Promoting Tolerance at Boston University

Editorial Notebook

Two weeks ago, Boston University’s administration demanded that Dr. James Tracy, headmaster at Boston University Academy—a Boston University-funded prep school—abolish its two-year old Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA). The students of the Academy and Boston University alike have decried the elimination of the GSA as another example of Boston University’s conservative—and often controversial—ideas on education.

In recent years, undergraduates have bemoaned a policy banning overnight guests without two-week notice, but many nationwide have praised Boston University’s successful 10-year partnership with the Chelsea, Mass., public school system—one of the state’s poorest-performing communities. During this stewardship, Chelsea High School nearly doubled the number of pupils taking the SAT, while increasing their average scores by over 200 points. Although Boston University has been in the forefront for many positive changes in education policy, its dismantling of the Academy’s Gay-Straight Alliance is not one.

Boston University’s claim that the program “encourages underage sex” is ill-conceived. The GSA and other similar organizations at schools nationwide promote neither risky behavior nor a specific sexual orientation. Despite the feelings of more conservative voices, which argue that the mere presence of such groups promotes promiscuity, many disagree, as long as tolerance and understanding—not exploration and promotion—are the focus of their missions. The GSA fits the profile of a program that is beneficial to adolescents. Sexual development is difficult and awkward for all teenagers. Those students contemplating their sexuality are often put in an even more uncomfortable situation.

It is because of this perception of hostility and “abnormality,” exacerbated by an already difficult adolescence, that students are often led to serious depression, internal conflict and, in extreme cases, suicide. Tragically, the majority of high school suicides and other destructive tendencies are found in students who struggle with their sexual identity. With groups like the GSA working to increase awareness of, and tolerance for, varying orientations, we all benefit from a more accepting society for people of all lifestyles.

Programs like gay-straight alliances help all students in common dilemmas, both in areas of personal growth and relationship difficulties. Such organizations should be encouraged, not suppressed. Their focus is not in “sex education,” as Boston University’s administration believes. Rather, they provide positive, much-needed advice to young men and women about sexuality, physical and emotional development and how to deal with relationships of all natures.

The idea that sexual and developmental knowledge leads to earlier experimentation and intercourse is simply wrong. Indeed, research shows that teenagers who are given a proper forum in which to discuss these subjects are those who usually choose to delay risky behavior.

We should look to our schools as one method by which to take the pressure off of our teenagers when it comes to their sexual development. It is only in this way that we can better change our future and make our children more tolerant, informed and safe. Boston University should rethink its decision and allow the bright and capable students at Boston University Academy the opportunity to come into adulthood with less intolerance, confusion and fear.