Yale Women's, Gender and Sexuality Studies

Volume 5, Issue 1
fall 2014
Editor, Geetanjali Singh Chanda
Managing Editors, Linda Hase & Moe Gardner
Layout Design, Nick Appleby

PhotoWGSS Chair’s Letter

This fall has been an exciting and full semester. We have been overjoyed to welcome Vanessa Agard-Jones to our faculty. You may remember from an earlier Letter from the Chair my predecessor, Inderpal Grewal, discussing the search that brought Vanessa to us. That highly competitive search in transnational migration brought several great young scholars to campus. Though diverse in topic, the thematic consistency across candidates was that of migration across what is called “Global South,” that is, how gender and sexuality are critical for vast movements in contemporary and historical frameworks, of people who as refugees, tourists, or traders, moved within and across Latin America, Africa, Asia or the Caribbean. Vanessa stood out as a scholar of incredible precision and theoretical sophistication. A brilliant ethnographer of the African diaspora, Agard-Jones is already showing that she is a natural leader in the classroom and an essential part of our WGSS community. This immediate comfort may have something to do with her prior experience at Yale—she was a member of the Calhoun College Class of 2000. I don’t think I overstate the case when I say that Joe Fischel and Vanessa Agard-Jones, both new to Yale, are among the most dynamic, exciting junior faculty at Yale. We’ll keep letting you know of their work and accomplishments—there will, I wager, be plenty to crow about.

The effect of increased faculty strength is also visible in the numbers of doctoral students (based in disciplines across social sciences and humanities) who are choosing to become WGSS Certification students, that is, doing extra coursework, research, and presentations that will give them expertise in WGSS. Currently, our WGSS Certificate program is being led by our fabulous Director of Graduate Studies, Jafari Allen, who guides our graduate working groups and colloquium. The students who participate in these Monday night gatherings believe that feminist and queer research is critical for their training to be future scholars and professors. This generation of graduate students understands gender as inextricable from other forms of social differences, such as race or religion, and taking graduate seminars with WGSS faculty provides them with essential training for a variety of college and university teaching positions as well as other professions.

We hosted a dinner for prospective undergraduate majors in October and were frankly (but happily) overwhelmed by the turnout. We are growing in the numbers of majors as we come to have a stable, committed faculty. Students consistently reflect back to us that our courses speak directly to the challenges in their immediate undergraduate experiences, and as they begin to look out into the global challenges awaiting them. Student majors are attracted and reassured by the presence of a growing faculty and courses that they can choose from, learn from, rely on and talk about year after year. I know students are also benefitting a great deal from the sharp critical observations and enormously good humor of Joe Fischel who, as our Director of Undergraduate Studies, leads our undergraduates through their successful completion of the major.

WGSS has a limited budget to support events on-campus, and we stretch these moneys to the absolute limit. Unfortunately, we say “no” weekly to many worthy requests. We try to prioritize events sponsored by our faculty, and those conversations that we know will add to the learning experience of our undergraduate and graduate students. But we have been able to support an incredible series of events this autumn. We identified such pedagogical resonance in the History of Art symposium, “Topographies of Culture: Heritage, Art, and Urbanism in the Gulf Region,” as well as the New England Festival of Ibero American Cinema. As always, we also provide support for the Brudner Prize lectures, organized by our friends in LGBTS. This year’s winner, Richard Dyer, was a delightful, effective speaker and we had a great time hearing his interpretation of the films Rope (1948) and Tea and Sympathy (1956). In addition to this annual event, we also contribute to lectures hosted by the Yale Research Initiative on the History of Sexualities, as well as presentations made under the auspices of the Yale Institute of Sacred Music. This included a talk by the poet and memoirist Richard Rodriguez, as well as a discussion by the sister of the great Yale historian, John Boswell.

Perhaps most exciting was the incredible panel discussion that we hosted, “Marginality, Sexual Identity, and the Law in Putin’s Russia,” which included the journalist Masha Gessen, as well as the NYU literary critic Eliot Borenstein and anthropologist Bruce Grant. With over ninety listeners crowding into WLH 309, we heard observations about Putin’s regime and the histories that contributed to its total power and sexual disenfranchisement. It was an inspirational, intense evening, filled with strong questions, personal testimony, and intellectual debate.

We need your support and help for these endeavors. The Shana Alexander Foundation has stepped up to enable undergraduate research by providing grants for our students for summer research. This has been a great boon for the students, and we are so appreciative that the Foundation, and its director, Lisa Alter, provides resources for producing leaders in gender and women's research. Yet, we could and are eager to do more. Only then can we influence Yale to give women's and gender issues the attention that they deserve. We are working on this and seek your input about expanding our resources. We value your ideas in all areas and look forward to hearing from you. Do keep in touch.

Have a great holiday season – and thank you for your support of Yale WGSS.

Katie Lofton
Chair, WGSS

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