Thursday, February 21, 2008

Ask the Administrator: Sexuality and Student Trips

A new correspondent writes:

I read your blog daily and know there are many wise readers who help those seeking knowledge. I am in search!

Our Biology instructor is taking a class to the gulf coast for a week long Marine Biology trip. They will spend one night in a hotel both coming and going to the coast. While there, the students will be staying in apartment-style housing where everyone will have their own bed. However, at the hotel, that option is not available.

One of the male students is openly homosexual, which brings the issue of housing. The students are sharing equally in the cost of the trip, so asking/requesting that this particular student pay extra for a separate room is probably illegal, or at the very least unfair. We are not considering that as an option. The instructor has not had any discussions with students about their sleeping arrangements....yet.

What should we do?

Finally, an excuse to put some sex in this blog. Long overdue, I'd say.

My first thought is that more than one student to a bed – not to a room, but to a bed – strikes me as a bit much. This is true regardless of sexual orientation or anything else. But if the funding dictates that it be so, then that's that.

My next thought – and I'll admit here that my deanship is on the academic side of the house, as opposed to the student life side, so student housing isn't really my thing – is that I'm not entirely sure what the issue is. I assume you have openly gay students, both male and female, in your dorms now. (I also assume you have closeted ones, for that matter.) Some of them probably have straight roommates.

If the issue is fear of sex happening, two responses leap to mind. First, if only one student is gay, then the odds of gay sex happening strike me as pretty darn low. It takes two to tango.

Second, it's not like the straight kids aren't jumping each other when the chaperone's back is turned.

If the issue is the straight guys' feeling uncomfortable at being looked at, I'd suggest, as politely as possible, that they get over themselves. Generally speaking, we aren't nearly as hot as we like to think we are. Fear of being looked at is, in part, a sort of inverted vanity. And if they need to learn the difference between 'gay' and 'predatory,' then you have some teaching to do.

If the issue is the physical safety of the gay student, then the problem isn't with the gay student; it's with the straight kids who feel entitled to threaten him. Address your intervention accordingly.

If the issue is an 'ew' factor – not a sense of threat, per se, but just a visceral discomfort among the straight students – then I think you've got yourself a teachable moment. Besides, speaking as a straight guy, I find the 'ew' factor pretty minimal when the person is 'out.' It's the closeted ones that elicit discomfort, since they radiate discomfort themselves.

And if that still seems just a little too Northeastern liberal, then you could always split the cost of the extra room evenly among all the students, or pick it up out of your budget. (Some hotels will add a cot to a room for something like ten bucks a night, if you want a cheap way out.) But I'd be wary of “the gay kid gets his own room” as a solution, since it literally singles him out. Some smartass frat kid would start in with “oh, so that's what I have to do to get my own room,” and you're off to the races. Not a good precedent.

Or you could just pony up the cash to buy more rooms overall, and make the issue moot.

In any event, I'd reiterate expectations of behavior with every student before the trip, and have them sign something agreeing to some code of conduct. If someone just can't stomach the thought of going under those conditions, let him make that decision in advance.

Good luck.

Wise and worldly readers – your thoughts?

Have a question? Ask the Administrator at deandad (at) gmail (dot) com.