The announcement of a new inclusive housing programme, dubbed “Rainbow Housing” by its initiators at the University of Limerick, seems to signify a watershed moment for those studying in Ireland who identify as LGBT+. Other colleges have yet to follow suit, but the designation of a permanent location for queer students on campus not only paves the way for the establishment of a concrete safe space, but also a more constitutional form of acceptance within Irish universities. However, for all the good the Rainbow Housing initiative represents, colleges across Ireland cannot truly say that they are fully representative of LGBT+ students until diversity is embraced by all of the relevant faculties, and not merely in instances that make great headlines.
“Academic scholarship has historically been dominated by those who don’t need to worry about representation, and those who are privileged enough to penetrate the academic hierarchy have not typically viewed representation with any sort of gravity.”
Trinity is a prime example of an institution which, superficially at least, advocates LGBT+ inclusivity, but fails to implement the mainstream changes necessary to wholly represent its minority students. The academic practice of researching and teaching queer art, history and culture should be considered an essential component of any truly LGBT+ inclusive institution of education. Academic scholarship has historically been dominated by those who don’t need to worry about representation, and those who are privileged enough to penetrate the academic hierarchy have not typically viewed representation with any sort of gravity. It seems somewhat brazen to consider Trinity to be a truly inclusive institution if the introduction of academic modules teaching LGBT+ culture are not soon to follow in line with Trinity’s other “Rainbow” initiatives.
An educational institution holds academia at its core, and so to exclude a community with such a rich cultural value from its teachings will result in scholarship and research suffering as a consequence. Furthermore, College’s minority groups, especially LGBT+ academics, suffer a form of cultural alienation, as they are faced with choosing study paths which don’t acknowledge the significance of their own art, literature and history. Queerness deserves to be viewed through the same academic lens as any other area of cultural scholarship.
It is understandable that the introduction of any new field of research cannot be rushed, as the process of finding scholars, securing funding and planning module outlines is long-winded and convoluted. However, the students of Trinity are under no misconception as to the availability of funding College has access to. Funding exists for a vast array of fields of study within Trinity, and yet no modules have been singularly dedicated to the study of queer literature, art or history across any of the disciplines.
“…one cannot truly say the educational practices of Trinity embody the principles of “equal treatment” if certain minority narratives are systematically excluded from its academic syllabus.”
The equality section of Trinity’s website states: “Trinity is proud of its LGBT-inclusive culture – if you come here as an LGBT student or staff member you can expect a warm welcome and equal treatment.” The history of Trinity, the country’s first university to formally recognise a dedicated gay society in 1983, should be celebrated and reflected in all aspects of campus life. In spite of this, one cannot truly say the educational practices of Trinity embody the principles of “equal treatment” if certain minority narratives are systematically excluded from its academic syllabus.
In a search through Trinity’s online module database, I found only three modules exclusively dedicated to the study of gender and sexuality. All three modules place a focus on the constructions of gender identity and only one, in its module outline, makes a fleeting reference to the historical significance of queer theory. The construction of gender, which is mentioned in all modules dedicated to feminist theory, is perhaps the closest Trinity has come in recent years to trans-inclusive humanities, and yet, even then, it is predominantly the struggles of cisgender individuals which are prioritised. A footnote mention or a nod to such issues does not, and will never, constitute deserved academic recognition. Queer art is too valuable and too significant to be confined to brief nods within mainstream, heteronormative education. Trinity has the academic prowess and funding to actualise the scholarship of queer culture, but has simply chosen to not dedicate the time nor the money to it.
Throughout my three years at Trinity as a student of English literature, not once have I been offered or faced with the prospect of a module dedicated to queer literature or art. In my first year, queer theory was excluded from my Theories of Literature module. In my second year, the seminal queer text Angels in America by Tony Kushner appeared on my reading list, but only as part of a module dedicated to non-realism. Going into my third year, none of the four modules I was assigned, nor any of the many optional modules I was offered, placed any academic focus on LGBT+ literature or art. For LGBT+ identifying students such as myself, to not just be underrepresented but almost wholly excluded from Trinity’s academic syllabus calls into question the tokenism of Trinity declaring itself an “institution proud of its LGBT-inclusive culture”. One could argue that, as an institution of education first and foremost, Trinity should consider the academic inclusion of queer students as paramount, and place it above all other efforts to promote LGBT+ diversity.
“It is ignorant to knowingly celebrate the works of Oscar Wilde, Tony Kushner or Virginia Woolf without also recognising the legitimacy and relevance of the queer perspective.”
Some may consider the call for the study of queer culture within Trinity as another example of today’s political climate encroaching into areas where “politics don’t belong”, and that “political correctness” has no place in objective academic study. Those who might question my advocacy of LGBT+ culture in academia, particularly so in the arts, must consider what willfully excluding the queer community means. It is inherently counter-intuitive to the pursuit of academia to under-represent a creative community, especially for the purpose of being “apolitical”. It is ignorant to knowingly celebrate the works of Oscar Wilde, Tony Kushner or Virginia Woolf without also recognising the legitimacy and relevance of the queer perspective.
The study of LGBT+ culture as an academic field would contribute to the solidification of what this community has fought for so long: recognition. Recognition, in particular, that queer art, literature and history represents a unique, irreplaceable and valuable component of global culture, worthy of study in the same way as any and all other persons or fields. An institution which values the pursuit of knowledge cannot knowingly and continually exclude the fecundity of the LGBT+ community, without also carelessly excluding the narrative of a group who have so enduringly contributed to our society.