Professors Share Advice to Fellow LGBTQ+ Members in Panel Discussion

Several professors shared their stories on how they found their identities after discovering their sexuality during a panel discussion this Wednesday, May 16 at Santa Monica College's Cayton Center. Organized by the Gender Sexuality Alliance (GSA) on campus, this panel was part of a series of events for the school’s Pride Week. Four professors, three from SMC and one from UCLA talked about themselves within the theme of the LGBTQ+ community as well as people of color in academia.

Women’s Studies Professor Yamissette Westerband found out about her identity while in school. After taking a course in women’s studies, she said she started to read literature that put into perspective some of the feelings she has always had. 

With around a dozen active listeners, she wanted students to know that there is support. “You’re probably not alone if you’re struggling with your sexuality,” Westerband said. “We, as faculty and staff have been through what you’re going through. You don’t have to be isolated, you don’t have to struggle.”

Nathaniel Donahue, an art history professor and the president of the college's Academic Senate, struggled to feel comfortable with his identity and worked to make SMC a place where students feel comfortable. “You have to be in a place of support and care if you want to succeed in school,” Donahue said. “We want to make sure this school offers that to our students.”

Echoing how important it is for students to be able to be themselves, Jamey Anderson, a chemistry professor, told people to stay strong if they come into problems. “Keep pushing through your school and don’t give it up, because we’ve all experienced things that are not pleasant -- being in the closet, discrimination, and all of that,” Anderson said. “We’ve all made it through, we’ve all had careers we’re happy with, and that’s a good message for people who might be struggling now.”

In addition to professors from SMC, Sylvan Oswald, who teaches at UCLA, shared stories of his life, especially within the theatrical world. A playwright himself, he addressed the audience's questions, such as how students can feel as if they can come out of the closet, or what forms of media helped shape their lifestyle.

After hearing their stories, Mysterie Peña, the president of the GSA, said she was happy with the turnout and receptiveness of the audience. They noted that their club offers resources and can connect others to people to talk to if they feel alone. “You’re not the only one there,” Peña said. “For students and faculty, there are other people who have similar intersections that can identify with you and you have resources to go to.”

SMC's celebration of Pride Week will close out on Thursday, May 17, with a film screening of Paris is Burning from 6 to 8 p.m. in the Cayton Center. The GSA is also hosting the event alongside the Women in Media club. The film explores the drag scene of New York in the 1980s.