Monday, Sept. 10, 2018
Before a crowd of more than 350 students, faculty, staff and Richmond community members, Virginia Commonwealth University on Thursday celebrated the depth and breadth of research in LGBTQ studies that is being conducted across the university.
At the event, “The Future of LGBTQ Studies at VCU: Spotlight on Faculty Research” 14 scholars from the College of Humanities and Sciences, the School of Social Work and VCU Libraries gave a brief overview of their research, and VCU leaders outlined plans for an expansion of LGBTQ research, curriculum, advocacy and community engagement.
“This is an extraordinary number of people working on an extraordinary range of topics,” in the field of LGBTQ studies, Richard Godbeer, Ph.D., director of the Humanities Research Center and a professor in the Department of History, said of the 14 scholars’ works. “There are relatively few universities that have the quantity and quality of research and teaching that we have at VCU in this field.”
The event was organized by the LGBTQIA+ Hub Action Committee, which is charged with creating a special-interest center within the Division for Inclusive Excellence that will eventually be responsible for coordinating LGBTQ scholarship, advocacy and community engagement across and beyond VCU.
Aashir Nasim, Ph.D., vice president for inclusive excellence and director of the Institute for Inclusion, Inquiry & Innovation (iCubed) at VCU, said the VCU research in LGBTQ studies underscores the importance of the lived experience and how it is creatively expressed.
“We [have] found that our scholarship produced from our lived experience is our best work and it is when we're most productive,” he said. “Our lived experience drives us, it makes our research relevant, it makes our scholarship significant. And when we share our experiences with our students, we help to create a collective experience that brings relevancy to what they study in the classroom or what they ultimately research as future scholars in our respective fields.”
In addition to the LGBTQIA+ Hub Action Committee, the event was co-sponsored by VCU’s Office of the President, the Division for Inclusive Excellence, the College of Humanities and Sciences, VCU Libraries and Equality VCU.
“This [event is] about coalescing and advancing research and advocacy for LGBTQ studies and LGBTQ communities at VCU,” said Archana A. Pathak, Ph.D., senior faculty specialist in the Division for Inclusive Excellence and assistant professor in the Department of Gender, Sexuality and Women's Studies.
“Our goal is to introduce to VCU and the larger Richmond community the incredible scholarly work that is being done — and has been for a while — at VCU around LGBTQ studies,” Pathak said, “and also to highlight the commitment that the institution has towards advancing inclusion for the LGBTQ community through research and advocacy.”
VCU President Michael Rao, Ph.D., said he is excited about the research being conducted in LGBTQ studies, as well as the overarching environment at VCU that allows people to be who they are.
“This is a discussion about people being realistically who they are, and what they are, and that's a big issue in our society and a real concern. And I hope that our dialogue continues to lead us in directions that enable us to foster people being who they are and being proud of who they are and not having to hide who they are,” Rao said.
As part of the event, VCU officials announced the formation of an ad hoc committee that will soon begin work to design an undergraduate interdisciplinary minor in LGBTQ studies. They hope to have the minor in place next academic year.
“We're going to join a growing number of universities in the U.S. and beyond who have minors in LGBTQ studies,” Godbeer said. “We're going to be working together this fall to put the proposed minor together and we are going to submit it very quickly.”
Godbeer added that, a few years down the road, he would like VCU to launch a major in LGBTQ studies, prompting cheers from the standing room only audience. “Then we really would be pioneers because there are very, very few of those nationwide,” he said.
Three faculty members highlighted at the event were recently hired as part of the College of Humanities and Sciences’ LGBTQ Studies Hiring Initiative, part of the Big Ideas Initiative in which the college invited faculty to submit proposals for new and synergistic research opportunities that could bring the college recognition and distinction, and create opportunities for experiential learning, community engagement or curriculum development.
“Our commitment to diversity and inclusion is not just only part of our mission, it literally defines us. But not only that, we want to make sure that it is reflected in our scholarship, in our teaching, in our engagement and our community,” said Montse Fuentes, Ph.D., dean of the College of Humanities and Sciences.
One of the new faculty members, Ying-Chao Kao, Ph.D., is an assistant professor in the Department of Sociology whose research interests include sexualities, gender and masculinities, global religions and inequalities. His current research tracks the global flows of Christian conservative activism, exploring how Taiwanese and American pro-family organizations have shaped and mobilized the global structures to oppose the sexual citizenship of the tongzhi (LGBTQI+) people.
Another, Madison Moore, Ph.D., is an artist-scholar, DJ and assistant professor of Gender, Sexuality and Women's Studies. Moore is author of “Fabulous: The Rise of the Beautiful Eccentric," which was published this year by Yale University Press. The book is an “exploration of what it means to be fabulous — and why eccentric style, fashion and creativity are more political than ever.”
“You can say that my work is kind of creatively and intellectually working through how people from the margins stage and bring to life new worlds of meaning, poetics and agency,” Moore said. “I'm interested in how they do this through queerness, fashion and style, but also how they use stages, screens, sound, music and experience as well. So, I'm interested in how people from the margins take those margins and create really beautiful and meaningful aesthetics using the materials available to them.”
The third new faculty member, Christopher Ewing, Ph.D., is an assistant professor in the Department of History. Ewing’s current research project examines the history of race and gay rights in the Federal Republic of Germany. It draws on printed publications, erotic imagery and oral testimonies, and it interrogates how racial exclusions and racialized desires could exist alongside calls for antiracist solidarity that permeated German gay activism since the collapse of Nazism in 1945.
In addition to the new faculty members, the event also showcased other scholars who have been conducting research at VCU in LGBTQ studies.
For example, Liz Coston, Ph.D., a faculty member in the Department of Sociology, described research specialization in criminology and public policy with a focus on sexuality, gender identity and race.
“Most of my work is on anti-LGBT hate crimes and exploring the politics of visibility and how hate crime victimization is experienced differently for those whose identities converge in the margins,” Coston said. “I also examine the role of macro level policies and social institutions in exacerbating and compounding the effects of victimization. Specifically I've investigated how the intersections of race, class, gender and gender identity impact anti-LGBT hate crimes and the criminal justice system response — or often lack thereof — to that violence.”
Ravi Perry, Ph.D., associate professor and chair of the Department of Political Science, also was among the faculty members who presented their research. Perry described his recent work researching black, queer elected officials at all levels of government, from 1980 up through last Tuesday’s primary elections.
Perry said Thursday’s gathering of scholars in LGBTQ studies culminated decades of effort at VCU to raise the visibility of “those of us who identify as something other than heterosexual and for those of us who study the people, lives and issues of those who are not heterosexual.”
He also addressed the numerous students in the room, reminding them that not everyone goes into research because they learned about it in class or because they read about it in a book.
“Some of us came to the research we do because of our own life experience and we chose to use our life experience and to put a magnifying glass to our own life experience as a microcosm to hopefully see if there's anything we can generalize from our own experience regarding the experiences of others,” Perry said.
“And for me, as a person who was black and gay before I was a political scientist, I found it important to bring my identities into the canon of the oldest disciplines in the country and in higher education,” he added. “I'm proud of the fact that now, we at VCU are at the burgeoning level of creating one of the newest and best comprehensive LGBTQ studies programs in the country.”