Harassment and Discrimination prohibits “discrimination, including harassment, on the basis of race, color, national or ethnic origin, religion, sex, disability, age, sexual orientation, or veteran status”.

Let it be
Resolved:        That the Graduate Student Council of Texas A&M University, on behalf of the graduate student body, does not support the passing of HB 1 with Amendment 143 and strongly encourages the Texas Legislature to remove the “Funding of Student Centers for Family and Traditional Values” budget amendment;

Let it be
Resolved:        That it is the opinion of the Graduate Student Council of Texas A&M University, on behalf of the graduate student body, that if HB 1 is passed by the legislature with Amendment 143, then current Texas Governor Rick Perry should veto the “Funding of Student Centers for Family and Traditional Values” budget amendment;

Let it be
Resolved:        That the Graduate Student Council of Texas A&M University, on behalf of the graduate student body, requests that Texas A&M University continue to provide funding and support for the GLBT Resource Center;

Let it be
Resolved:        That the Graduate Student Council of Texas A&M University, on behalf of the graduate student body, requests that President R. Bowen Loftin and other university officials continue their support of diversity efforts in accordance with Texas A&M University’s Statement on Harassment and Discrimination and Texas A&M University’s Diversity Plan.
 Basically, huge chunks of the university's faculty, staff, and graduate students have gone on record to oppose the Student Senate bill and Wayne Christian's amendment, pledge their support for the Texas A&M GLBT Resource Center, and (this is important) chide (directly and indirectly) the upper administration for their silence and inaction during this whole debacle. 

The administration's response was essentially a non-response. You can read the message from General Weber here, but it basically says nothing except, "We support you, but only if the law doesn't tell us not to. Have a good summer!" The "Wait...WHAT???" Blog states it well
It seems that university administrators are, in fact, not willing to publicly and adequately address the specific instances of anti-GLBT hate that have occurred in the last several weeks. While we appreciate Weber and Parrott taking the time to meet with all of us yesterday, we also wonder if our fears, hopes, and concerns really got through to them. Lip service "public support" is nearly as harmful as institutional silence (which is what we have experienced up to this point).

And speaking of content, the message from Weber -- as many at the meeting yesterday feared might happen -- glazes over GLBT issues merely as issues of diversity on campus. While GLBT individuals do contribute to the diverse community at Texas A&M, the fact is that some who are vocally anti-GLBT do not see it this way. They see the GLBT "lifestyle" as perverse and in complete contradiction with University core values and missions. Beyond the mention of the acronym GLBT a few times, Weber's message does little to address the real issue: hatred toward GLBT people.
 While the statements from various departments, and the GSC resolution, all directly address the issue of homophobia and anti-GLBT rhetoric and behavior, the administration seems unwilling to do so. They don't want to go on record, it seems, supporting GLBT students, nor do they seem to want to do anything to change the hostile, unwelcoming, unsafe environment that A&M is for many GLBT students, faculty, and staff. This is flat-out unacceptable. We clearly have a problem here, and it isn't being addressed. Frankly, I think the administration is being cowardly, and the GLBT population here is going to pay the price for their cowardice. Apparently, the Christian amendment is not in the Senate version of the budget, but even that is true, and the budget does not contain the amendment when it passes, that won't change the fact that TAC and other A&M students have engaged in hateful anti-GLBT rhetoric, and the administration has done nothing about it. It doesn't change the homophobic environment on campus, or make A&M a safer place.

o o o

*Also, WTF. Encourage marriage between male and female students? Is it really appropriate for ANY center at a university to "encourage" marriage at 20 years old? If a "traditional values" center were to do awesome things like give safe sex seminars or seminars on consent geared towards straight kids, that would awesome. (Yes, I know that wouldn't happen.) But apparently all a hetero center can offer is abstinence and "get married as soon as possible." So a hetero center wouldn't even benefit most hetero students, because they aren't virgins or want to get married after they graduate from college. Seriously, fuck that noise.

** You have to create a free account to access that link.

*** The Student Senate site is apparently under construction, so I couldn't find the link and full text of this bill. I will keep an eye on it, though, and link it when it goes back up. If you click on the Left of College Station link at the top, though, a helpful commenter put up the full text.


Quinn said...

