District approves LGBTQ+ degree, spurs talks

By Michael Santone, Associate Editor

Beginning next semester, Los Medanos College will be the first campus in the district to offer its students an associate of arts/transfer degree (AAT) in social justice with an emphasis in lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender studies.

Unlike a traditional associate of arts degree, and AAT degree guarantees a student who completes the requirements enrollment at a UC or CSU that offers a degree in their field of study.

LMC English and LGBT studies professor Jeffery Matthews, who is also spearheading the development of integrating LGBT issues into social justice studies, said, “The (Associate of Arts Transfer) AAT degree emphasizes many social justice issues, but the program would start with LGBT studies first, followed by African-American and Chicano studies.”

Matthews said he started working on this years ago and, with the help of faculty, decided to go ahead and create the curriculum for a social justice degree with areas of emphasis in the struggles of minorities.

“Everything mushroomed and grew out of my initial design to create LGBT courses,” he said, “it’s been a long process that we had to figure out as we went along.”

A traditional AA degree in social justice, which Contra Costa College offers, does not guarantee acceptance to a UC or CSU unless general education course outside a student’s field of study.

The LGBT transfer degree will follow a more focused educational plan, which was approved by the state, with courses that a specialized to the social justice field.

Matthews said there are three core overview courses, which include interdisciplinary courses for a social justice degree.

“Students who major in LGBT studies would take courses along the lines of LGBT literature, and studies like gender studies, history of sexuality and social justice,” he said. “Not a lot of community colleges are offering this type of degree and studies.”

Matthews said faculty members at LMC are also working on creating a social justice degree with an emphasis in Asian-American studies.

“But that is a little more behind than the other areas,” he said. “These things grow out of faculty interest.”

Faculty and staff throughout the district, Diablo Valley College, CCC and LMC, have the power to create programs with a specialized focus.

But the curriculum must meet student learning outcome benchmarks and be approved by the California Community College Chancellor’s Office and the district Governing Board.

Governing Board Trustee Gary Walker-Roberts said the board approved the curriculum for the LGBT social justice degree to be offered at LMC on Dec. 14 at Governing Board meeting.

“It will interest a new audience of high school students to go to Los Medanos college,” Walker-Roberts said, “It will help us with our FTES (state funding metric) and bring in more money for the district.”

At CCC, the discussions about establishing a social justice degree in fields of study like LGBT studies has yet to develop a leader.

During the Associate Student Union meeting on Feb. 8, Student Life Coordinator Joel Nickelson-Shanks asked college President Mojdeh Mehdizadeh and district Chancellor Fred Wood that students have asked him if a LGBT AA transfer degree could be offered at CCC.

Mehdizadeh said while it is possible, the initiative to create a program begins with students and faculty.

“Our faculty really manage the course and program offerings here at Contra Costa College,” she said to a ASU Board of 12 members. “I can’t say that we have a faculty leader that is ready to develop the program of study today.”

She said CCC is a college that is open to look for opportunities that serve its community and she said, just the focus we have with the Alphabe+ club, and the conversations we’ve been having.

“Ensuring that we are not only supporting our LGBTQ community but also educating our entire community, is something that is in alignment with the college’s strategic plan and mission,” Mehdizadeh said.

CCC La Raza Studies professor Agustin Palacios said this campus has had ethnic studies for over 40 years, and adding another is just a matter of creating a separate major that could house enough courses for an AA transfer degree in social justice.

“We want to have one and we plan to have one,” Palacios said. “There has to be enough interest from students to take 18 units of LGBT studies.”

“We have no problem filling courses with general education requirements,” Palacios said. “But when we get down to more specific courses—we just don’t have the numbers.”

But for the La Raza program all of our courses are transferable,” he said. “We should have an AAT degree this semester in La Raza studies, Chicano Studies.”

Palacios said he wanted to add a Chicano LGBT course but faculty wanted something more general in LGBT studies.

Wood said even if there is not an academic program at CCC, the district wants to insure that students a part of the LGBT community feel supported.

“If there are things we can do that maybe are not in the program we definitely want to have these conversations and help support students,” Wood said.