Alumnae Quarterly, Fall 1987

Commitment to Fairness

It was a pleasure to note how many letters expressed positive attitudes toward lesbian rights. In my course on gender issues, I try to approach topics in homosexuality in a way that will reduce homophobia, a problem that persists here at Brown University. I was helped this year by these many examples of tolerant attitudes, especially since they reflected the views of women both young and not so young. Congratulations to the Quarterly for its commitment to fairness.

Patricia McBride Blough '51
Providence, Rhode Island

A question and answer interview with Sheila Murphy, Dean of Students, was also part of this Alumnae Quarterly issue. The following question sparked more responses in the next Quarterly.

Q. Concern has been raised about lesbianism on campus. What is your impression of the numbers of homosexual students at Mount Holyoke as compared with coeducational colleges and universities? Is there a strong prejudice against students who openly declare homosexuality? Isn't it important to note that the Lesbian Alliance has been a legitimate student organization for nearly ten years? Am I right in thinking that most colleges and universities have similar organizations? Are there workshops and other opportunities to discuss and try to understand homosexuality on the college campus or in the world in general?

A. I think that the lesbian population on campus is "coming of age," that it is becoming more vocal, more outspoken, and more politically aware, and that the campus community stands to learn much and benefit greatly from that fact. We should be very cautious in making any assumption about numbers of lesbian students at women's colleges. In my experience there seem not to be disproportionate numbers of lesbians at these institutions. I know of no college campus of any size, stature, or seriousness of purpose that does not have a recognized student organization for male and female homosexual students. It is a fact of modern life that the homosexual population has become a socially active, visible force, and that our experience on the Mount Holyoke campus, like most experiences on the Mount Holyoke campus, simply reflects the world in which we live. Most of our students are accepting of the variety of decisions that their peers make. Most are supportive, involved, interested, and caring, and are quite non-judgmental about matters of sexual orientation. There have been some small numbers of students here, and on every other campus I'm familiar with, who have reacted in an outspoken and negative manner to the presence and vocal nature of the lesbian population. We should be very careful to avoid allowing the fears and biases of a few people to make us appear to be a community which is intolerant of any kind of diversity.

The Lesbian Alliance has been building awareness on this campus for years. It has been invited into every residence hall to present a workshop on the lesbian experience, and most of these have been very well attended. Most students have come away saying that it was an informative and well-articulated presentation of a kind of life unfamiliar to many of them.

I think it is important that we recognize the distinction between unfamiliarity and rejection, and acknowledge that it is not unusual for students to arrive here unfamiliar with lesbian lifestyles. It is the underlying principle of respect for difference that is tested by the presence of the lesbian community. I expect that we will continue to pay attention to its issues and concerns on campus.

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