Viewpoint: Misunderstood class title led to unfair criticism

By Ashley Ohriner
News editor

Baylor is a Baptist college. With that comes a target on the university’s back at which bloggers and anonymous commenters can throw cheap shots. When inaccurate reporting leads to slandering of the Baylor name, however, the attacks can no longer be written off as members of a hungry media grabbing at air in hopes it is their next meal ticket.

In early November, the Spring 2012 course listings were released. Among the classes was Sociology 4V70, an independent study titled “Homosexuality as a Gateway Drug.”

“The course description is sketchy, there are no textbooks or materials needed, and the Asst. Professor who is teaching the course, Martha G. Sherman’s research interests include criminology, juvenile delinquency, the sociology of the family, parenting, and religion and Baylor U’s anti-gay, pro-Christian fascist attitudes,” Will Kohler of a pro-gay website wrote in a story.

While Kohler’s story is only one of many on the course, the writer’s views reflect those of the greater media. And though the name of the course is undoubtedly controversial, the reporters have inaccurately reported the facts.

“This is an independent study course for one undergrad who brought forward the idea to a faculty member. It’s not a course that is open to students,” Baylor director of media communications Lori Fogleman told the Lariat.

That one student will be attending the course under the direction of Dr. Martha Sherman. Therefore, “Homosexuality, as a Gateway Drug” is not a departmentwide course offering. After a student reported the course title confusing and offensive, the department changed the title to Family Studies.

Fogleman said a student saw the course listing on Bearweb and took offense to the title, and the title was changed.

“It came from someone in our own community who saw the title and reacted to that, and the department changed the name,” Fogleman said.

Sherman declined to comment on the issue. One blogger with the username “GayatBaylor” commented on the story, saying the course was meant to explore the conservative view of homosexuality as a sociology thesis topic.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues do exist in society. A sociology thesis exploring the topic is appropriate by any account.

That said, is it the topic of the study or the fact that Baylor has come under fire for its views on LGBT that have fed fuel to the fire? It seems bloggers, knowing Baylor’s history with the issue, jumped to the conclusion that the course name was meant in a derogatory sense. The same blogger who defended the university also said the name was meant to be ironic.

One might ask whether a liberal university such as UT Austin would come under fire for having a course of the same name.

Baylor was right in allowing the student to explore the controversial topic. The real story would have been if the university had denied the student the right to explore the thesis because of the nature of the study. The media is sending the message that Baylor students do not have the right to explore certain topics simply because they go against universitywide views.

All of this aside, it is the blatant disregard for accurate reporting on the issue that has led to the outpouring of anti-Baylor and anti-Baptist slurs. Tolerance goes both ways. I am and always have been pro-LGBT. However, I will also always be pro-truth. Seems as though it is the media that needs a little sensitivity training, not the university.

Ashley Ohriner is a senior journalism major from Las Vegas and is the Lariat’s news editor.