Oberlin College Celebrates 'Year of the Queer'

Posted: Nov 13, 2012 3:42 PM
Liberal arts colleges these days often promote alternative lifestyles with the implementation of Sexuality, Gender and Queer Studies programs in their course catalogues. Instead of the typical English, math or science course, students can now enroll in classes such as “Sexual Justice: Lesbians, Gays and the Law” at DePaul University, or Portland State University’s “Lesbian Literature.” But, this semester Oberlin College is taking education in gay culture to a whole new level by dubbing 2012 the Year of the Queer.

During the 2012-13 academic year, Oberlin is celebrating homosexuality with an interdisciplinary series of academic courses, events, performances and lectures aimed at encouraging students to engage in a community-wide conversation about queer life today, according to oberlin.edu.

One of the most recently scheduled speakers, University of Michigan professor David Halperin, gave a talk entitled, “How to Be Gay.” Halperin has a long history of studying gay culture and taught a class called “How to be Gay: Male Homosexuality and Initiation” at UM. He describes the course:

“It was [on] the question of whether there is a gay cultural difference,” Halperin said.” “In particular I was interested in non-gay objects from mainstream culture that gay men have appropriated and made over so that they function in gay male social worlds as vehicle[s for] gay male cultural expression. A well-known example would be anything from Judy Garland to Bette Davis to Madonna or Cher. Lady Gaga wasn’t around at the time, but that would be another good example.”

After his formal speech at Oberlin, Halperin continued to promote a discussion on gay lifestyle on the campus. The next morning, he attended a sociology class and invited students to ask him further questions about queer theory.

Esther Newton, a lesbian professor who teaches Women's Studies and American Culture at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and is Professor Emerita of Anthropology and Kempner Distinguished Research Professor at Purchase College, State University of New York, is another lecturer for Year of the Queer. Her speech, scheduled for today, will center on her new book, My Butch Career: A Scholar's Life. Newton is no amateur of studying gay culture. A few of her other books include Fire Island: Sixty Years in America's first gay and lesbian town, Margaret Mead made me gay: personal essays, public ideas and Mother Camp: Female Impersonators in America. While conducting research for Mother Camp, a book detailing the lives of drag queens, Newton performed field spending time in the noisy bars, dressing rooms, cheap apartments and hotels to create a first-hand account of the alternative lifestyle, according to goodreads.com.

Oberlin’s goal of encouraging queer dialogue is not limited to Year of the Queer lectures or events. Professors admitted to introducing some aspect of queer culture into other programs of study, according to the school’s website.

“Professors pulled curricula together for classes in several departments that would focus on queer theoretical subject matter in their own ways, making it possible for students to be able to take classes taught with a lens of historical and contemporary queer theory in their respective majors.” Some of these departments included African American Studies, Classics, the First Year Seminar Program, Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies, History, Politics, Religion Comparative American Studies and Theater & Dance.

The Year of the Queer series nears conclusion with a Drag Ball in April, but with gay-oriented material slowly inching its way into other programs of study, it’s clear some Oberlin professors will continue to push a homosexual agenda in their classrooms.

With the advancement of queer dialogue in liberal arts colleges, students hoping for more colorful discussions may get more than they expected.