Acceptance Shouldn't Be Optional, but Expected
Published: Monday, March 26, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, March 28, 2012 02:03
Among the promises made by new Geogetown University Student Association President Clara Gustafson (SFS ’13) and Vice President Vail Kohnert-Yount (SFS ’13), one particularly caught my eye: On their campaign website, the executive team has indicated their intent to add an LGBTQ-friendly checkbox to CHARMS.
Speaking as an openly gay man, I am deeply opposed to this initiative. The intent of the checkbox is to prevent LGBTQ freshmen from suffering from harassment or hostility in their living situation — an honorable goal to say the least — but the means to this end are completely out of line. Having an LGBTQ-friendly box on CHARMS undermines the experiences in growth and challenge that Georgetown provides its students.
My freshman roommate and I could not have been more different. He is a foot taller than I am, hails from the opposite coast and has a completely different family background than I do. Our relationship developed slowly over the year, and that winter, when I came out to him, I was nervous about his reaction. Sure, it was awkward for a few minutes, but at the end of the day it was a non-issue. He wasn’t given an option as to whether or not he wanted live with a gay man, but he ended up with one. He was forced to open up his mind, set aside his prejudices and deal with his living situation.
I was not out of the closet as an incoming freshman and would not have indicated that I wanted to live with an LGBTQ-friendly roommate if I had been given the option. This raises the concern of logistics: Having the box will miss the point, since many gay freshmen will not utilize it. Additionally, some straight freshmen may also be too timid to check the box unless they are already comfortable with the LGBTQ community.
More importantly, having a checkbox sends the message that if you don’t want a gay roommate, you won’t have one. It paints the issue of embracing our LGBTQ community as an option, rather than an expectation. We must assume that incoming freshmen are open to living and interacting with their queer roommates, hallmates and classmates as a rule, rather than making it seem like an exception.
Our campus community needs to send a message to new students that the Hilltop is an inclusive place, and that we love and welcome all members of the Georgetown family. There is no excuse for hatred or abuse here, and the introduction of a checkbox makes tolerance seem like a noble deviation rather than a reasonable expectation.
Keeping in mind our Jesuit value of cura personalis, the checkbox exempts certain Georgetown students from becoming accepting adults. It denies them the ultimately positive opportunity of being pushed into an uncomfortable situation and opening up to people with different orientations and lifestyles. It sends the message that in life, you are entitled to interacting only with those of the same orientation, when in reality, gay Americans permeate all facets of life.
Having a drastically different roommate is a learning experience, just as my 14 general education requirements were. Although I wasn’t initially excited for some of my classes, they have contributed volumes to my intellectual experience at Georgetown. Our Jesuit founders stressed the growth of students as individuals, and being pushed out of our comfort zones is the best way to accomplish that goal.
Lastly, we have to examine this issue in the context of diversity as a whole. We would never consider having a black-friendly checkbox or a Korean-friendly checkbox. We would not ask someone if he or she is willing to live with a Jewish or international student. We must deal with the threat of LGBTQ intolerance the same way we have dealt with racial tensions, sexism and religious bias. NSO, the athletics department, campus ministry and other offices have the opportunity, and more importantly, the power, to spread love for the gay community at Georgetown.
I fear that the introduction of this checkbox, while intending to rally support for LGBTQ students, will actually give students an opportunity to express intolerance. Gay roommates — just like premed roommates, smelly roommates and athletic roommates — are a fact of life, and giving someone the illusion of opting out of one is contrary to our goals of building an inclusive and supportive community. We must firmly advocate that gay people are people, and if you have a problem with that, regardless of political, religious or familial roots, we have a problem with you.
Nicholas Shaker is a senior in the College.