Friday, August 1, 2008
SMU makes list of top 20 most homophobic schools
SMU ranks 14th in the nation on Princeton Review's list.
Andrew is sick of living a double life.
“I hate having to hide such a huge part of me from those I care about the most,” said Andrew, who asked that his real name not be used. “It’s gotten so bad that I’ve had three panic attacks about it this year.”
He desperately wants to come out, but as a junior science major who’s in one of the most popular fraternities at Southern Methodist University, Andrew fears he will lose his friends and face ridicule, not support.
“I’ve seen these guys around gay people,” he said. “They tease them beyond belief, make them feel like they are nothing. And God forbid a gay guy might smile at one of them. They will talk about wanting to beat up that fag for the rest of the day. I know they would never accept me.”
It’s attitudes like this that landed SMU the No. 14 spot on Princeton Review’s annual list of the nation’s 20 most homophobic schools, called “Alternative Lifestyle Not an Alternative (low acceptance of gay community).”
The list is compiled based on students’ responses to a survey distributed nationwide.
“I feel horrible about it,” said Karen Click, director of SMU’s Women Center — the hub for SMU’s LGBT student programs. “I think SMU as an institution is fairly supportive. We have domestic partner benefits for staff and faculty, financial support for student organizations, and out faculty and a dean. But as a culture, I think there are great pockets of support in different areas and great pockets where there are not.”
Out of the 10,829 people enrolled at SMU, the college networking Web site Facebook shows 30 out gay men and seven lesbians — the vast majority of whom are majoring in the arts.
“Making the list does not surprise me at all,” said Brent Paxton, president of Spectrum, the support organization for LGBTQ students. “There is a hyper awareness of image and lifestyle here with a strong feeling of conformity. Everyone dresses the same. They even cut their hair the same way, and they just can’t handle anything that goes against that mainstream.”
Paxton says he witnesses this firsthand anytime one of his classes talks about gay rights.
“They will flat out tell you that they are not interested in anything that has to do with supporting gay rights or alternative lifestyles at all,” he said. “They are apathetic if not hostile towards gay people. Several said they thought gay people had an agenda that is against the rest of society.”
Paxton says the intolerance is rooted in the fact that so few people are out on campus.
“There are so many closeted people that it is unbelievable. Tons of top school leaders, sports players and more,” he said. “If those people came out it would make a huge difference, because right now most of the people on campus have never had a gay friend. They only know what Fox News tells them about gay people.”
Paxton said Spectrum hopes to change that.
“We really want to work on letting people know that there is a gay community at SMU. We do exist. We are not a threat to their society. In fact, we often are key players in it,” he said.
To accomplish this goal, the group is planning events for next year, like a picnic on the main lawn on campus, a masquerade ball, a monthly “LGBtea” and a National Coming Out Day project.
Seamus Mullarkey, a senior editor for the Princeton Review’s College Guide, says he hopes making the list will also bring about change.
“We don’t do this to pick on schools. We create this list to raise awareness and help make things better,” he said.
Mullarkey gives the example of Duke University, which was on the list for years.
“One year after making the list, students printed up all of these T-shirts which said ‘Gay — fine by me’ and started wearing them around campus.
“Shortly after that, attitudes started to change. And now, they are not on the list.”
But for Andrew, SMU is beyond repair.
“I know I will never tell them,” he said. “For me, it’s easier just to wait until I get out of here now. I can’t wait to leave all of this behind, and never look back.”
Pegasus News Content partner - Dallas Voice
The community newspaper for gay & lesbian Dallas.