By: Brian Grossman and Frank Strona, for the Health Science Faculty
For the last 14 years, the Department of Health Science has reaffirmed its commitment to the core values of diversity and inclusion by hosting an annual Sexual Diversity Event. Our 2012 event, held in the SJSU Barrett Ballroom on March 12 and attended by over 300 people, was entitled, “LGBT Community: Past, Present, and Future Movements and Milestones”. The evening showcased the significance of the passage of California’s Fair, Accurate, Inclusive, and Respectful (FAIR) Education Act. As a result of this legislation, “lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans” have been added to existing Education Code as a group whose contributions to California and U.S. history have previously been undervalued and need to be included in relevant history and social science lessons.
BRIEF HISTORY OF SEXUAL DIVERSITY IN HEALTH SCIENCE
Our annual event was initiated as part of broader department response to student feedback in the late 1990s that lesbian and gay students felt neither represented nor safe in a program (and a campus) that prided itself on inclusion. Then MPH Program Director, Dr. Kathleen Roe, worked with the students to imagine and then implement a critical and participatory examination of our curriculum, communication, assumptions, and true commitments to diversity. The annual Sexual Diversity Event is a cornerstone of the strategy that emerged from that critical review.
STUDENT LEADERSHIP AND INNOVATION
The Sexual Diversity Event is planned and implemented by a committee of MPH students and supported by Health Science faculty. This year’s committee was co-chaired by Erica Eilenberg and Norine Doherty, and included Claudia Mendivil, Primavera Richeson, and Kitty Ha. The committee introduced a new element to the event this year, a toolkit that was designed and developed in collaboration with Bonnie Sugiyama, Assistant Director of the SJSU LGBT Resource Center and Women’s Resource Center. The toolkit was provided to over 40 Health Science faculty members to encourage them to integrate the lessons of the Sexual Diversity Event into their classes. We hope this is the start of a new tradition!
Dr. Steven Tierney, Professor of Counseling Psychology and Chair of the Community Mental Health program at the California Institute of Integral Studies, delivered the keynote address. Tierney began by recounting his own experience of being a gay youth, offering the audience an invitation to the challenges faced by LGBT youth. He also provided an important reframing of the correlation between LGBT youth and suicide, explaining that the risk factors for suicide are not LGB or T identities but rather isolation and alienation. Speaking to an audience of nearly 300 undergraduate and graduate students, Dr. Tierney highlighted the contributions that the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender communities to the development and implementation of models of social organizing for health and justice. He concluded by calling on all in attendance to work for inclusion and to combat intolerance and to look beyond what we “can do” but also what we “must do” in addition to what we “can do”. He appealed to everyone on the room from academics to students, from friends, allies, parents, partners, loved ones and others to stop intolerance of diversity.
The second part of the evening’s program was a panel discussion facilitated by MPH student Liz Gregor. Panelists included LGBT leaders including Whitney Smith, CEO and Founder, Girls for a Change; Paul Boneberg, Executive Director, GLBT Historical Society; Hillary Burdge, Research Project Manager, Gay Straight Alliance Network; and Cecilia Chung, SF Human Rights Commission. Using the FAIR Education Act as a starting point, each panelist discussed the power of inclusion and representation. Smith described how many of the middle school girls she works with choose projects that promote inclusion and combat homphobia in schools. Boneberg addressed the significance of the GLBT History Museum as the first and only of its kind in the U.S. and the ways in which the “starry night sky” of GBLT history and activism offers multiple points of entry for education. Chung provided context and explained the long roots of activism and legislative advocacy that preceded the passage of the FAIR Education Act. Lastly, Burdge referenced research that shows the multiple positive outcomes experienced by *all* students in schools with LGBT curriculum. Given the recent efforts by some to repeal the FAIR Education Act via referendum, the panelists urged the audience to monitor this situation closely, get involved, and affirm inclusion.
THE COMMITMENT: Health Science reaffirms our commitment to diversity and inclusion
It was fitting that the evening ended as it all began, with closing remarks from Department Chair, Dr. Kathleen Roe, who called on us to “make the choices that matter” because there is enough space for everyone, enough time to pay attention, and enough courage in our world to co-create environments of love, support, and possibilities for all.
This annual event was made possible under the stewardship of the Department of Health Science, The MPH – Student Association and with the generous support of Cathy Bussalacci from Student Union Inc. We are also grateful to the four groups that participated as exhibitors for our program, offering education, information, and potential internship placements to our students: Gay-Straight Alliance Network, Girls for a Change, SJSU LGBT Resource Center, and Mosaic Cross Cultural Center.