Grand Rapids Community College Board Trustee Richard Ryskamp’s criticism of the college’s Diversity Lecture Series has inspired strong responses from speaker, journalist and gay rights activist LZ Granderson and other members of the campus community.
Ryskamp reflected on Granderson’s Feb. 13 diversity lecture during his closing remarks of Monday’s board meeting, stating that if someone speaks on gay issues again at GRCC, that the person be “perhaps a speaker who has tried being gay but now regrets that path or is trying to walk a new path.” Trustee Richard Stewart then responded to Ryskamp’s statement in agreement.
Granderson disagreed with Ryskamp’s statement and questioned his understanding of sexual orientation.
“It’s unfortunate that you have a board member of a public institution who is so clumsy talking about sexual orientation that he describes it as if you’re trying on a sweater,” Granderson said.
In response, Ryskamp referred to the comments he made during the board meeting.
“I don’t think anybody can dispute what I said. It’s simply fact, and it’s a suggestion,” Ryskamp said. “If you have a speaker on one side of the controversial issue…isn’t it only right to have a speaker on the other side? I suggested somebody who had regretted that behavior. I think someone who has some firsthand experience is a lot more credible (than someone who has never tried being gay).”
Ryskamp and Stewart made their statements after they voted against the midyear budget that included $30,000 in funding for the Woodrick Diversity Learning Center that sponsored Granderson’s lecture. They also opposed $19,000 in funding for Actors’ Theatre as well as $15,000 for green energy.
“I think it’s curious that the two board members who want to cut diversity are at a board meeting clamoring for more diversity,” Granderson
However, Granderson said he does understand part of where Ryskamp is coming from.
“I’m not opposed to the core of him wanting to have a full discussion on a controversial issue,” Granderson said. “I’m more disturbed with the way that he characterized the conversation because it sends a very bad message about the school.”
In response to the comments made by the trustees, Christina Arnold, director of the Woodrick Diversity Learning Center and the organizer of the Diversity Lecture Series, said the series is known for brining strong voices to campus.
“The Lecture Series is intended to recognize the trailblazers in the civil rights movements and those who challenge mainstream assumptions,” Arnold wrote in an email response.
Upon learning of the comments made at the board meeting, Eirann Betka, president of StandOut, GRCC’s gay/straight alliance student organization, contacted The Collegiate with her own thoughts on the topic.
“We cannot learn by preaching to a choir,” Betka said. “We cannot learn by one side of an argument. We need to see both sides. Yes, I acknowledge that. However…the comment that Mr. (Ryskamp) made—bringing in somebody that tried being gay and didn’t like it—it’s ignorant. It’s ignorant.”
Ross L. Pike, 21, a member of StandOut and president of GRCC College Democrats, said he is discouraged by the comments.
“I just think it’s so sad that Ryskamp is so out of touch with the students he’s supposed to be serving and helping,” Pike said.
Concerning possible actions taken against the Diversity Lecture Series by the GRCC Board of Trustees, Chairperson Richard Verburg said managing the series has never been something the board has been involved with in the past.
“Part of policy governance…is that you don’t get your hands heavy into the administration of the college or the faculty issues,” Verburg said.
Verburg said he has no problem with how the series is maintained and sees no reason to get involved, “as long as speakers aren’t inciting anybody to do anything that’s illegal.”
To view the statement by Ryskamp, click here and skip to time 1:16:30.
Editor’s note: The story was updated at 11:23 a.m. to include Ryskamp’s comments.
Follow Editor-in-Chief Justin Dawes on Twitter @dawes_justin.