PSS Winter '13


10 Years: Shaping LGBT Studies

by Dominic Moore ’05

Like many revolutionary ideas, it was seen as controversial, problematic and even dangerous.

Associate Professor of English and American Studies Eric Patterson had known faculty colleagues who had lost jobs, failed tenure reviews or been harassed and threatened for even mentioning it. But over and over again in his literature classes, as they engaged with authors and poets, Patterson’s students would begin to dialog about the subject of human sexuality and the lives and experiences of gay and lesbian persons. “I made it clear that I was accepting,” Patterson says, despite the larger culture of silence and discrimination.

After arriving at the Colleges in 1976, Patterson became one of the first of a small group of faculty who openly discussed issues of human sexuality, even though the culture of both the campus and the nation made such conversations taboo. “It was not a safe space,” Patterson recalls. Yet he began to forge alliances with forward-thinking and courageous faculty across a spectrum of disciplines. “In particular, I began to find allies in the Women’s Studies Department,” Patterson says. “The whole concept of gender studies was still viewed as socially radical, but over the years good leadership at William Smith continued to insist on equality for women.

“Women’s Studies created a model,” Patterson explains. “There was a natural kind of carry over between the work they were doing and the dialog we were beginning to have about lesbian and gay persons.”

By the late 1980s and early 1990s the atmosphere was changing. “By 1992–and I remember it vividly–I wrote to William Smith Dean Rebecca Fox and asked about teaching a course on the history of American lesbian and gay people,” Patterson says. The idea was still deemed controversial by many, but Fox immediately understood the importance of the issue. “The Dean’s response was immediate: ‘Let’s do lunch,’ she said, and three hours later we had outlined a proposal for the course.”

With old social and cultural barriers of discrimination beginning to crumble in the mid-1990s, a distinct and separate field of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender studies was beginning to take shape. Professors like James-Henry Holland, Craig Rimmerman, Michael Armstrong, Betty Bayer, Robert Gross, Susan Henking and others each brought their expertise to the burgeoning field from within their respective disciplines.

This group worked to organize a retreat to come together with a united purpose: to create a curriculum for LGBT Studies. “It was a time of intellectual ferment,” says Henking, now the President of Shimer College in Chicago. “One of the great things about the Colleges was that faculty collaborated all the time: we were creating new curriculum, co-teaching classes, debating issues and reading books together. That’s when innovation happens.”

In 2002, New York State approved the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Studies curriculum. “When I first came to HWS I could hardly have imagined it,” Henking says. “We became the first college in the country to offer this kind of program. It is a real mark of distinction and it tells the country that Hobart and William Smith are committed to preparing students for a critically engaged life of the mind.”

As the LGBT program celebrates its 10th anniversary, it is important to note that the commitment to equality and nondiscrimination doesn’t end at the classroom door. This year, the Colleges were recognized as a leader for LGBTinclusive policies and practices when Campus Pride awarded HWS a score of five out of a possible five stars and a 90 percent rating in its annual LGBT-Friendly Campus Climate Index.

“Academically, we have long been on the forefront of these issues,” explains William Smith Associate Dean Lisa Kaenzig, who is a member of the HWS Commission on Inclusive Excellence and who leads the Commission’s subcommittee on LGBT issues. “We had the first LGBT undergraduate program in the country and one of the first women’s studies programs. In addition, we have some of the top scholars of these issues working and teaching here. This score validates this notable history while also speaking to the significant efforts currently being done to create an inclusive environment.”

A member of the faculty since 1986, Craig Rimmerman, professor of public policy studies and political science, reflects that the good news is thanks to the “hard work of an array of people, some who are still here, and some who have long since departed the Colleges, over many years.”

He also notes the need to continue to make improvements. “We must recognize that there is still much work to be done to create a climate where our students who are wrestling with sexual identity issues, as well as members of our administration, faculty, and staff, can feel validated and supported by all aspects of our campus community.”

Kaenzig agrees. “Even though we rated very highly, we all believe that there are places where we can improve. If we want to be able to recruit and retain the best possible students, faculty and staff, we need to show how we’ve made diversity and safety a priority. This recognition says something about the priorities of this institution and puts us in a really good place moving forward.”

Beyond HWS, graduates of the Colleges’ LGBT program continue to move forward as well, using the analytical skills they learned in the classroom to make a difference in their communities. “Most of the work I’ve done since graduation has involved me in the community, providing education and awareness,” says Kathy Collins ’09, a professional photographer and activist. She has worked in Geneva-area schools on anti-bullying campaigns as well as LGBT education. “My HWS education–and especially my LGBT studies courses–gave me a real passion to fight for social justice and human rights and to be active in my community.”

In an effort to show the widespread diversity on campus and to call attention to the many HWS allies among faculty, students and staff, student Rachel Braccini ’15 (pictured above with Darnell Pierce, an area coordinator in Residential Education) created The Outstanding Campaign. More than 150 members of the Hobart and William Smith community were photographed showing their support for the LGBT community. The photos were shared on Facebook and made into posters that hang across campus. To join the Hobart and William Smith LGBT group on Facebook, go to and search “HWS LGBT & Friends.”


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