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Meredith Community Discusses the Necessity of Teaching Queer Literature

The whiteboard hanging on the door outside Prof. Newport's office, reading "do y'all offer straight lit classes for Trump supporters" amongst other messages and notes.
Photo by Ashley Hogan

On Monday, April 4, a message reading “do y’all offer straight lit classes for Trump supporters?” was left on Adjunct English Professor Jason Newport’s whiteboard on his office door in Lux Hall. The Herald was notified of the message and interviewed members of the Meredith community regarding the validity of the statement and potential repercussions.

Dean of Students Ann Gleason emphasized that “speech is powerful—it can uplift, affirm and also, in some cases, cause harm.”

“While there is no official hate speech policy in the student handbook, there are Honor Code violations such as harassment, discrimination and acts of intolerance,” she said.

While Dean Gleason made it clear that this comment is not hate speech, she did clarify that it “would fall into a bias incident category.” According to the Student Handbook, a bias incident is “any conduct that serves no scholarly purpose appropriate to the educational experience and demonstrates bias against an individual or group based on any facet of the individual’s or group’s identities.” If the Dean of Students Office deems it necessary, any student who commits a bias incident is sent to Honor Council to receive appropriate sanctions.

Professor Newport expressed his disappointment with the message that was left on his office door. He said, “The Department of English teaches critical inquiry and discourse. The message left on my door shows the need for both.” Professor Newport said he believes that because the message was left anonymously, it was only meant to provoke rather than start a conversation.

Dr. Laura Fine, Department Head of English, reiterated Professor Newport’s vision for the English Department by stating that they “stand for the dignity, value and respect of all people.” She emphasized that it is important to remain cognisant of historically underrepresented communities and inclusivity at Meredith.

Dr. Jayme Ringleb, Assistant Professor of English and the professor teaching English 300 Queer Literature, was also asked to comment on the anonymous student’s message.

“It’s…important that we be wary of potentially amplifying or aggrandizing harmful actions and speech,” they said. They emphasized that this comment “was one person’s bathroom-stall rhetoric, and it was so off-base that some of us are unsure if its intention was satire or hate.”

Dr. Fine seconded Dr. Ringleb’s sentiment by stating, “It could be homophobic or it could be sarcastic—or both. I don’t care to amplify homophobic voices.” She added that as a lesbian professor, she is aware “that Meredith has a problem with homophobia, as does our wider culture.”

In reference to the necessity of a straight literature course, Dr. Ringleb stated that “every literature course in which primary texts focus on straight people and straight relationships is a straight literature course.” However, they clarified that the comment left on Professor Newport’s door is merely a distraction and meant to “suppress queer representation.”

The Herald also spoke with Spectrum President Taryn Gillaspy, ‘22, Spectrum Secretary Liz Sharpe, ‘23, and queer student Lydia Bonecutter, ‘25. All three students shared that they were frustrated by the comment.

Gillaspy and Sharpe said they were not surprised that this comment was made and emphasized the need for peer education.

“It does raise some concerns about the lack of education on campus and makes me think about what I may be able to do as a queer leader to prevent things like this from happening in the future,” Gillaspy said.

Sharpe said, “Seeing this occur reminds me that we as leaders have so much work to do in educating our peers.”

Sharpe also commented on the intentionality of the statement: “The suppression of the experiences, voices and ideas of the queer community is not something to be proud of, and the opportunity to share those ideas is one to celebrate, not to make silly jokes about.”

When asked why they believe a straight literature course is not needed, all three students echoed Dr. Ringleb’s thoughts. Gillaspy stated that “heterosexuality is essentially seen as the default at this point—straight people don’t have to come out because we’ve created this culture of ‘straight until proven otherwise.’”

Bonecutter added that “the representation is there for straight writers and stories. They are the classics we reread.” They also highlighted the upcoming course on the Brontë sisters, who wrote about heterosexual relationships. Despite their love of the classics, Bonecutter said that “as a queer person, there is no representation for [them] in the classics.”

Dr. Ringleb emphasized the impact of biased statements by saying, “Anti-LGBTQIA+ sentiments and actions are very real for many students, faculty and staff at Meredith. Members of our community are consistently scorned, outed, harassed, misgendered, denied acknowledgement and disowned. We cannot dismiss or diminish how damaging these daily expressions of hatred are on an individual and a collective level.”

Dr. Ringleb added, “The queer literature course is thriving: enrollment is already at capacity, which I think speaks to our students’ need for courses like this one.”

By Elinor Shelp-Peck, Co-Editor in Chief


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