If Deerfield is lacking in anything, it is not support systems. As an underclassmen, you have at least two proctors on your hall, a faculty resident, an advisor, peer counselors, your class dean, and basically all your teachers and curricular faculty, not to mention Deerfield’s more formal mental health support system. As an upperclassmen, this diminishes slightly, but is for most intents and purposes the same. From what I have gathered, this works fairly well for the vast majority of people, which is great and a considerable accomplishment on the part of those involved.
When I was a student, I felt that the system worked to support me academically, artistically, as a leader in the community, and even just socially. But it would be inaccurate and irresponsible to say that a proper support system for LGBTQ students existed when I was at Deerfield. The issue, though, is not “the culture,” which people have a tendency to blame things on at Deerfield, and there are some concrete ways to actually improve this system to be more inclusive.
By no means do I mean to say that there are not individuals on the Deerfield campus who can be extremely helpful in supporting and assisting LGBTQ students. Some non-LGBTQ faculty were very helpful at Deerfield. For me personally, that was Ms. Liske, Mr. Henry, and Mrs. Hynds, among others. But the lack of a more formal system problem has several key components.
The first and perhaps most glaringly obvious issue is that Deerfield needs more LGBTQ faculty. I have written to certain individuals on campus about this issue, but my concerns were dismissed, so perhaps I am missing some large piece of information as to why exactly this is the case. An additional issue is retention of LGBTQ faculty members, but a similar problem is seen among other groups of minority faculty. It is rather complex, and perhaps could be better explained by some member who was actually a former LGBTQ faculty member at Deerfield.
Somebody might reply to my concerns by asking why exactly it is necessary to have LGBTQ faculty. Why can’t everybody be a support system like Mrs. Hynds or Ms. Liske or Mr. Henry through some form of developed empathy? Well, we can all try our best to emulate Frank Henry, but that is another question entirely. I have found from my own experiences, when I needed somebody to talk to at Deerfield about LGBTQ issues, I needed much more than just somebody to listen. I needed somebody to respond, agree, disagree, give me their own opinion, and somebody who is actually LGBTQ will have greater capacity to do so.
Jael Hernandez and Eve Goldenberg were able to be these figures, and for that I am extremely grateful. As I said in my going-away speech to Mr. Hernandez, my only wish was that I could have had a faculty member like him when I was a younger student at Deerfield. Coming out functionally on my own was extremely difficult, and was a kind of unnecessary and painful experience I wouldn’t want any other student to go through.
Another important facet of the support system are older student role models. The truth is that I never found a LGBTQ role model at Deerfield, and only once I was a senior did I find one off-campus back home in New York. This issue is exceedingly more complicated though, as it requires out, LGBTQ seniors. When I first came back to Deerfield from my year abroad, there was one out student– me. When I graduated, numerous other laudable members of the community also came out and they became part of a support system, beyond what I had imagined was possible when I was a sophomore and prospects looked pretty bleak.
A problem with the situation was that if closeted students were put off by me for whatever reason-—they did not like me or found me threatening or too “gay” or whatever—then there was no alternative for them. I always felt that I had failed in this way as a leader, because I could only ever be one person, and these students had nobody else to go to.
I have spent enough time outside Deerfield and met enough people who were closeted through prep-school years to know that there is a need for this kind of support system, even if that need is not always obvious.
Mr. Hernandez and other LGBTQ faculty are invaluable resources to Deerfield. I very likely would have left Deerfield, if it were not for their assistance. Unfortunately it does not seem that all students are able to access the kind of support I found. Mr. Hernandez and I never had any formal interaction (class, co-curricular, dorm). It was only because we were two openly gay males on campus that we got in contact. Otherwise, it was very likely I would have never talked to him at length.
Sometimes talking was just the simple stuff: I have a crush, crush does not reciprocate, and repeat to infinity. Sometimes it was more complicated: Do I mention my LGBTQ advocacy work on my resume? We have systems to deal with almost every other kind of student support issue, so it would only make sense to include LGBTQ students. Will the world fall apart if we do not? Most likely not, as LGBTQ people have endured life in the closet since the dawn of widespread, cultural homophobia (yes, the entire world did not always hate gay people). However, it is only a matter of equality that LGBTQ students are provided enough personal support so that they can reach their highest levels of achievement in academic and non-academic spheres.