How UChicago's Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality 'is here for everyone'

How UChicago's Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality 'is here for everyone'

Prof. Daisy Delogu photo by Erielle Bakkum

The following was published in UChicago News on June 18, 2024.

By Nicole Watkins

One could think of gender and sexuality in very contemporary terms—or that the terms relate only to a small fraction of the population. But for Prof. Daisy Delogu, the faculty director of UChicago’s Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality—it’s a misconception that she and the Center’s interdisciplinary approach aim to correct.

“In my opinion, there’s no realm of experience, or endeavor, or inquiry that remains untouched by questions of gender and sexuality,” said Delogu, a scholar of medieval French literature who took over as faculty director last July.

The Center was founded in 1996 after a decade of faculty and student self-organization. Over the course of its nearly 30 years of consolidating work and creating curriculum on gender and sexuality and in feminist, gay and lesbian, and queer studies, the Center also has engaged the campus and local communities with guest lectures, conferences, and other programming. This past year, the CSGS saw its largest undergraduate class with 19 fourth-year majors, and awarded 15 graduate certificates.

We talked with Delogu, who has been a member of UChicago’s faculty since 2003, about her experiences with the Center and its ongoing mission to bridge research and coursework with student development, leadership, and coalition building.

Note: This Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.

The Center’s core mission is to use an interdisciplinary approach to critically study the categories of sex, gender, and sexuality at UChicago. Why is this so important?

These questions pertain to every discipline you could think of—I can see someone trying to come up with one like: ‘What about minerals, what do those have to do with gender and sexuality?’ But even in the hard sciences, those are disciplines that exist in institutional structures, and one could observe that a lot of the people in those disciplines are men—so what's that about? Maybe minerals have less to do in an obvious way with gender and sexuality, but the way that we carry out our research, the questions we ask, who's involved, who's not involved, what that research produces in terms of results, and how those are or could be deployed, all those questions are social questions. As soon as you're involved in any kind of social question, you're embedded in relationships that of necessity involve questions of sex, gender, or sexuality.

The connection between medieval French literature and gender and sexuality isn’t necessarily obvious. How do those two subjects relate in your own research?

I think many people think of gender and sexuality in very contemporary terms. This is something that as a medievalist, I really am constantly pushing back against, because the fact is we all inhabit bodies, and we all move with those bodies through the world. Just like they do today, people 1,000 years ago thought about what it meant to be an embodied person in the world with other people and non-people. We might have terminology or concepts or specificity to our own time, which is real, but that doesn’t mean that other people in other places and times weren’t also struggling with similar sets of questions, or issues, or constraints. For me, it’s not that the details are somehow trans historical, but the basic fact of being a person with a body in society—that, to me, can and should be studied across time and place.

Can you talk about some of the recent work that has been facilitated or supported by the Center?

With the help of the College, we’re funding eight summer internships for undergraduate students who are working at organizations in and outside of Chicago, including the Chicago Abortion Fund, Digital4Good, Domestic Violence Intervention Program of Iowa City, and Ci3. We also provide research and travel funding for undergraduates, which last year supported expenses for several students, including several BA theses.

In addition, we have a research fund that was created in honor of the late Prof. Lauren Berlant called the Unfundable Fund for Gender & Sexuality Research. It is really meant to fund forms of inquiry that fall between disciplinary boundaries and that might not otherwise receive funding. This year’s recipient is a Ph.D. student both in English and in TAPS who is working on a hybrid scholarly artistic project in which she will produce musical scores.

For the first time this year, we also offered course development prizes for grad students. We picked two winning courses, entitled The Politics of Homophobia and Indigenous Feminisms of Latin America.

We also fund faculty research projects and host annual lectures, two of the biggest last year included After Dobbs: Reproductive Freedom Justice and Power of the State and our OUTstanding Speaker Series lecture featuring Jules Gill-Peterson on Great Society Transsexualism: On the Political Economy of Transition.

Another key objective of the Center is to facilitate and make visible the many contributions of LGBTQ+ people have had on our society. It’s also Pride Month, when we recognize those who have had significant impacts on history. What significance does this month have for the Center?

At the Center, we're proud every day. We are proud every day of our communities, the students, the staff, the faculty—everyone who belongs to the Center. We’re proud of the work they do—intellectual, social, and political. I also believe that the kinds of values or the kind of care that are trumpeted in some places during Pride Month, here at CSGS, I think these have a kind of substantive reality and an enduring quality—this is what we're founded on.

I’m also always struck by how increasingly young our students are in relation to me—which makes their historical memory seem so tiny. So much has changed, but I think it’s hard for some of them to really realize or understand what it meant to ‘come out’ in earlier generations. What it could mean: Could it mean being fired? Could it mean being broken up with or divorced? Could it mean being kicked out of your family home? Could it mean being evicted? Could it mean being prosecuted? Or worse? I think we need take these historical changes on board, to invite our students to recognize that there was a very consequential dimension of avowing oneself to belong to an LGBTQ+ community, and the life our students have today isn't the life that was always available.

But at the same time, I feel like we're watching in real time certain things go backward in our country, in terms of the political landscape—things that we might have thought of as acquired rights that are now being put into question, and the possibility that many more of them are going to be walked back, and rights that people thought were secure in legal terms and social terms, now, maybe not. I think that danger also gives a new kind of weightiness to Pride Month.

What would you like people, namely the UChicago community, to know about the Center?

I would really hope that every single person on campus would think, would imagine, would feel that they were welcome at the Center, and would realize in turn that the Center has something to offer them. They might not realize it, but I think it would, and does. For me, it's important that people not think of the Center, or sex, gender, and sexuality as things that only have to do with those who identify as LGBTQ. I think that’s a mistaken notion and that people who think along those lines are missing out, and they're missing out in a lot of ways—intellectual, for sure, in addition to social and personal. The Center is here for everyone.


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June 21, 2024