Yale Women's, Gender and Sexuality Studies

Volume 7, Issue 2
spring 2017
Editor, Geetanjali Singh Chanda
Managing Editors, Linda Hase & Moe Gardner
Layout Design, Nick Appleby

Race, Sex, and Ethics – Spring 2017 WGSS Speaker Series

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Mental condoms, the philosopher child, art-making in utopia, and pet inheritance: the Race, Sex & Ethics Speaker Series of the 2017 spring semester brought all this and more to the WGSS and Yale community. “It is time for audacious visions,” as law professor Mari Matsuda encouraged her audience, and our speaker series delivered. 

Kathryn Bond Stockton inaugurated the Race, Sex & Ethics Speaker Series. As a professor of English, Associate Vice President for Equity and Diversity, and Dean of the School for Social and Cultural Transformation at the University of Utah, Stockton explained that often seduction, or what she provocatively calls “sex with signs,” is a most effective rhetorical posture to institutionalize social change and gender and racial equality. “Is the face of anger,” she asked, “always the best face of anger?” 

Michael Burroughs, senior lecturer of philosophy and Associate Director of the Rock Ethics Institute and Pennsylvania State University, recounted for us the spectacular programs he has founded and participated in that teach philosophy and philosophical decision-making to children.  Philosophy is good for children, and children are good for philosophy.  Indeed, Burroughs puts pressure on philosophy to more rigorously account for children as an “epistemic class,” as moral agents, and as subjects of justice. 

Professors of law at the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa and founding scholars of Critical Race Theory, Charles Lawrence and Mari Matsuda offered a joint presentation on the moral urgency of Big Thinking—envisioning, politicking for, and building a loving world.  Professor Lawrence, recalling the challenges he navigated as a black student of Yale Law School in the 1960s, reminded us of the importance of storytelling to cultivate our ethical imaginations, and to cultivate our ability to identify and eliminate relations of domination.  Professor Matsuda argued for wide-scale redistribution of goods and opportunities for education and art-making. Her call was as radical as it was simple and sensible: “Ordinary people ought to have beautiful things in their lives, beautiful art in their homes.”

Law professor and Vice Provost of Washington University of St. Louis Adrienne Davis closed out the speaker series with a deft and wide-ranging account of what she calls “irregular intimacies,” intimacies unevenly governed under state and federal regulatory regimes.  Polygamy, pet inheritance (that is, bequeathing wealth to one’s pet) and African American “shadow families” of white slave-owners are not social phenomena typically listed in the same sentence, but Professor Davis connects the dots to draw out the changing contours of sexual and relational regulations that make “good intimacies” prerequisites for citizenship.

All four events were well-attended, and all five speakers shared exceptional, timely, and impassioned talks.

I coordinated the Race, Sex & Ethics Speaker Series in collaboration with Greta LaFleur, assistant professor of American Studies, and Inderpal Grewal, professor and chair of WGSS. We received generous support from many institutions on campus, including the Yale College Dean’s Office, the Center for the Study of Race, Indigineity, and Transnational Migration, LGBT Studies, the Yale Women’s Center, WGSS, American Studies, the Department of English, and the Traphagen Alumni Speaker Series. 

Joseph Fischel
Assoc. Prof. 
WGSS / Yale University

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