Dr. Ardel Thomas
Going into his second term in office, our first African American President, Barack Obama, did something no other American president has had the guts to do. In his inauguration address about our nationâ€™s various uphill battles for equality for all people, President Obama reminded us all of the following three moments in history when marginalized people struggled for their right to live as fully included Americans: Seneca Falls, Selma, and Stonewall. Fabulous alliteration aside (I often teach college composition), President Obama astutely lines up the struggles for womenâ€™s equality, equality for people of color, and equality for LGBTQIQ people. I have never been more proud of a President, and I opened my Introduction to LGBT Studies course at City College of San Francisco this week by reading this portion of his speech.
While President Obama is going in the right direction, I am worried about the direction City College of San Francisco is headed where all of its smaller departments are concerned. And while I know that Barack Obama never attended CCSF as a student, we do need to stop for a moment and ask ourselves about the impact our fair city and our fair cityâ€™s college has had, over time, on local, statewide, national, and even international laws, politics, and education. CCSF has one of the nationâ€™s most cutting edge Latino/a and Latin American Studies Departments, one of the first Womenâ€™s Studies Departments at a community college, one of the first Asian American Studies programs to offer a special focus on Filipino Studies, and last, but certainly not least, CCSF was the first college in the United States of America and the second in the world to create an LGBT Studies program. To this day, we are one of the few full-fledged LGBT Studies Departments that stands independent of Gender Studies, Womenâ€™s Studies, English, or Sociology. In the past year, LGBT Studies at CCSF has begun to offer an A.A. degree and San Diego State now offers a B.A. degree in LGBT Studies. The two programs have been building an outstanding working relationship with one another.
There is often a notion in academia that four-year colleges and research institutions do not pay attention to what community colleges are doing. They might, so the myth goes, show up on transfer information day, but between faculty and administration, there is certainly not a two-way information highway. As chair of LGBT Studies since 2006, I can honestly say that nothing is farther from the truth. Because we have the pioneering program for LGBT Studies in the United States, I am always working with four year and research institutions to help them start their own LGBT Studies programs. In the past year, I have worked with places such as Wichita State University and the University of Minnesota, Duluth. At the 2012 Expanding the Circle LGBTQ Educatorâ€™s Conference, our LGBT Studies department at CCSF was looked at as an outstanding example of what a full-fledged department with incredibly diverse offerings could do, not only in the realm of higher education, but also in our various communities. Our program offers the first Latino/a LGBT Experience course as well as a humanities class focusing on global transgender art, culture and politics. Students working on B.A.â€™s, M.A.â€™s and Ph.D.â€™s at other schools often come to us to take a specialty course like AIDS in America or Issues in Lesbian Relationships.
With our new major and growing recognition at a national (and even international) level, you, the reader, might be wondering why I am worried about LGBT Studies at CCSF. At this point, it is no secret that CCSF is having a struggle to meet a â€śShow Causeâ€ť report for accreditation. The CCSF community has been working non-stop to rectify the situation, but one of the battles we are having right now is the looming decision that smaller departments no longer need department chairs. My work as chair of LGBT Studies is both as a faculty member and as an administrator. I teach four courses each semester as well as chair our department. Not only do my chair duties include helping students one-on-one with various administrative issues (grade changes, course counseling for the major, and administrating our scholarships to name a few), but my work also includes my working within the community â€“ often with various non-profits â€“ but sometimes, I am asked to help out with SFUSD curriculum following the passage of SB 48. I am not in an ivory tower, but, instead, am constantly within the community because my students are the community. This is not specific to me as a person, but to anyone past and future who would chair the department.
If smaller departments lose their elected chair people, then there will be no one person for each to work with students and the community at large. In the new possible situation at CCSF, a dean will oversee several departments. But that dean, no matter how amazing, probably wonâ€™t have time to call up Fresh Meat Productions to discuss a special on-campus presentation free to the students. That dean probably wonâ€™t walk out the front door of the Civic Center campus and around the corner to Polk Street to set up a connection with Project Open Hand. How can one dean do something so specific for each department?
The beauty of having department chairs for all of our diverse departments at CCSF is that each one of us is an expert in the field of study. We know our various communities. We are constantly working with our students and their needs as a bridge between the classroom and a larger administrative system. True, LGBT courses would remain on the books and they would be taught by our wonderful faculty, but there would be no one person to help facilitate the continued success of the department. Department chairs are one of the reasons that students come back to CCSF time and again and tell us that, although we have a huge number of students, they felt better cared for at our fair cityâ€™s college than any other institution of higher learning. This is why San Francisco voters overwhelmingly passed Measure A on the November ballot because people in San Francisco know the value of CCSF and our incredibly diverse departments that mirror our incredibly diverse city. For all of the proverbial powers that be at CCSF, it would behoove them to remember this: our students should always come first.
Ardel Thomas is the Chair of LGBT Studies at City College of San Francisco. She can be reached at email@example.com