by Amanda Kulesza
Did you know that history is being made at Bergen Community College this semester? Professor Lori Talarico is proud to offer Bergen’s first LBGTQ+ course, Introduction to LGBTQ+ Cultures. What topics are discussed in LGBTQ+ culture? How is the course structured? Who, even, is Professor Talarico? And, why does any of this matter? I sat down with Professor Talarico to find out more.
Professor Talarico, from BCC’s English Department, had a rough start in life and in her late 20’s came to Bergen and worked as a secretary in order to get free tuition. Upon graduation, she went on to win a scholarship to Columbia University where she earned her Bachelors and Master’s degrees before returning on the other side of the desk. She explained that BCC teachers were always a positive influence and a great support system for her. She employs that same philosophy with her students. She explained that, “a teacher needs to be comfortable being themselves, be empathic, caring, and open-minded, in order for students to relate to you and care about learning.”
Having lived through many of the decades covered in the Intro to LGBTQ Cultures course, and being a proud lesbian, she knows her content well and is comfortable discussing the issues. No matter which subject she teaches (English, Success 101, or Intro to LGBTQ+ Cultures), students seek her support, especially those struggling with their identity, students who are in the closet, or some who are going through their transition. Having been saved by confiding in her teachers, she is proud to be doing the same.
When developing this course, she wasn’t driven solely by academics, but also to make sure that “young people could have representation and access to materials that she wasn’t able to have while in college.”
The process to design and establish this course took Professor Talarico about two years. In the beginning, she was unsure how it would be accepted. However, there was administrative support at every step, and Dr. Jacqueline Behn, BCC’s head of the Sociology department, was particularly excited to work with her. Since being among the first of community colleges in the United States offering an LGBTQ+ course, Professor Talarico is pleased that BCC is on the forefront and has so many allies among faculty, staff and students. It is her hope that BCC will continue to be a forerunner and develop a minor in LGBTQ+ studies. She wants students to feel safe, speak out, and step up, as well as be acknowledged within the academy and beyond.
When asked how she would rate BCC as a safezone, Professor Talarico spoke very highly of the college’s advancements in the last few years, including rosters for changed names, gender-neutral restrooms, and a strong LGBTQ+ club presence. There is always room for improvement, though, and Professor Talarico focused on the future for this course. She explained that the college needs to expand its LGBTQ+ offerings and get the word out to students so that it can expand the possibilities of LGBTQ+ studies.
When asked what she would tell her younger self, she said, “don’t let feeling different hold you back from believing in your dreams. Times are different now from when I was a student, so equal representation should be a given.”
To register for the course, search for SOC-106 in the catalog. To hear more about Professor Talarico’s incredible journey, watch her TEDx talk “Life Lessons: Lori Talarico at TEDxBergenCommunityCollege”. For further comments, concerns, or questions about the class, please contact Professor Talarico at firstname.lastname@example.org.