Community college students interested in LGBT studies, whether to obtain an associate degree or transfer to a four-year university, often found slim pickings in this area at most colleges across the country. Schools that did offer courses in the subject often did so as part of their women's or English studies. However, one community college in San Francisco wants to be on the cutting edge of a whole new trend – by offering a major in LGBT studies that would be the first at any community college in the United States.
City College of San Francisco: LGBT Pioneer
City College of San Francisco is no stranger to firsts. According to a report in the Bay Area Reporter, this community college was the first to offer individual LGBT courses as far back as 1972. In 1989, the school established its own gay and lesbian studies department, the first of its kind in the United States. When Ardel Thomas, Ph.D., was brought on as chair of the department in 2006, one of her first orders of business was to begin the work involved with creating a LGBT major at City College.
"One reason we didn't put the major forward before is that up until recently there were no other programs you could actually go to," Thomas told the Reporter, citing the scarcity of LGBT major or minor studies at four-year universities. "Now, however, LGBT studies and queer studies are recognized internationally as a field of academia."
Many colleges and universities are now offering studies in this field, as well as major options for students. In California alone, institutions like San Francisco State University, UC Berkeley, Stanford University, UC Santa Cruz and UC Davis are all currently offering either certificates or degrees in this field. However, there are still relatively few programs available at the community college level. Thomas hopes that the program at City College will pave the way for other institutions to implement their own LGBT studies departments, once they witness the success City College anticipates.
The Major Proposal
Thomas has proposed the major to the curriculum committee at City College and is waiting for approval of her proposal before moving forward with her plan. In her statement to the committee, Thomas wrote, "While the LGBT studies major at City College of San Francisco offers a full array of general education and diversity requirements, it will also prepare students for transfer to numerous LGBT/queer studies baccalaureate programs in the United States and Canada."
Thomas has numerous reasons for establishing the major program at City College. First, she wants students who are particularly interested in this subject to have the opportunity to study LGBT issues more deeply. She would also like to protect her department from potential budget cuts – a common concern among community colleges in these turbulent economic times.
"We are in un-normal financial times," Thomas told the Reporter. "I don't think anything is going to get cut from LGBT studies, but having a major will legitimize the department."
Lawrence Wong serves on the community college board and is the only out member to date. Wong told the Reporter he sees no reason why Thomas's proposal will not be approved. Wong said, "This is nothing more than a progression of what City College has done in the past in terms of being in the forefront of educating our community regarding the LGBT movement and empowerment of the community and the history of the community. It is very exciting and makes a lot of sense because San Francisco is the epicenter of the LGBT studies movement and the LGBT world looks to us for leadership."
The LGBT Studies Department at City College
According to the college's website, City College is committed to providing an environment where all students and staff feel comfortable and empowered, regardless of their race, gender or sexual orientation. The LGBT studies department at City College provides a host of services to students, including an out list, counseling and student health services. Courses are open to all students, whether they fall into the LGBT category or are simply interested in learning more about the diverse culture in which they live.
Other Colleges to Consider
While City College will be the first to offer a major in LGBT studies, other community colleges are slowly but surely bringing in courses in this field of study.
Kirkwood Community College is one institution that has introduced a course on LGBT studies, currently taught by one of the sociology professors on staff. The purpose of this course, according to the class syllabus, is to help students think critically about social issues that affect everyone.
At Santa Monica College, which is a community college, the English department offers a course on lesbian and gay literature. The three-credit-hour course features Western European gay literature, beginning with the Greeks and moving into modern day offerings from the United States. According to the college website, this course includes a broad expanse of literature for students to read and analyze.
It began with many community colleges offering social and psychological support to gay and lesbian students. Next, a few courses in LGBT studies began to be offered. City College in San Francisco is prepared to move the bar up to the next level by offering a legitimate degree program that will allow students the opportunity to transfer their credits to an accredited four-year university. It will be interesting to see how much interest the LGBT studies major receives, as well as how many colleges will follow in City College's footsteps.