Students and faculty gathered in Lecture Center 108 on Monday in attendance of the Queer Faculty Panel, where four queer-identifying faculty members sat to discuss their experiences as members of higher education to the audience.
The panel was composed of Dean of Academic Advising Mary Beth Collier, Director of the Office of Student Activities and Student Union Services Mike Patterson, Assistant Professor of sociology and Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies Karl Bryant and Assistant Professor of history Andrea Gatzke.
Each panelist spoke about their personal experiences and career in academia that lead to their employment at SUNY New Paltz as well as how they have incorporated their sexual orientation into their field of study and what the future of queer studies in their fields will be.
Collier began the discussion recalling her life as a psychology graduate student in the mid-80s at SUNY Albany where she ran a support group for gay men – a time when HIV and AIDS cases were just beginning to emerge.
“There was this disease killing [gay men] off,” Collier said. “They didn’t know why, they didn’t know how it was transmitted. So this was a terrifying time for all of us. They didn’t know what was going on but they were dying.”
“There were a couple of jobs where I was a finalist, I seemed to be the lead finalist, they were loving me and then suddenly the call backs stopped. I was amazingly off the list,” Collier said.
Collier said that as a queer individual she learned to decide before applying for employment with a college if it “was a place you could possibly survive working” and said that there were certain places where “you just didn’t even apply.”
Patterson said he was not an “out” student at his undergraduate university. So as a psychology graduate student at an Ohio Lutheran college in the late-90s, he started a queer student alliance already having a frame of reference for the student development process of exploring sexuality.
“It was sort of a hush-hush ‘we’ll meet but we’re not going to tell people’ type of conversation, but it was a really powerful experience for the students who participated,” Patterson said.
Patterson said the lack of LGBTQ awareness at the universities he had previously worked at was “eye-opening.” Because of this, Patterson said he made it a point to include LGBTQ issues in his work even it was not part of his job.
When Patterson applied to New Paltz, it was the first time he made the choice to put his association with LGBTQ advising on his resume.
“For not knowing whether or not if I should make [LGBTQ advising work] part of my interview process, I was really glad that I did because I came into the institution with nothing to hide,” Patterson said. “That was a novel experience that was new for me that would not have been advisable ten years prior.”
Bryant recalled his undergraduate experience in the early 1980s as being “horrible” in that there was no support of queer identifying students and a complete lack of personal identity development studies.
“The idea that [sexual identity] issues could be studied and that you could have an intellectual life built around these was nothing that was ever suggested to me by any of the professors or mentors I had at the time because none of them were thinking that way, at least where I was,” Bryant said.
When Bryant returned to college for graduate school, LGBTQ issues were available for study which helped him “figure out how I was going to be in my own skin.” Bryant said that by taking courses in queer studies he was given a space to learn about issues that he had struggled with personally.
Bryant said that he had a delayed experience of acceptance as a queer individual – finding a like-minded and open community of peers as a graduate student in his 30s when many queer people today find an accepting community as an undergraduate.
Gatzke said during her undergraduate college years she was “deeply closeted” and that although friends that knew she was queer did not care, she herself felt “pressure” about her sexual identity.
“I was living in the basement apartment of someone I worked with and my partner from college was still in New York at the time,” Gatzke said. “It was miserable. It was the most miserable year I’ve ever had. I think I had it in my head that once I graduated college and got away from my girlfriend I’d turn straight again and that just didn’t happen.”
Gatzke decided to apply to graduate school at Penn State, where she made a conscious decision to be “out,” having been miserable in an environment where she could not be herself.
“In my first few months I came out to the people I got to know well and then gradually, over the course of the next year, everyone in the program knew I was gay,” Gatzke said. “And nobody cared. That was the thing, I was the one that cared. A lot of that was my own homophobia that I was ironing out.”
Gatzke said that she learned to be “comfortable in her own skin” from undergraduate students at Penn State who were far more “out” and comfortable with their identity than her.