Although the world’s first student queer advocacy group was founded at Columbia in 1967, the University doesn’t offer an LGBT studies program for undergraduates. Three Columbia College students are looking to change that.
Will Hughes, CC ’13 and vice president of policy for the Columbia College Student Council, started crafting a proposal for a queer studies program over the summer. He plans to submit the proposal to the Committee on Instruction, which holds approval power over all classes and academic programs in Columbia College and the School of General Studies.
GendeRevolution President Gavin McGown, CC ’13, and Columbia Queer Alliance President Marita Inglehart, CC ’14, have been working with Hughes on the proposal. Their goal is to establish a concentration in queer studies, with Hughes noting that there are already “a number of classes that touch on queer theory.”
McGown said that a queer studies program would be similar to the ethnicity and race studies program that Columbia created in 1999.
“It’s an academic discipline that puts at the center of its focus identities, histories, and literatures which traditional academic disciplines have been complicit in ignoring or pathologizing,” McGown said. “We can see introducing queer studies to Columbia would both broaden the range of Columbia’s academic offering and address certain concerns of social justice.”
Inglehart held a meeting about queer studies with CQA members earlier this month. She said that while there was significant interest, some members still had questions.
“Is this practical? What do people get out of this? Shouldn’t they have a more general education?” Inglehart said. “Those are a lot of concerns that we see around more identity-based majors.”
The Committee on Instruction does not weigh student interest as a factor in approving new programs of study, although Hughes thinks that student support could sway some professors on the committee.
“We think it’s really important to show student support to the faculty,” he said. “We really do think there is support behind this beyond just Gavin, Marita, and I.”
Inglehart cited the creation of the Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race as evidence that student action can effect academic change.
“Students really advocating for what they want is just a really wonderful thing at Columbia and in its history, and hopefully will continue to be a wonderful thing with students still being active and still pushing for what they want,” she said.
Still, Columbia College Dean of Academic Affairs Kathryn Yatrakis noted that the approval process for new majors and concentrations can take longer than expected, citing the human rights program as an example.
“Its gestation period was a long one,” she said. “Even though there was some faculty interest in the field of human rights, and a center director, and a Law School faculty member’s human rights courses and programs, it did not really take root until there was a corps of Arts and Sciences faculty who decided to teach human rights courses as part of their departmental teaching responsibilities,” Yatrakis said.
If the Committee on Instruction turns down the queer studies proposal, Hughes, McGown, and Inglehart plan to petition the committee with the help of other students. For now, though, they’re focused on finding a faculty sponsor, as well as compiling a list of already-offered interdisciplinary courses that might fit into the concentration.
“We’ve been very happy with the support and definitely think this is a doable goal for the year,” Hughes said.