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Despite the support for Penn LGBTQ students, LGBTQ faculty members do not receive the same level of support from the University.

Credit: Vanessa Weir

In recent years, recruitment of a diverse faculty has been a topic of much discussion within Penn’s administrative circles. But LGBTQ faculty members — an already marginalized group — may often be pushed to the wayside or forgotten under the umbrella of diversity. Once on campus, many then face institutional and personal challenges stemming from their identities.

Defining diversity

In June 2011, Penn President Amy Gutmann announced the five-year Action Plan for Faculty Diversity and Excellence, backed up with $100 million in funding. The plan aims to recruit, retain and mentor a diverse faculty. In its introduction, a brief mention of diversity in several of its forms is featured, stating, “Across 12 Schools, more than 25,000 students, and more than 4,000 faculty members, we become one university: a wide-ranging, ever-changing community that draws its strength from a multitude of races, ethnicities, genders, sexual orientations, historical traditions, ages, religions, disabilities, veteran status, interests, perspectives, and socioeconomic backgrounds.”

Other than in this introduction, sexual orientation — and not to mention, gender identity, which isn’t included in the official action plan in any respect — is not explicitly referred to at any other point.

The official action plan mandated that Penn’s 12 schools each formulate their own diversity action plans by May 2012. Some schools included sexual orientation and gender identity in their definitions of diversity, while some included only sexual orientation and still others decided to forgo a specific definition of diversity.

Penn Law School chose not to define diversity because “as a faculty we have been, and will continue to be, aware of the many diversity considerations in hiring, and our precise conception of what dimensions of difference matter may change somewhat over time and through our deliberative process,” its action plan states.

The School of Dental Medicine — whose original action plan did not include LGBTQ-specific language — is now working on revising its plan to be more inclusive.

Out of the four undergraduate schools, only the School of Nursing and the Wharton School include both sexual orientation and gender identity under their definition of diversity. The School of Arts and Sciences and the School of Engineering and Applied Science include only sexual orientation in their definitions.

Mathematics professor and College of Arts and Sciences Dean Dennis DeTurck said that SAS’s action plan may only include sexual orientation and not gender identity because he imagines that “those two things mean the same thing to a lot of people.”

In response to a perceived lack of explicit and comprehensive LGBTQ inclusivity in the University’s diversity initiatives, the LGBT Center founded the LGBT+ Faculty Diversity Working Group in 2011. The group’s primary aims are to ensure that gender and sexual minorities are included when it comes to diversity hiring, aid individual schools in reforming their action plans’ language, and push for more queer scholarship.

Vice Provost for Faculty Anita Allen pointed out that some of the schools whose action plans lack LGBTQ-related language are actually at the forefront of the university in terms of LGBTQ leadership. She continued, “I think that we have to be careful not to be obsessed with whether particular words are there — if the values are there, the intention is there, the commitment is there and the practice is there.”

LGBTQ faculty diversity is not tracked in official action plan progress reports. The action plan progress reports focus on gender equity and “minority equity,” which translates to race and ethnicity and incorporates no other minority group.

When asked whether she knows if Penn has been hiring more LGBTQ faculty, Allen said, “I don’t know whether we’ve been hiring more LGBT faculty; that would presuppose that I know the exact numbers that were hired say, in 2012, 2013. We don’t know exact numbers, but what I can say with great confidence is that we’ve hired some amazing LGBT faculty in the last couple of years.”

While the University collects concrete data on race and gender, the fact that sexual orientation and gender identity is left out of the process has led some administrators to question how they can ensure that progress is being made.

Senior Director to the Deputy Dean of the Wharton School Anita Henderson, who also serves as Wharton’s diversity officer, believes the difference in data collection may be due in part to the lack of federal anti-discrimination laws regarding LGBTQ-identifying individuals, while such laws exist for issues of race and gender. This lack of laws could discourage queer faculty from feeling comfortable identifying themselves.

Allen said that information on race and ethnicity, as well as gender, is routinely collected because the University is required to report such information to the federal government. Other categories, such as sexual orientation and gender identity, are not required, but without the relevant data collection, keeping track of the university’s progress in recruiting and retaining LGBTQ faculty becomes harder.

Penn Law professor Fernando Chang-Muy said that data and research is crucial for providing information as to where Penn stands in relation to its peer institutions and serving as the springboard from which to take the correct and necessary actions.

To determine Penn’s climate during the 2011-12 academic year, the year during which the action plan was announced, a University-wide survey of standing faculty was sent out. Of the 2,523 standing faculty members, 1,854 completed the survey. Out of those 1,854, every single one identified their gender and race.

But on a question giving faculty the opportunity to identify their sexual orientation, only 1,744 responded. 3 percent or about 52 faculty members identified themselves as “lesbian, gay or queer.” Another 3 percent said they would prefer not to respond.

