U. starts trans studies learning community

Gender, feminist theory and sexual rights — these are just a few of the topics that students will grapple with in a new learning community designed to generate dialogue and research on issues of sexual identity.

The Institute for Research on Women will offer the 1.5-credit course “Trans Studies: Beyond Hetero/Homo Normatives” in next fall as part of their biannual learning community, said Sarah Tobias, associate director of the IRW.

Sophomores, juniors and seniors enrolled in the community will meet every Thursday afternoon on Douglass campus to discuss readings, attend lectures and research topics of interest within the theme, Tobias said.

“It’s a real opportunity to form a community with like-minded scholars and explore a cutting-edge topic,” she said.

Tobias said the learning community is one of three major components within the IRW. Faculty and graduate student seminars, along with a distinguished lecture series, make up the rest of the programming. Still, these elements are by no means isolated from each other, she said.

“Every year, it’s a different theme. It ties in with our distinguished lecture series,” said Marlene Importico, office manager of the IRW.

As all the IRW programming within a school year is linked to the same topic, Tobias said that students have the opportunity not only to incorporate these lectures into their class discussions, but also develop a relationship with faculty mentors within the IRW.

“It’s a very warm and supportive environment, and we take pride in that. We build community,” she said. “There’s always food at the table — we eat together, and we learn together. It’s very intimate.”

Some of the themes in past years have included “The Culture of Rights/the Rights of Culture,” “Gendered Agency” and “The Art and Science of Happiness,” according to the IRW website. The topic this year aims to incorporate aspects of gender, race, class and sexuality in its discussion of trans issues, Tobias said.

“Trans studies really push the boundaries of feminist scholarship. It creates a much wider scope for activism,” Tobias said. “Within feminism, trans studies … is moving the field forward. It’s really influential.”

Students will be able to advance their own knowledge in the field by choosing a research project to narrow their focus, she said. Possible topics include — but are not limited to — queer linguistics, movement politics and the history of gender as a social construct, according to the IRW website.

“It’s very hands-on,” Tobias said. “It’s a really nice way for people to either get started doing research or continue their research in a small environment.”

She said a learning community with fewer people is beneficial for students.

“It’s a very individualized program,” Tobias said. “You can get support doing your own research, you’re working in a small space. You come out with a final product.”

The IRW learning community also interacts with other centers and departments throughout the University, such as the University libraries, she said.

“My role with the IRW learning community has been to conduct library instructions to demonstrate some of the library resources useful for the students,” said Kayo Denda, a University librarian, via email correspondence.

Denda said she organized an IRW workshop this semester called “Amplify Your Resources,” which focused on maximizing students’ access to information based on their research, as well as careers and graduate schools.

“A lot of students have said that this encouraged them to apply for graduate school,” Tobias said.

She said the IRW also plans on working closely with the Center for Social Justice Education and LGBT Communities for a spring colloquium on trans studies.

The diversity of the IRW’s associations with other centers on campus reflects the range of students involved within the learning community.

“Students come from a range of backgrounds and schools. We’re looking for anyone who’s interested in the topic,” Tobias said. “If you’re an engineer, by all means apply.”


By Kristin Baresich

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