Just before I read this I was reading an article about some groups up here in Illinois trying to put our new civil unions law - set to go into effect in June - up for a public vote, ostensibly in the name of putting the choice in the hands of the people but obviously just in the hopes of overturning it.

As disheartening as that kind of thing is, it's at least good to see the queer-fear set on the defensive. On some level, I think they know they're losing a long-term cultural battle. Maybe they're not losing it as quickly in places like your campus, but there's a desperation behind a lot of their tactics now, like this Wayne Christian bill, that I like to see as encouraging. It feels less like a mighty blow than a last gasp. Easy for me to say that from a distance, but still.

Ryan said...

The administration is tied in with Texas traditionalist politics which means that their positions are untenable if the wrong person gets wind of their open pro-LGBT stance.

And who wouldn't be watching out for their lucrative administration job in this environment? Proposed tuition hikes mean more money for them. The bubble that's growing across the nation definitely hasn't missed Texas. There's more incentive than ever for those at the top to keep their mouths shut and just wait to see which way the wind blows. For them, it's not about combating hate and ensuring a better life for their students. It's about not looking bad and maybe getting that next promotion to six figures.

That said, I'm sure there are good administrators, some that are personally vested in what's going on, but they are almost certainly surrounded by a sea of apathy concerning this issue. And I've no illusions about the backbiting and good ol' boy politics that occur in the ranks. Rick Perry himself would probably come down and start quoting scripture if he caught wind that one of his chosen might be soft on this issue.

It's interesting that your Student Senate page asks what the current body thinks about the tuition hikes. My first thought was, "You can't privatize out LGBT students the way that you can those that are low-to-middle income." As universities continue their march toward exclusivity, it's not going to have an appreciable effect on that demographic. The only way to keep them out, to segregate without resorting to socioeconomics, is to outright attack who they are.

That's what I think this is about. You can't officially keep the rainbow out of TAMU, but you can, as an authority figure, fight it through indifference while watching silently as despicable groups like TAC spit vitriol and hate reminiscent of days gone by when I'm sure the same calm of indifference occurred concerning race.

Anonymous said...

The hypocrisy of students who claim to be 'marginalized' by their heterosexuality leaves me so angry I start shaking. That seems to be the go-to response for hateful assholes that start floundering for some legititmate excuse for their asshole-ery. "why do you have to seperate yourself from society with pride marches and safespaces if you just want to be a part of normal society? blahblahblah"
Apart from being a complete mockery of a legitimate social issue, that argument and the argument that schools need a 'traditional values center' is basically claiming that marginalizing and partaking in hatespeech and 'seperate but equal' are necessary for equality. The good news is the more idiotic, glaringly underhanded, violent, and intrusive the reactions from the TAC become, the more it shows that whatever the LGBTQ community is doing is working. The negative reactions to movements like this are equal in force to the positive feedback and awareness that is being created by the movement. They're only bringing awareness to the cause by acting childish while the LGBTQ community continues on in a professional, organized, and positive way. A&M has a loud conservative voice, but consequently has one of the most organized and successful LGBTQ centers in Texas public schools. That being said, people in favor of this are still a bunch of dangerous idiots. Lets hope that the few departments that openly support the LGBTQ center can have enough sway to prompt other departments to do the same to keep the center afloat.

Tony said...

A&M facilities are the bare minimum that all student groups get. You are ignoring or unaware that the university funnels money to the GLBTA student group but not to conservative student groups. A&M set up an endowment for GLBT for crying out loud! You are either ignorant of dismissive of the real funding bias and inequality at A&M and other campuses.

Courtney said...

Whine whine whine. Yeah, A&M set up an endowment. Big fucking deal. MAYBE that's because this is one of the most unfriendly schools to GLBTQIA individuals in the goddamn country. MAYBE it's because assholes like you harass GLBTQIA people on our campus and act like everything's hunky-dory.

You think that the word "fair" means that you should be allowed to keep your privilege and pretend it doesn't exist, while we continue to allow systemic and institutional prejudice to knock everyone else down. "Let's treat everyone the same!" is the war-cry of people who KNOW they get treated better just for being white, straight, dudely types and don't want anyone to fuck up that status quo.

So go fuck yourself, Tony. And don't expect any of the rest of your comments to make it through. You have the whole rest of the internet to argue that the harassment of gay folk should go unpunished on our campus.