Suicide at Appalachian State University, 1970
Darrell Rogers (pseudonym) was an extremely popular teacher who participated in the campus gay subculture. Many friends and students knew his sexual orientation and protected his privacy. Although one gay friend recalled his acting very flamboyantly, a heterosexual friend described him as a “man’s man,” and evidently many heterosexual friends did not know of his homosexual attractions until after his death.
In 1970, Rogers committed suicide leaving no note. Speculation arose as to what led him to take his life. Accusations of administrative persecution based on his sexuality spread, particularly within the gay population. This belief has been legitimized by his department’s history which reports that he experienced “pressure from some areas of the university because he was gay." Darrell Rogers himself told friends of frustrations with his departmental chairperson and other administrators. The reputed persecutors have all since died, but some surviving colleagues do not believe they harassed Rogers. One colleague recalls that the one of the reputed persecutors felt disturbed by the suicide although one cannot know whether this response signified sorrow or guilt. Rogers’ personnel files indicate tangible tension between Rogers and his departmental chairperson, although systemic persecution cannot be verified.
Regardless of the root of the conflict, the campus oral tradition perpetuated the belief of anti-gay harassment for many years after his death. No known first-hand accounts from gay campus members have been uncovered; however, the lore passed down indicates strong emotions and belief. Douglas Bennett (pseudonym), who was hired a year afterwards, learned of the accusation from other gay professors who perpetuated the story. One of Rogers’ colleagues recalls that the belief in administrative harassment led gay students in Rogers’ department to paint the chairperson’s office door red in retaliation. Such a strong belief holds power over how professors and students behave. Very likely, this event resulted in employees feeling even less safe in being open about their sexuality. Regardless of its truth, this oral lore gave the impression of a negative campus climate and cultivated a climate of fear.
- Jimm Cox, interview with Kathy Staley, 18 December 2006.
- Jim Sparrow (pseudonym), Interview with Kathy Staley, 9 April 2007 and 17 April 2007.
- Patrick Dancy (pseudonym), Interview with Kathy Staley, 9 April 2007 and 17 April 2007.
- Staley, "LGBT Life at ASU," 106-107.
- Susan Cole, “1959-1970.” A History of the Theatre Department. Self-published, n.d.
- Terry Cole, Interview with Kathy Staley, 20 November 2006. Coxx, one of Rogers’ students, does not recall this.