An administrator at Oxford University insists it “isn’t my job” to make LGBT students feel comfortable in the classroom.
Louise Richardson, a political science professor and vice-chancellor at the revered institution, made the statements at an education summit in London.
“I’ve had many conversations with students who say they don’t feel comfortable because their professor has expressed views against homosexuality,” Richardson said, according to the BBC. “They don’t feel comfortable being in class with someone with those views. And I say, ’I’m sorry, but my job isn’t to make you feel comfortable.'”
“Education is not about being comfortable,” she added. “I’m interested in making you uncomfortable.”
Richardson, who became vice-chancellor in January 2016 after tenures at St. Andrews and Harvard, said she encourages students faced with homophobic professors to “challenge them, engage with them, and figure how a smart person can have views like that.”
An LGBT student group at the 900-year-old school said members were “angered and dismayed” by Richardson’s statement, which “appear to indicate support for tutors expressing homophobic views to their students.”
“Whilst we recognize that individuals are entitled to personal views and opinions,” The Oxford Student Union LGBTQ+ Campaign wrote
on Facebook, “we see no way in which these are relevant to an academic context, and believe that the expression of such views has detrimental effects which go far beyond making students feel ‘uncomfortable.'”
Challenging a professor who has control of your grade, and potentially your academic future, is no simple matter. And being made unwelcome in the classroom can exacerbate feelings of alienation and depression LGBT students are already at higher risk for. “Of course we want to change people’s views,” the student group maintains, “but that is not the job of individual students, particularly in an academic context.”
Oxford’s anti-discrimination policy protects students from harassment based on gender, sex and sexual orientation, and specifically dictates that staff should promote an inclusive learning environment.
At least one staffer says he’s requesting clarification in light of Richardson’s remarks. Dan Holloway, an administrator in the linguistics department, claims that if homophobia in the classroom counts as academic freedom, “the university’s harassment policy would be a joke.”