Recently, harsh attention has been focused on the University of South Carolina Upstate because of books and activities that deal with LGBTQ issues. Out Loud, The Best of Rainbow Radio, a collection of essays by South Carolinians about how they came to accept themselves as other than heterosexual, and how they told those closest to them about their sexual orientation, was read by students in our freshman reading experience. This week’s “Bodies of Knowledge” symposium has also received criticism for a comedic performance entitled “How to Be a Lesbian in Ten Days or Less.” The show attracted attention from many sources because of the title, but the piece itself is a parody of its name. Controversy and negative media attention surrounding this performance became a distraction to the educational mission of USC Upstate and the overall purpose of the “Bodies of Knowledge” Symposium. As a result, this particular segment of the two-day symposium was cancelled.
Some have connected these happenings and allege an agenda to promote LGBTQ lifestyles at USC Upstate and a lack of balance in what we do on our campuses. In fact, these activities are but two of the thousands that occur on our campus every year and it is their challenging and thought provoking nature that helps us to achieve that desired balance.
LGBTQ issues are part of any campus life. As a public university, it’s our charge to equip and empower students to live engaged, authentic lives and be responsible citizens. Each student has to define each of those things for him or herself. We can’t do that if we exclude some part of the population. We must be a safe place for those who come to us.
Daily I experience the greatness of USC Upstate – a vibrant academic community delivering outstanding academic programs, committed to equality and voice for all. For nearly 50 years, the University has engaged students, faculty, staff and the broader community in a tremendous range of activities across the spectrum of human and academic interests:
• We have 14 religious organizations on campus, and they sponsor regular gatherings and numerous special events;
• More than 400 people recently participated in the fifth annual Brighter Future Conference for Child Advocacy professionals from social work, law enforcement, law, government, etc;
• Jon Meacham, noted historian, TV personality and Pulitzer Prize-winning author, was on campus for two events that brought campus and community together in thoughtful engagement;
• Lopez Lomong, U.S. Olympian and one of the “Lost Boys of Sudan,” was the keynote speaker at the 20th annual diversity conference that brings teacher candidates together on the topic of diversity in 21st century teaching and learning;
• We partnered with Wofford, Converse, and Spartanburg Methodist colleges to host the Association of Southeastern Biologists’ annual meeting in downtown Spartanburg that brought about $1 million to our local economy;
• Green Zone Training was held for faculty, staff and students who are military veterans, which focused on issues facing student veterans, such as deployment, transitioning to college after serving in the field, post-traumatic stress disorder and combat-related injuries;
• And, later this month we will host:
- 10th annual SC Upstate Research Symposium that will bring students and faculty from 17 two- and four-year institutions to our campus.
In my 36 years as a higher education professional, our role of preparing people for productive work, meaningful life, and responsible citizenship has grown enormously. A diverse pluralistic democracy requires citizens equipped for informed decision making through thoughtful analysis of accurate information.
If public universities do not offer programs and conferences that deal with cultural dynamics related to LGBTQ and other societal issues, where will such programs occur? Wherever we stand on issues of gay rights and same-sex marriage, denying the presence and importance of these issues in contemporary American culture is tantamount to burying our heads in the sand. As a public university, we must engage important issues in our culture, even when doing so makes some uncomfortable.
USC Upstate has faculty, staff, and students who are members of the LGBTQ community, and many on our campus support gay rights. Does this aspect of culture dominate our campus life? Definitely not. Do we provide a balanced campus life in and through which all students, faculty, and staff can find activities and organizations with which they identify and through which they find support? Absolutely. With more than 80 student organizations, our campus life covers the gamut of interests and orientations. All of this happens in support of our central mission of engaging students in classrooms and laboratories toward earning degrees.
I invite everyone to visit one of our campuses and experience the range and vitality of activities that happen every day. Read our publications, explore our website and check out the calendar of events. Fundamentally, we are about being a great university and sometimes that means we deal with issues that some – in our university community and in the broader community – wish we would not. That fact alone is proof that we are doing our job and living our mission.