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Napa Valley College awards first LGBT Studies degrees

Midday on Saturday, May 29, hundreds of students will participate in a “drive-thru” ceremony at Napa Valley College (NVC) with their families, to pick up their diploma cover and take photos marking the moment they receive their degrees and certificates. Among them, for the first time ever, will be two students who have earned associate of science degrees in LGBT education.

Although the LGBT Studies certificate program has been in place at NVC since 2012, when NVC was the second college in California to offer it, the AS degree first became available in August of last year. Before then, the program, which is part of the larger Child and Family Studies Program, offered LGBT certificates to support the education of students pursuing careers in criminal justice, child development, human services, business, hospitality and other careers that serve members of the LGBTQ community. In August, the program faculty added new courses to apply to the AS, and to allow health occupations and education to be added to the certificate list.

The certificates and degrees transfer to the CSU and UC systems, and the individual courses are also in demand for students looking to meet graduation requirements. Some classes also offer high school students a chance to earn a certificate of achievement as part of their preparation for college.      

NVC is now the third community college in the state to offer the associates degree, along with City College of San Francisco and Sierra College. According to Community College Review website, many four-year colleges and universities nationwide are now offering LGBT/Q degrees. In California alone, San Francisco State University, UC Berkeley, Stanford University, UC Santa Cruz and UC Davis all currently offer either certificates or degrees in this field. However, there are still relatively few programs available at the community college level.

“We have a close partnership with City College of San Francisco, whose program has been around for more than 20 years,” said Greg Miraglia, LGBT Studies program coordinator. “They’ve been so generous in sharing data and information to inform the development of our program and now our degree. It is vital for us to keep our curriculum and degree offerings contemporary and aligned with current and future career opportunities.”

Those future opportunities are what attracted Kyler Thompson, 28, of Vallejo, to the LGBT Studies courses and degree. She and classmate Samantha Potter will be the first two recipients of the AS degree this spring.

“The first time I really got engaged with LGBT culture and community was in high school in Portland, Oregon,” she said, “where I joined the Gay Student Alliance and had a chance to learn about people who aren’t seen as normal. Now when I am through with college, I’d really like to open my own youth center, helping students who need additional support, especially low-income and minority students, including those who are LGBTQ.”

Thompson, who identifies as a lesbian, said she started at NVC in spring 2019, thinking she would major in child development. But taking a required 100-level course with Greg Miraglia, opened her eyes to the history and culture and she wanted to know more, she said.

“I kept taking classes,” she said, “and was able to learn not only how to be myself as a person, but how to support people who are just like me.”

To complete the degree, Thompson said, she learned about the foundations of the LGBT community and the data, laws, policies and politics that have shaped it. She and Potter also took classes in sociology, psychology, child development and philosophy, in addition to the typical general education classes.

She is thinking about eventually transferring to San Diego State University to pursue a bachelor’s degree in LGBTQ+ Studies, although she also is considering San Francisco, Hawaii or Las Vegas, the latter two, she said, because of the high rates of trafficking for LGBTQ youth.

One of the things she would like to teach clients at her youth center, she said, is “personal safety and awareness, like what to do and how to protect themselves.”

Those kinds of outcomes are just what coordinator Miraglia is envisioning with the degree program. “The two students receiving this degree are truly exceptional and have already demonstrated on campus the skills and knowledge they’ve learned in the program.”

For example, Thompson is president of LGBT Club, is active in the student senate for California Community Colleges and is the Student Basic Needs office coordinator, providing services such as food, housing support and access to other community resources for students who need them.

The active nature of the LGBT program on campus is a point of pride for program staff, evidenced by the website, which states that the “LGBT Education Program directly supports and connects with the LGBT Student Club” and “graduates of the program are in leadership positions in the club and are active on campus advocating for change and support for LGBTQ students using knowledge and skills learned in the program.” 

“It’s a great end to the first year of the degree program,” Miraglia said. “I plan to be at the drive-through ceremony to personally congratulate these pioneers in our program.”  

For more information about NVC’s LGBT program, visit the website.

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