New York Univeristy, MSW/JD dual degree student:
Queer issues were so erased in what we talked about that it didn’t come up very often and it didn’t feel like a particularly comfortable environment to be ‘the’ gay person saying, ‘Oh, excuse me, what about this, what about that?’ We all did that to some extent but I don’t like having the responsibility being put on me to be the one to bring that up in every class. I don’t think people should have to do that. I think it is the professor’s responsibility. The responsibility wasn’t being put anywhere, so if it was going to come up, a student would have to bring it up and then the professor would have to mediate and decide whether it was relevant or not. The other students who thought it was irrelevant would be irritated. I just didn’t want to be in that position so I didn’t tend to take that role often. So as an underlying day-to-day issue, it wasn’t addressed very much. When students tend to bring things up that the professor hasn’t initiated – whether it’s sexuality, gender, or something totally different – the message that’s taken from that is that it’s outside the curriculum. It’s outside what the class is supposed to be about. Because if it was something that should be on the agenda, the professor would have brought it up. So students respond to that implicit message and think the student is outside of what we’re supposed to be talking about. Some students are interested. Students in general are curious, but they are there to get an education so if they are getting the idea that this is not what they are supposed to be there to learn about, they are going to get irritated.
LGBT Community Center, New York City, MSW/Supervisor:
A lot of the issues, especially the diversity issues, that were brought up in Human Behavior class were very challenging to a lot of people. It wasn’t just transphobia. People were intolerant of other religions. People were intolerant of gay and lesbian identities. They were intolerant of trans identities. They were intolerant of people who didn’t see recovery issues the same way they saw recovery issues. They were intolerant of things like harm reduction. So, there was a lot of intolerance expressed and by and large, I would say that my professor had no training in how to deal with such dissent… a purely academic person with very little actual field experience. And so dealing with a class full of people who were all very experienced in field and real life concerns, she allowed herself to be dominated by that group and these really harmful views were expressed very freely and openly in the class at all times. So it wasn’t just my identity that got batted around. It was really very destructive, and I can put some of that on the lack of skills of the teacher, but also, I don’t think that the school has a methodology for dealing with such intolerance.
Hunter College School of Social Work, MSW student:
I just remember feeling like I didn’t know what to say in the meeting. I was almost shaking and I was like, I don’t believe this is happening. I didn’t feel like it was an investigation of the agency. I felt like it was an investigation of me and my cultural competence in terms of, could I work with this population and would I be effective? I almost felt worse after that meeting. I just remember leaving and crying and going to one of my professors and being like, ‘I don’t believe what just happened.’ I felt worse at that meeting than I did with my task supervisor. I guess maybe I just felt like she [the task supervisor] wasn’t a social worker so maybe she wouldn’t have the same ideals or the same professional ethics. But then to hear it from social workers and community organizers, people who I felt like were supposed to have my back, I just didn’t feel like they had my back. Well, I felt like this one particular person did not have my back.
LGBT Community Center, New York City, MSW/Supervisor:
I think there were some professors who clearly understood that the people in the classroom already made up a huge rich diversity of fodder for the classroom and others who didn’t.So, I think that when those professors valued what each person in the room had to add and say and really included them as part of making a dynamic classroom setting, I think it automatically made me feel more comfortable and probably made other people feel more like they could bring themselves into the classroom. It’s the kind of field where how can you not bring yourself into it? Part of the expectation is that you will bring yourself into it. And then the message that trans people and other LGBTQ people get is: bring this part of yourself into it but not this part of yourself into it. So, a classroom or a teaching environment where it was like: we want your whole self in here. Whatever you’re sort of dealing with as you’re learning this, what you’ve dealt with in the past in social work settings, what you’ve dealt with in your personal life… what brings you here? Is there anybody there who doesn’t have something that brings them there? I think there is so much focus on the clinical distance and maybe the theory of the tabula rasa. I think, depending on who you talk to, that there are huge differences in comfort levels of how much of yourself you bring to the work. But I think maybe there needs to be some differences entertained of what happens during your education process and what happens in the field. I think so much more could have been learned by getting more of the people who were in those classrooms. Imagine the different stories of what brought everybody there. There wasn’t enough of that for my taste.