Yale Women's, Gender and Sexuality Studies
Volume 4, Issue 1
fall 2013
Editor, Geetanjali Singh Chanda
Managing Editors, Linda Hase & Craig Canfield
Layout Design, Nick Appleby

Twenty Years in New Haven

by Karen Nakamura


I was hired by Yale in 2005 to fill a junior faculty position in Anthropology and East Asian Studies, but this wasn’t my first time in New Haven. I had first arrived in 1994 when I came here to do a Ph.D. in sociocultural anthropology. It’s very strange to be hired by the department that graduated you, even if after graduation you had worked at two other colleges. The closest analogy that I give people is that it’s like moving back in with your parents after college. You suddenly learn much more about them — and their relationship with you and your siblings — than you had ever wanted to.

Next year, I’ll be celebrating 20 years since I first set foot in New Haven. The city has changed much for the better in the past two decades. There was a dearth of fine dining in New Haven in the 1990s. I also remember trying to go to sleep in my apartment at night and hoping that the sounds that I heard were firecrackers and not gunshots.  

Yale has also changed greatly.  When I first came, decades of deferred maintenance meant that our classrooms were literally crumbing around us. But more than the physical facilities, the intellectual climate at Yale has improved significantly. There are many more women and faculty of color — both in the junior ranks and with tenure. There’s been a total revitalization of WGSS and LGBT Studies, with a great majority of the current faculty having arrived in the past decade. WGSS in particular has blossomed under the leadership of Inderpal Grewal. Perhaps most importantly, the undergraduate and graduate students have incorporated queer theory and feminist thought not as fringe subjects, but as core parts of their intellectual and personal growth while at Yale.

I teach courses in Queer Ethnography, Digital Anthropologies, and Disability and Culture. I’m planning a new introductory course, “Sex: A Four Field Approach”, which looks at sex, sexuality, and gender through the four subfields of anthropology (biological anthropology, archaeology, sociocultural, and linguistic anthropologies).  These courses are all cross listed with WGSS and have never been offered before at Yale.  But what excites me is to think what will happen in the next twenty years. Where will our students and our newly hired faculty lead us? What new directions, new innovations, and new collaborations are in our future? I can’t wait.
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