Left out in the cold


Walking past a newsstand this past Thursday, I glanced at the headlines of the San Francisco Chronicle and saw this:

“CITY COLLEGE OF SAN FRANCISCO ON BRINK OF CLOSURE”

Whoa!!!  Did I read that correctly???

“CITY COLLEGE OF SAN FRANCISCO ON BRINK OF CLOSURE”

Yes, I read that correctly.

California’s largest college, serving 90,000 students, may close as early as this October. Citing “serious, longstanding problems of leadership and fiscal planning,” the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) has given the institution eight months to prove why it should retain its accreditation, but at the same time to “make preparations for closure.”

This story has hit the national news radar, and various opinions about the verdict have been offered – the overly stringent accreditation standards, the impact of the state’s ongoing divestment from higher education, the inflexibility of leadership in the face of rapid-fire budget cuts. Obviously, if CCSF shuttered its operations, and 90,000 students are left out in the cold, that is a serious blow to the city and county of San Francisco, and to the state of public higher education in California. But, in my opinion, this is also a VERY serious blow to the LGBTQ community, both locally and nationally.

City College of San Francisco, you may or may not know, pioneered the concept of “LGBT/queer studies” in the United States. The first gay literature course was taught at CCSF in 1972, and several years later CCSF was the first college in the United States to establish a Gay and Lesbian (now “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender”) Studies department. Professor Trinity Ordona, a current member of the department, was recognized by Curve Magazine as one of the 20 most powerful lesbian academics (among her other accolades). CCSF has a Queer Resource Center and an Outlist (an online list of people employed by the college who are publicly out), neither of which are typically found at community colleges. Moreover, all CCSF employees are required to attend trainings in order to better understand issues of homophobia, racism, sexism, classism, heterosexism, sexual harassment, transphobia, and ability rights. At many institutions, this type of training is voluntary, but not mandatory. At quite a few community colleges, it is nonexistent.

So although City College of San Francisco received an F on its accreditation report, I think it deserves a five-star LGBTQ campus climate rating. And that’s no small accomplishment.  

As I’ve noted in previous blog posts, numerous studies have been conducted on the campus climate for LGBTQ students and employees, mostly revealing a mixed bag of findings. However, none of these surveys have included community colleges, so we really don’t have a clear picture of what the climate is like for LGBTQ students and staff at these institutions. In fact, almost no one has studied the adjustment, well-being, and educational success of LGBTQ community college students – and community colleges (including the California Community College system) don’t collect data on the sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender presentation of their students. They are, in the psychological and educational literature, a severely neglected population.

The little data that’s available, however, appears to indicate the following:

  • LGBTQ students at community colleges may experience mental health issues stemming from institutional, familial, and internalized homophobia, which can interfere with their academic success.
  • LGBTQ students at community colleges may not have the emotional and financial support from their families to pursue their educational goals.
  • LGBTQ students at community colleges are typically less likely than students at four-year institutions to have visible LGBTQ role models and resources available to them at their schools. 

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist (or a psychological researcher) to come up with the following equation: 

High Stress (from homophobia, transphobia, biphobia, etc.) + Low Levels of Support = Low Student Success.   

We’ll have to wait and see what the fate of City College of San Francisco will be. Undoubtedly, CCSF will be in the higher education spotlight for the next several months. And yet, here’s the irony of the situation: If the ACCJC included an “LGBTQ campus climate rating” as one of its accreditation standards, I bet most community colleges in California would be put on notice – and CCSF might be the only one left standing.

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Filed under biphobia, homophobia, LGBTQ, LGBTQ youth, psychological research, San Francisco, transgender, transphobia

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