Robert Tobin interviewed by Ree Robson, July 17, 2019
July 17, 2019
Professor Robert Tobin was a German Language and Literature professor at Whitman from 1989 to 2008 and was a major presence and leader in Whitman’s LGBTQ community. After finishing graduate school at Princeton, he came to Whitman to teach. Soon after his arrival on campus, Professor Tobin became involved with the fledgling LGBTQ student group, the Gay Lesbian Association, and he helped found the LGBTQ-issue focused activist group, Coalition Against Homophobia in 1992. First offered in 1993, his class “Sexuality and Textuality” was one of the first sexuality-centric classes at Whitman. Professor Tobin served as an advisor and contact person for both GLA and Coalition throughout his time at Whitman and was known as a voice of LGBTQ activism on campus. He left Whitman in 2008, and at the time of the interview, worked for Clark University. Recently, he helped Professor Yuhl from the College of the Holy Cross and Professor Cullon from Worcester Polytechnic Institute create “LGBTQ+ Worcester: For the Record”, an exhibit focusing on LGBTQ history in Worcester, MA, which can be seen at the Worcester Historical Museum.
In this interview, former German Studies Professor Robert Tobin reflects on finding and building community at Whitman and in Walla Walla, and the progress of LGBTQ activism at Whitman. He begins with an account of his academic life before Whitman, and his arrival in Walla Walla in 1989. As a founding member and advisor for both the Whitman Gay Lesbian Association (now known as the student group PRISM) and the LGBTQ activist group, Coalition Against Homophobia, Professor Tobin recalls the founding of both student groups in the early 1990s and the groups’ impact on campus. He mentions how he and former counselor and LGBTQ ally Sharon Kaufman-Osborn worked together to make decisions on how to structure the student group. Professor Tobin also discusses his position as an LGBTQ professor and activist at Whitman, commenting on how he perceived his own role as an activist, the creation of his class “Sextuality and Textuality,” and his role in the protest against State Senator Jeanette Hayner receiving an honorary degree from Whitman.
1 digital audio recording: 00:58:49
Whitman College and Northwest Archives, Whitman College LGBTQ+ Oral History Project Recordings and Transcripts, WCA159
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