A St. Michael’s College professor plans to offer the first LGBTQ-named course in the Catholic institution’s history.
Global LGBTQI+ Politics and Culture will debut this fall under the guidance of political science professor Michael Bosia, who said while discussions of LGBTQ issues are not new to campus or his own curriculum, the new course’s name is a “mark of inclusion.”
“Not that LGTBQI+ folks on campus are excluded,” he said, “but it’s often that we’re not explicitly recognized as part of the community.”
That was apparent to junior Ariana Sherman back when she first toured the campus a few years ago. Not until she could chat with current students did she learn that LGBTQ students indeed exist on campus, with some part of a group known as Common Ground, a gender and sexuality alliance that strives to provide a safe place for all members of the LGBTQ community.
Sherman, now vice president of the club, said while the college is generally accepting, LGBTQ students still fight for visibility, especially in the coursework, where identities are often discussed as an aside.
“Maybe they’d spend a day or so discussing the experiences,” she said. “But to have a class specifically dedicated to the community’s history means so much more.”
Sherman has helped Bosia market the class and plans to seek a seat in the fall. She said the course helps show LGBTQ students “we do have a place here at this school.”
Bosia said that’s why naming plays such an important role in self-conceptualization. He added while the college’s gender studies program has expanded over the last few years, the new course further “demonstrates belonging.”
The Catholic college’s offering may seem significant given the church’s views on homosexuality, but but Jeffrey Trumbower, St. Michael’s dean of academic affairs, said some people have a misunderstanding of Catholic higher education.
“There’s no topic that we won’t discuss,” he said.
Professors are expected to represent the Catholic teachings accurately but are not required to hold any views or “stifle discussion,” Trumbower said, adding LGBTQ issues have been “standard fare” in many courses across the disciplines for a long time now.
“The student population expects it because it’s such a live and important issue among college students today,” Trumbower said. “We have lots of students, and more and more, who self-identify, who are part of these groups. We want to be sure we are meeting their academic needs to understand the discourse on all these topics.”
Still, Bosia said St. Michael’s lags behind other Catholic institutions when it comes to course offerings. He pointed to Chicago’s DePaul University, which has a queer and sexual and gender identity studies program, or the University of San Francisco, where students can minor in LGBT studies.
He hoped St. Michael’s history and commitment to social justice will mean more faculty take on LGBTQ issues in their courses.
That could mean a religious studies course that examines topics of identity, sexuality and gender through a Catholic perspective, or an inclusive history course dealing with identity formation, he said.
Bosia said he’s long wanted to offer the class and saw an opportunity after the college revised its liberal studies curriculum to require a course that engages diverse identities.
The course will start by focusing on the history of homosexuality in Europe and the U.S. and the development of rights-based movements in LGBTQ communities around the world. It will then look at how politics have shaped the formation of identities and explore the critiques of those politics.
Bosia said he was initially concerned about finding enough students to fill the course. But after hearing some interest from current students (as well as some alumni disappointed they’re missing out), he’s now wondering whether there will be enough seats for LGBTQ+ students.
So he set aside eight seats for those who miss out on the first round of registration to ensure a second chance for students “whose lives are touched by the topic.”
That’s because while Bosia thinks it’s better to have diverse perspectives in the classroom, he finds many students are just beginning to understand and shape their own sexual and gender identities when they arrive to college.
“They’re on a process that a class like this might be part of,” he said. “Then, for students who are already out when they come here, they may want to learn about a world that they haven’t had an opportunity to learn about before.”