The importance of LGBTQ faculty diversity

In the same faculty survey, when asked whether Penn was diverse, 25 percent of respondents said “not at all” or “a little.” When asked how often they engaged in conversation with those whose sexual orientations differed from theirs, 10 percent said “rarely or never” and 33 percent said “occasionally.” Overall, faculty interacted more often with those whose religions, nationality, race and ethnicity, gender and political beliefs differed from theirs.

Diversity and equity is a goal toward which work will be ongoing for many years, as faculty turnover is slow, according to DeTurck.

Allen described why she works to increase faculty diversity, emphasizing the different perspectives and ideas that a diverse faculty brings to an academic institution.

“I believe that a diverse faculty and a diverse student body lead to the most interdisciplinary and comprehensive scholarly and intellectual collaboration. The more diversity in the population, the more diversity of ideas,” she said. “So seeking a diverse faculty is a way to say, we want to have a wide range of ideas discussed, debated and condoned.”

Queer faculty members also serve as someone for potential faculty hires — as well as LGBTQ students — to identify with.

Chemistry professor Eric Schelter recounts his impression of Penn while considering where to work. “It was soon after I arrived here [to visit] that I met other gay professors in a variety of subjects,” he said. “It just seemed to be part of the fabric of the university.” Although seeing other queer faculty helped him make his decision, he added, “There are still not as many out faculty as you would necessarily expect. So the question is, why is that?”

While faculty and administration alike stress the importance of faculty diversity, there is a seeming disparity between ideals and perceptions of reality. Only 38 percent of surveyed LGBTQ-identifying individuals agreed that Penn’s departments and schools make genuine efforts to recruit and retain minority faculty.

“I’ll just put it this way,” School of Social Policy & Practice assistant professor Ezekiel Dixon-Roman, who also serves as the chair for the University Council Committee on Diversity and Equity, said. “While there are various reasons why faculty leave an institution, both professional and personal, push and pull, I do know of instances where faculty of color and queer faculty have left due to issues with their experiences with the institution.”

On the more administrative side, Allen said she did not know of any instances in which faculty members left due to discrimination.

Coming out

Since the latter half of the 20th century, Penn has been a pioneer relative to its peers in its treatment and attitudes toward LGBTQ-identifying faculty.

Professor emeritus of religious studies Ann Matter, who came to Penn in the 1970s, described her experiences at Penn as “all positive.”

“I never felt any discrimination. I was able to get benefits for my partner. I always knew that Penn didn’t discriminate against people for sexual preference, and I thought that was excellent,” she said.

Penn has been and is progressive in the benefits it offers to queer couples. Schelter recalled that Penn’s insurance policies regarding his partnership was an important consideration in his decision to come teach at Penn in 2009. He “felt that Penn was pretty progressive at that time, in terms of LGBT people and their spouses.”

A number of professors choose to come out during the hiring process, so as to get an accurate gauge of the climate of their potential schools and departments. Presidential professor of cancer biology at Penn Medicine Donita Brady brought her fiancée along with her during her second visit to Penn because “when you’re thinking about starting a life at a new place, you also need to consider the person that you’re bringing along.”

Some faculty members choose to come out by using examples from their personal lives to illustrate class concepts, while others decide to keep the topic of their sexuality outside of the classroom. Annenberg School of Communication assistant professor Jessa Lingel generally comes out to her undergraduates students but noted that when she teaches graduate students who are closer to her in age, she tries to maintain a certain distance by not mentioning her sexual orientation, as she believes “sharing queerness comes with an obligation to be intimate.”

Some queer faculty members are hesitant to come out in fear of jeopardizing their chances of receiving tenure. “12 schools. 12 very different atmospheres. We still have folks who come to campus when they’re hired, saying, ‘I’m queer, I’m so excited’ and they meet with us [the LGBT Center],” said Erin Cross, senior associate director of the LGBT Center. “And then they disappear because they feel they can’t be out in their school environment or they won’t get tenure. I wish that was not still happening and I think that’s part of what we’re up against.”

Chang-Muy sees how being LGBTQ might be an issue where tenure is concerned, unless that faculty member is fulfilling a need for a department. “If the law department needed someone to teach family law or sexual orientation and the law, and how if you’re openly gay or not you can lose custody of your child, it might help,” he said.

Queer Faculty versus Queer Scholarship

In its drive to increase the number of queer faculty, the administration has run into the question of how to do so in a legal manner. One way to work around this issue is to focus on increasing queer scholarship — the study of sexual orientation and gender identity — as many believe this increases the likelihood of hiring queer faculty.

“Today, one of the most exciting and emerging areas of scholarship is LGBTQ theory and scholarship. We clearly want to be in the forefront of the scholarly advances being made in this area, so if we are alert to the possibility of hiring and retaining LGBTQ faculty, then we absolutely want to do it,” Allen said.

