The University of South Carolina Upstate’s Center for Women’s and Gender Studies will close July 1 – a move that university administrators say is not retaliation for a controversy over the scheduling of a lesbian-themed play, but some are not convinced.
The center in April hosted a symposium called Bodies of Knowledge, as it has done since 2007; this year’s edition was to include a performance of the play How to Be a Lesbian in 10 Days or Less. But the show was canceled after an outcry from conservative state legislators who took the tongue-in-cheek title literally and claimed the play was a tool for “recruiting” audiences to become lesbian.
This week USC Upstate officials announced the closure of the center, which will save $45,000 a year. “Not only is this decision not punitive or a response to external pressure, it is part of an effort to be consistent and systematic across academic affairs in how we administer and support various programs,” university chancellor Tom Moore told South Carolina newspaper The State. Women’s and Gender Studies was the only interdisciplinary minor at the school with a dedicated center.
Some faculty members aren’t taking Moore at his word, reports the Charleston City Paper. “In my personal opinion it’s an act of retribution,” one told the paper, speaking anonymously.
“To say I’m disgusted is an understatement,” another told City Paper. “The center was a sign of a positive and progressive workplace for faculty and staff and a safe haven for students, gone now with no input from the faculty, staff, and students it served.”
Faculty members also said the university was a hostile place for women and minorities and that the center was “the only element of the campus that responds to the needs of marginalized people.”
“It’s a sad day for USC Upstate,” added Ryan Wilson of statewide LGBT rights group SC Equality, speaking to The State.
USC Upstate and the College of Charleston have also been targets of legislators’ wrath because they’ve put LGBT-themed books on student reading lists. USC Upstate selected lesbian cartoonist Alison Bechdel’s acclaimed graphic memoir Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic as part of its optional freshman reading list, and the College of Charleston assigned gay poet and professor Ed Madden’s Out Loud: The Best of Rainbow Radio as summer reading for its English 101 course.
In retaliation, in March the state’s House of Representatives voted to cut $17,163 from USC Upstate’s funding and $52,000 from the College of Charleston’s state allocation. This week the Senate voted to restore the funding, but with the caveat that the money be used “to teach provisions and principles of the Constitution, Declaration of Independence and Federalist Papers as well as ‘the study of and devotion to American institutions and ideals,’” The State reports.
A conference committee will have to resolve differences between the House and Senate budgetary legislation before the budget becomes final, but Wilson noted that study of the nation’s founding documents could be eye-opening for many. “We all could learn something here,” he told The State.