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College seeks new faculty member for Women’s Studies Department

This post corrects the previous article which incorrectly stated that the College would be launching a Queer Studies major in the fall and that the new position would be housed in a Queer Studies department. We apologize for the errors.

The search for a new faculty member in the Women’s Studies department with a speciality in Queer/Sexuality studies has come to an end. Last month Mills College hosted four candidates who gave job talks for the position.

The talks began on Jan. 21 and were attended by both students and faculty. Professor Lisa Arellano of Maine’s Colby College began the presentations with her lecture “The Serial Killer Who Loved Women: Gender, Violence and the Power of Narrative,” which discussed how certain kinds of violence have been legitimized and even seen as heroic throughout history. Her talk also included a clip from the popular Showtime series Dexter.

The second candidate was Siobhan Brooks from Lawrence University, located in Wisconsin. Her presentation “Unequal Desires: Race and Erotic Capital in the Stripping Industry” explored issues facing women of color in the sex work industry.

“Not everybody can sell their sex equally,” said Brooks, who is also currently working on a research project that focuses on domestic violence in African American lesbian couples. “All the -isms that affect work in general are magnified [in sex work].”

The third candidate was Priya Kandaswamy, a graduate of UC Berkeley and a former Bay Area resident, who currently teaches classes full-time at Portland State University. Her talk, “The Heterosexuality of Citizenship: Race, Marriage and the Politics of State Recognition,” took an analytical look at marriage certificates and other documents from the Freedmen’s Bureau. This provided fresh insight on specific ways marriage has been institutionalized historically by the application of queer theory.

“You can adopt a queer perspective on a lot of issues,” said Kandaswamy, whose dissertation focused on issues of welfare and housing. “If we think of housing as a queer issue, we might center the political needs and desires of homeless queer people – many of whom are youth of color who live on the street maybe because they’re not welcome in their homes – their homelessness is often criminalized as well.”

The final candidate was Dr. Rebekah Edwards, an alumna and adjunct professor at Mills in the Women’s Studies department. To begin her talk, entitled “This is Not a Girl: Authenticity, Identification, Photography and the Counter-Archive of Geraldine Portica,” she asked “How do the questions we ask shape the answers we get?”

Edwards already teaches Queer Theory and Lesbian Literature and said she hopes to remain at the school.

“I have loved teaching at Mills,” she said. “My colleagues and my students continually inspire me and challenge me to engage my work in new ways and in new locations.”

Last year, the College did have its first student graduate as a Queer Studies major, who completed the degree as a self-designed major. Many students find queer studies course offerings important and the College will be using feedback collected from students when making the hiring decision.

“For me, queer studies is more inclusive than women’s studies, especially with regard to non-normative genders and sexualities,” says junior Jules Shendelman. “It’s an entirely different lens for looking at the world and is interdisciplinary – it draws from literary analysis, ethnic studies, feminist theory, anthropology, sociology, history and more.”

Student feedback is central to the selection process, as those attending lectures complete evaluations on each candidate. On the evenings following each talk, students and the presenters met in small group discussions at the Tea Shop. Candidate questions focused on what kind of learning students wanted to do in a queer/sexuality studies classroom.

According to Professor Julia Sudbury, a Coordinator of the Diversity Committee’s Queer Studies Initiative there is a development in the works for a Queer Studies major. The Queer Studies Initiative is offering grants to faculty interested in creating new courses in Queer Studies. They are also working on a proposal for a Queer Studies program, beginning with a minor.

“We are very excited about the energy and enthusiasm for this work among students, alumni, faculty and administration. However, any proposal would need to be approved by the faculty before it becomes a part of the curriculum,” wrote Professor Sudbury in an email to The Campanil.

On Feb. 17, Provost and Dean of Faculty Sandra Greer announced that the Assistant Professor of the Women’s Studies department with a speciality in Queer/Sexuality Studies will be Dr. Kandaswamy.