Queering Student Participation: Whispers, Echoes, Rants, and Memory

Queering Student Participation: Whispers, Echoes, Rants, and Memory

Matt Cox

Casey: A queer Graduate Student’s Story of Anger and Disappointment

Casey was a graduate student in my special topics in technical and professional communication course who identifies as a lesbian. She also grew up in North Carolina. In one of our online discussion posts (which she chose to share with me for this piece), Casey identified herself early in the semester as a lesbian and wrote honestly on the class discussion boards about an experience she had teaching as adjunct faculty at a small community college in North Carolina. She spoke of this same story again at another point in the semester:

Part of the reason that I'm back in school is because of my past experiences with discrimination teaching at these institutions. During my second year teaching, I had a student almost file a grievance against me because he claimed that I discriminated against him because he was a conservative gay man and I was a lesbian and feminist. In reality, he was upset because I would not give him an A on his annotated bibliography. Until I provided documentation of the assignments in my course, my superiors believed him. This experience was quite difficult for me. Because of being under the microscope, I became extremely depressed and resentful, which, unfortunately, reflected in my classrooms the following semester. I have always been excited teaching composition/writing, but after this incident, I lost my passion and desire.

Casey went on to explain what happened after the student filed a grievance against her:

I was "encouraged" (more like mandated) by my chair and the dean to stop attending meetings (of the campus LGBT organization). I remember my chair stating to me in a meeting: "You shouldn't be going to those meetings. You should have not gone to those meetings. You don't belong there." While I am not one to cry, I can remember trying to hold back tears or any emotion. Thankfully, my office mate was teaching a class, so I was able to shut my door and sob. I stopped all involvement with the organization. The students felt betrayed by my actions. I could not tell them what was going on.

The other graduate students in the course (and I) were shocked at what Casey had gone through—that her direct superior had actually told her she, as an LGBT-identified faculty member, did not belong in a space of mentoring LGBT students in the campus community. Her story here seems particularly strong because it offers a perspective on why so many LGBT teachers/faculty choose not to even chance coming out to students or getting involved in the campus community. For Casey, participation meant everything. Having been told to keep silent and to withdraw from participation as an LGBT person at the professional level in her previous job, she was finally able to participate fully and openly in this classroom and at her new university.

[Go to "Mira: A Lesbian Graduate Student’s Grappling with Intersectionality and Identity "]