Scholars make the case, apparently, for sex studies at UNC-Chapel Hill

A new academic program has been proposed for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. It would be a certificate program, similar to a minor, in the field of “sexuality studies.” According to the News & Observer (July 29), students in the program would take five courses that “delve into issues of sexual identity, sexual ambiguity and the role of sex in society, politics, art, law, history and religion.”

Of interest are the assumptions driving the recommendation, which of course are exactly the justifications one would expect from top scholars who seek to start a new program of academic study:

• UNC-CH needs to establish a program to study sexuality issues as a way to make homosexuals feel more comfortable, on campus and off.

“Glen Grossman, a UNC-Chapel Hill graduate student in epidemiology, did his undergraduate work at Tufts University in Boston, where he felt comfortable being gay,” the N&O article on the recommendation began. “But last semester he and a friend had a different experience on Franklin Street one night, when they walked by some students who called them a derogatory name.”

Grossman, a member of the study committee who made the recommendation, said that the “environment [at Chapel Hill] makes us feel terrible. It makes us feel unwelcome.”

The report by the the “Provost’s Planning Committee on LGBTQ Climate” says, “Because of widespread social stigmatization and discrimination against sexual minorities, there is pressure for LGBTQ individuals-students, faculty and staff-to remain ‘invisible’ or ‘closeted’, thereby undermining their equality, restricting their self-development and diminishing their opportunity to contribute fully to the intellectual and social life of the University.”

• Everybody who’s anybody is doing it.

“In the last five years, just about every podunk college [aside: good analogy] in the United States has established something [in the field of sexuality studies],” said John Younger of Duke University in the N&O. “It’s very mainstream. I find it fascinating that UNC has languished until now.”

Committee head Pamela Conover, whose teaches classes in sexuality studies, told the N&O “There’s a clear sense that UNC was not setting the trend when compared to other public universities.”

The report puts this “need” in glowing terms. “Major universities in North Carolina and across the country are already offering courses, certificates, minors and even undergraduate majors in Sexuality Studies, and most of the public universities that UNC-Chapel Hill compares itself to already have some sort of academic program in this rapidly expanding interdisciplinary area,” it states. “Yet UNC-Chapel Hill has no centralized academic program to ensure that our own students will have courses regularly available to them or that our faculty will be encouraged to offer these courses. With a significant number of faculty members at Chapel Hill currently wishing to teach, or already teaching, in the field, and strong undergraduate and graduate interest in taking Sexuality Studies courses, the University is in an excellent position to establish a program that will be a model for the North Carolina system as a whole and enhance our national reputation as a leading research institution.”

It also states, “Creating a Program in Sexuality Studies would begin to bring UNC-Chapel Hill up to the level of the other top public universities (like UC Berkeley, UCLA and the University of Michigan), and would make it a leader among southern universities in the field of Sexuality Studies.”

• UNC-CH already has special programs for women and blacks. Let’s be fair here.

“Supporters liken the program to women’s studies or African-American studies,” wrote the N&O.

“Over the last decade, this strong commitment to the values of equality and diversity has been reflected tangibly in the University’s establishment and development of the Black Cultural Center and the Women’s Center,” said the report.

Elswhere, the report found it “important to note that two other committees also address “diversity” issues: the Status of Women Committee is charged with addressing ongoing concerns of women faculty, and the Black Faculty and Students Committee is charged with addressing “recruitment procedures and the ongoing concerns of black faculty members and students” and also that “‘theme housing'” currently includes a ‘women’s perspectives’ and UNITAS multi-cultural hall, [but] there are no housing options specific to LGBTQ students and no way for incoming students to identify ‘friendly’ roommates.”

• If you don’t study sexuality, you’re ignorant.

Grossman told the N&O, “Regardless of what they believe, if students haven’t critically examined these issues, they can’t consider themselves an educated member [sic] of society.”

“Accordingly, absolutely any effort to improve the overall climate for LGBTQ individuals at UNC-Chapel Hill must be fundamentally grounded in the intellectual life of the University, for one of the most effective ways to combat intolerance and discrimination against sexual minorities is through education,” the report states. “Thus, students must be given the opportunity to discuss and study issues involving sexuality and sexual minorities as part of the regular curricular offerings of the University, and faculty must be encouraged to incorporate issues concerning sexuality into their teaching and research.”

Elsewhere the report recommends that “The Provost and the Deans should explicitly communicate to the Chancellor’s Advisory Committee, the ‘Tenure and Promotion Committees’ in the College and various professional schools, and to the departments that Sexuality Studies is a valued and legitimate area of research, teaching, and scholarship.”