‘This is part of who I am’

Kelly Petryszyn

LGBT minor helps students discover their identities

Abby McGinty got more than she bargained for when she decided to declare an Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender minor.

“Not only has it helped me to find myself and understand who I am as a person, but it’s uncovered the passion I’ve been looking for,” the senior psychology major said. “I finally feel as though my future has a specific direction.”

McGinty, who grew up with many LGBT people in her life, is accustomed to gay culture and wanted to learn more about it. Once she took the class “it just clicked,” she said.

“I am absolutely positive what I want to study in my mind and heart is LBGT issues,” McGinty said. She said she wants to focus her psychology degree on youth outreach, media influence and the general public’s perception of LGBT issues.

A group of sociology professors led by Robert Johnson created the LGBT minor in 2001 as an interdisciplinary program. Interdisciplinary means the minor offers classes in various departments. The disciplines this minor works with are American studies, health education, justice studies, modern and classical language studies, political science, sociology, psychology and theater.

There are two exclusively LGBT classes. First, students must take Introduction to LGBT Studies, and lastly they must complete Individual Investigation, an independent study on the student’s topic of choice. Kent State was the first university in Ohio to offer an LGBT minor.

In the eight years the minor has been in existence, numerous students have experienced personal discoveries about themselves, similar to McGinty.

“There have been people who have found the courage to come out within the structure of the class because they felt comfortable,” said Daniel Nadon, associate professor of theater and co-coordinator of the minor.

“There are students in psychology who have been completely heterosexual who have been motivated to explore counseling LGBT youth as a specialty. There are students who when we had a project attached to the class where we brought a theater company to create a play about homophobia on the Kent campus who were overwhelmed by the stories that were told in the play and dedicated themselves to that sort of activist theater,” he said.

Sophomore Spanish major William McSuley recently declared the minor and is eagerly waiting to take the introduction class in the spring. He said he has always been accepted but would like to learn the history of general attitudes towards LGBT people and receive a better understanding of himself.

“This (minor) is part of who I am,” he said.

Currently, there are about six to 12 students working their way through the minor. Some don’t complete it. Nadon said he is proud of the program but wishes to see improvement in recruitment, making sure the classes are available, and simplifying the final class. He said this minor is important for all.

“Having this minor gives us a more grounded discussion – grounded in fact rather than opinion,” Nadon said.

It is common for people to take the Introduction to LGBT Studies class, but not be a minor. Some people, Nadon said, may even join, but may not agree politically and learn to challenge their understanding of the topic.

McGinty said the classroom environment is very welcoming and relaxed.

She leaned back and smiled as she added, “I just feel so happy to be in class. There is such acceptance there.”

The minor is not only for LGBT students. Non-LGBT student enrollment in the minor has been on the rise. The minor can help heterosexuals see an image of LGBT that is not the same as the stereotypes seen on TV or in movies, said Richard Berrong, co-coordinator of the minor and modern and classical studies professor.

For LGBT students, the minor is, “a way of seeing who he or she might be,” Berrong said.

He said he thinks LGBT students who are experiencing struggles can benefit from this minor.

“I think it’s a minor that can be eye-opening to some students,” Berrong said.

Contact diversity reporter Kelly Petryszyn at [email protected].