Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Sexuality and Scholarship

It was extremely encouraging to be part of a workshop entitled, "Queer in the Academy" this afternoon. It centered on an interesting discussion with a panel of distinguished faculty willing to share their personal stories on intersections of their LGBT identities and their identities as scholars/faculty in the academy. The panel comprised four academics, one each from Classics and Law Studies, Astronomy, Sociology and Public Health.

The workshop asked the following questions: Will your chosen academic field afford you the opportunity to be “out?” Does your scholarly work intersect with one or more of your own identities? How do you manage tenure-track work while establishing an LGBT community? Understandably, none of these questions had "straight" answers. They arguably raised more questions and provided each one of us with additional food for thought. Nevertheless, here is the (near) survival mantra:

When applying for academic jobs or post-doc research positions, it may help to familiarize oneself with the non-discrimination policies of the University around sexual orientation and gender identity. Additionally, guidance from your academic mentor in your specific field/program/department can prove to be extremely helpful when searching for available peer support in academic institutions of interest. As for the cover letter and/or CV, if your work is not directly linked with research on gender identity, gender expression and/or sexual orientation, then observe some restraint in writing without necessarily censoring language and/or use of proper-nouns. This is tricky! It needs to weigh in both personal choice and the specifics of the academic job that you are applying for. If you wish to be "out" at the onset, you may craft your cover letter to include details that add to the breadth of your teaching and learning experience. If not, you may wish to speak with academic friends or faculty who have known you in different capacities and can guide you through the process. On a different note, individuals with partners may also want to consider same-sex partnership benefits and in some cases, adoption rules in that particular State before applying.

Once you get the job, the next challenge is whether or not to be "out" to your students. Again, this depends on your area of research and your own choice and self-formed rules of navigation. There are those who prefer to make no direct references to sexual orientation during their discussions with students. This is to primarily avoid making students uncomfortable in unanticipated ways. And then there are those, for whom the need may be to put their sexual orientation on the back-burner, just because their research scholarship speaks volumes of their sexual and/or gender identity. At the end of the day, as an academic if the decision is taken on the side of the students, it may go a long way in easing the painful dilemma. As for peer faculty - again, you have to self-select. If you are not comfortable being "out" at the onset, then take your time and win their confidence with your work and investment in the academic program first.

It may be helpful to know that academic institutions may not be hostile, but then they might not be completely transparent either. Hence, think of this challenge in this way: Do we necessarily discuss our political orientation with students in class? If yes, then how? If no, then why? It is a tough battle, and as one of the panellists said, "acts of translation is an ongoing process and in part, the objective of education is to learn how to deal with discomfort."

Good-luck!

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About This Blog

This blog is built around what I refer to as the socio-sexual debate, meaning the simultaneously coexisting conditions of human society and human sexuality in a constant state of inner conflict and pressing debate. To read more, click here.

Opinion Matters

"There is a way of discussing sexuality without using labels" (Mika* in an interview with Shana Naomi Krochmal, OUT, 2008-01-28).

*Mika is a London-based singer-songwriter.

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