In the past 20 years being openly gay in America has come a long way, but it is a path wrought with obstacles and challenges to navigate; however, one Mercy College professor stands out as an example of tolerence and acceptance for students.
Agustin McCarthy is a media studies adjunct professor and a film maker. Between teaching courses at the college and pursuing his passion for screen writing, McCarthy keeps pretty busy. It is his passion for his work both on and off campus that make up a major part of who he is as a man.
The fact that he is openly gay does not define him, especially since he has been out with regard to his sexuality since he was a junior in high school. It was actually a fellow student being attacked for being different that sparked Augustin to become vocal with his beliefs.
“I was at a school diversity meeting when a kid, who was labeled a computer geek, stood up to speak. Other students started saying negative things about him, and I spoke out in his defense.”
Spoke out indeed. McCarthy addressed the group in support of his classmate by challenging them about the very thing that they represented – diversity. He told everyone that he knows what it’s like to be different.
He was gay.
It was a bold move on his part to show solidarity with his classmate by announcing his sexuality, especially in 1987.
He received a standing ovation from the attending crowd.
Though he did receive some harassment afterwards, it was minimal, and he did not let that hinder him from being who he was or what he wanted to accomplish.
Today as an adjunct professor at Mercy, McCarthy continues to promote tolerance and the acceptance of diversity in lessons he teaches.
“It’s not about my own sexuality, it’s about taking ownership of your life and not just accepting things that are wrong. You can’t go through life being passive.”
His personal declaration regarding being open about his life seems to resonate well with some of his past and present students currently at Mercy College.
Danielle Lambert, a media studies television production senior, identifies herself as heterosexual. She feels that having an openly gay professor has been a positive experience for her that has enhanced her college experience.
“I love it. It brings an element that I never expected to be exposed to. Prof. McCarthy’s openness makes me feel comfortable to be open and engaged in the classroom.”
Lambert goes on to say that McCarthy’s freedom of speech should not be limited. She feels that because he is openly gay, it seems that no discussion is off topic, and that’s how college should be.
While Lambert strongly feels that having an openly gay professor has been a rewarding experience for her, other students believe that the personal life of the instructor is a non-issue and should not be judged by others.
Marissa Martufi, a 20 year old junior and communications major, accepts everyone for who they are without judgment. Martufi identifies herself as being heterosexual like Lambert.
“When it comes to the personal life of my professors, I don’t even think about it. It’s about their experiences in their professional life that they bring to the classroom that matters to me.”
However Martufi says that she has a lot of openly gay friends and that they have already done the most uncomfortable thing they will probably ever have to do – which is come out.
“They all seem to be stronger people because of it.”
When it comes to being openly gay in the college environment, one student believes that both professors and students should always practice respect and not cross certain lines.
Khalil Walrond is a 21 year old junior at Mercy College. He was raised in a family with strong practicing religious roots to be without bigotry or hate for others who are different from his Baptist upbringing.
“No one should use religion as a weapon to persecute others or make themselves somehow superior.”
Though Walrond is very accepting of others, he believes that certain lifestyles do not need to be bashed or celebrated. It’s all about respect for each other, and that is a two way street.
“The choice of exposing your sexual orientation is not really needed because in the long term, it should not matter. Even asking someone about their orientation is wrong. It is nobody’s business but your own, and should have no bearing on a student’s academic career.”
Being openly gay for a college professor is not only a personal choice; it’s a professional one as well. But for a young college student, choosing to be out with his or her sexual orientation in an academic environment has the potential be socially challenging.
Roenny Hernandez is a 21 year old junior and Journalism major. He, like McCarthy, is openly gay. He has been a student of McCarthy’s and feels that having an openly gay professor is refreshing and shows diversity.
Despite the fact that Hernandez is open about his sexuality, he describes himself as an introvert. Having a professor that talks to the students whether straight or gay on a personal level makes them more relatable, Hernandez says.
“As a LGBT person myself, anyone willing to open themselves up personally makes me feel comfortable.”
Feeling comfortable in the classroom for students such as Hernandez is a key aspect of the learning expereience. It is intergal to the enviroment that an instructor creates and highlights the role a professor has beyond the academic portion of the course.
Research from Travis L. Russ, assistant professor from the Department of Communication at Illinois State University, outlined that teacher credibility plays a paramount role in the dynamics of a classroom setting. The report says that perceptions students have of their professors are key to the learning environment.
When it comes to openly gay professors, the report did reflect a significant finding.
“No matter how clearly gay teachers demonstrate their ability to teach, there is a large chance that students’ anti-gay biases could dramatically alter how they are perceived and treated in the classroom. Without question, this scenario presents a very real threat to the gay teacher.”
Findings from the controlled study were analyzed by evaluating 154 students (60 males, 94 females) from a large Midwestern university. Because the participants were first year students, the findings represented all academic disciplines.
There was an average age of 18.45 with 91.6 percent Caucasian, 5.2 percent Black/African American, 1.9 percent Hispanic/Mexican and 1.3 percent Asian/Pacific Islander.
With regard to sexual orientation, 98.1 percent identified as heterosexual, 1.3 percent identified as gay, and 1.3 percent identified as bisexual.
Though the findings of the study within this particular group find that being openly gay can have an effect on perceived credibility and learning environment in the classroom, it also identifies three major points.
Being out about sexual orientation promotes a healthier state of mind for the teacher. It can also be beneficial to other closeted co-workers and promote a positive community within the faculty. Lastly, it is beneficial to students because it can reduce biases against gays and lesbians.
The decision to be openly gay in a college atmosphere let alone in life is filled with social decision, personal comfort levels and professional choice. For Prof. McCarthy, the choice for him is clear.
“If I’m not open about who I am, I’m sending the wrong message.”