When asked whether he thinks the University may sometimes view queer faculty and queer scholarship as the same entity, Dixon-Román stated that many institutions tend to engage in “identity politics” and tend to expect queer faculty to be the ones conducting queer scholarship.

“I am not one who necessarily agrees with identity politics,” he said. “I do think that representation is important, but representation doesn’t mean that it’s going to bring about queer studies scholarship or any other category.”

For years, the Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies program has pushed for more queer scholarship, but funding and the appropriate level of attention from the administration has been hard to come by. “I don’t know if most administrators make it a priority,” said Director of the GSWS program and professor of political science Nancy Hirschmann. “I’m hoping College Hall is recognizing the need for more courses.” As an additional impetus for increasing queer scholarship, Hirschmann believes that the likelihood of hiring queer professors could also increase.

Hirschmann questions whether the administration views queer faculty and queer scholarship as the same entity as a way to circumvent issues of legality, but acknowledges that finding a way to hire queer faculty in non-queer subjects is difficult. She believes that continuously striving to improve the campus climate is essential, as this may attract queer faculty in all subjects.

While queer faculty and queer scholarship are often assumed to intersect, queer representation in a variety of subjects is an essential component of LGBTQ diversity. “I think having queer professors is important for scholarly endeavors; people’s life experiences inform their research, and even if it’s not queer-specific research, it still informs what they’re doing and really brings added viewpoints that might not be there otherwise,” Cross said. “That really makes Penn the locus for integrating knowledge that it wants to be.”

English professor Heather Love believes that both faculty and scholarship are integral to a strong university. “Ideally, a university needs both a strong curriculum in LGBTQ studies, as well as active, visible LGBTQ faculty, since both serve different ends,” she said. “Sometimes, of course, these will intersect, and it can be powerful to have someone teaching this material who can also speak directly to the lived experience of queer people.”

Having a non-LGBTQ professor teaching queer studies also has unique benefits. “It discourages insularity,” DeTurck said. “I think queer studies has something to gain from an open and honest attempt by somebody who’s not part of that community to understand them.”

51 percent of LGBTQ-identifying Penn faculty members surveyed in 2011 agreed to some extent that they needed to work harder than their peers to be perceived as legitimate scholars.

“The reality is we are in a heteronormative institution, and that’s not just in arrangement and structure, it’s also in scholarship,” Dixon-Román said. “Penn is probably more progressive than many other institutions, but heteronormativity still plays itself out in hiring, reviewing for promotion and when you’re trying to publish through the peer review process and going through journals that are still very heteronormative.”

Looking forward

In the fall of the current 2015-16 academic year, a second university-wide faculty survey was sent out and official results pend release. An increase in self-identification by LGBTQ-identifying faculty members could possibly indicate successful recruitment of queer faculty, an increasingly open and welcoming environment for queer faculty where they feel more comfortable to identify themselves or both.

According to Allen, preliminary data shows that 3 percent of faculty — the same percentage as in 2011 — identified themselves as lesbian, gay or queer, but the percentage of faculty who identified themselves as queer is twice as high when looking just within the underrepresented minority population. Allen also said that other preliminary results from this survey, such as those concerning whether minorities feel as if they have to work harder to be perceived as legitimate scholars, seem similar to those from 2011.

While in the past, gender equity and minority equity reports were separate documents, Allen wants to revise this practice to best take intersectionality into consideration. She also wants to include information on other minority groups. The newly revised and structured report will come out in the 2016-17 academic year.

The official action plan released in 2011 will expire at the end of this semester, although individual schools’ action plans and diversity initiatives will stay in effect.

Student as catalysts for change

Hirschmann, along with Co-Director of GSWS Demie Kurz, believes that students are the most important and impactful way to create change on campus. Both the Penn Women’s Center and GSWS were formed in part due to student advocacy and sit-ins.

Since students are the main constituents of the university, their demands and needs are influential in shaping the agenda and priorities of the administration.

Graduate School of Education assistant professor Nelson Flores said, “Some of the students at the GSE have done a really good job of bringing queer issues to the forefront and saying, ‘We don’t have courses that address these issues. We don’t have mentors who can support us in these issues.’ And I think that has shaped the conversation.”

Besides demanding change, undergraduate students are the professors of tomorrow. “My message to students it that if you are queer — if you are LGBTQ — you need to consider becoming faculty," Henderson said. "If you want to see a greater presence in the faculty, then go do it. Everyone says we need change, but we need someone to do that.”

The official action plan addresses the importance of undergraduate students in the faculty pipeline, outlining programs meant to encourage students from underrepresented minority groups to pursue graduate work and future careers in the professoriate. Many of the diversity action plans of the individual schools also address the faculty pipeline.

“I think it’s great that we have young activists," Chang-Muy said. "It’s great that we have the next generation of leaders, so the work that my generation has done will be taken up by the next cohort of people. There’s hope.”

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