Sexuality Studies Stimulate New Methods of Learning By Sujata Massey This fall, the School of Arts and Sciences is holding a wide assortment of classes in gender and sexuality studies, which bring new perspectives to history, literature, politics and the social sciences. This is the second of a three-part series examining some of the ongoing work. Women's studies and ethnic studies came first, born out of the civil rights movement. Now, as lesbian, gay and bisexual activism grows, so does the field of sexuality studies. Tyler Stevens, a graduate student in English, believes sexuality studies will permanently reshape the study and teaching of literature, history, philosophy and other topics. "One way to define sexuality studies is as the analysis of desire and identification, and the social and political structures informed by and informing these forces," said the graduate student in English whose dissertation-in-progress examines sexuality and moral philosophy in 19th-century English literature. "It serves the community because it allows you to examine the rhetoric of sexuality and sexual hatred, to see whose interests are being served." Stevens teaches a dean's fellowship course for undergraduates titled Problems of Identity in Straight, Lesbian and Gay Sexuality. Though the course has an anti-homophobic slant, Stevens stresses it is not a "coming-out" class. He asks students to withhold revealing their sexual orientations in the interest of "not having turf wars over knowledge." "Still, it can't help but be a personal journey for heterosexual and homosexual students. We analyze how identity is produced, what is involved in making speech acts such as 'I am gay' or 'I am male,'" Stevens said. The class examines literature for representations of gender, sexuality and race; they pay particular attention to the relationship between sexuality and law, and how sexual acts are said to produce harm within the social body and the human body. Stevens is also the organizer of "Queer October," Hopkins' first symposium on lesbian and gay studies, Saturday and Sunday in 323 Gilman Hall. The symposium is co-sponsored by the university community and ELH, the English language history journal edited by English professor Ronald Paulson. Prominent scholars in lesbian and gay studies who will speak include Eve Sedgwick and Michael Moon, English professors at Duke University; Michael Warner, an English professor from Rutgers University; and Janet Halley, a law professor at Stanford University. Selected Hopkins graduate students will present papers relating to sexuality studies. Giulia Sissa, chair of the classics department, deals with the history of sexuality in ancient Greece. Legend has it that ancient Greeks were hedonists, but Sissa believes they were deeply troubled by sexuality. "[They had] a very pessimistic, nihilistic view of sexuality," she said. "Sex was deeply despised in Greece because it is an endless desire, an illusion of pleasure." The early Christians, on the other hand, worried that people would prefer such temptations over what they perceived as the real pleasure: the enjoyment of God. Robert Reid-Pharr, the English department's new assistant professor, has found plentiful references to gender and sexuality in 19th-century African-American and Caribbean writings. "African-American people have largely been defined in relation to their bodies; the idea of who is black and who is white has been worked out in terms of women's bodies. Having a slave mother makes one a slave, but having a slave father does not necessarily make one a slave," Dr. Reid-Pharr said. "It's an easy step to go into literature and see a concern over abuse of the body and rape, where women's bodies stand for the lack of autonomy of the black community." Dr. Reid-Pharr cut a slightly unusual figure when he began to pursue his interest in black feminism and women's studies during his graduate years at Yale University. "I was always received with lots of curiosity, but also with lots of encouragement," he said. "I know that I maintain male privilege. That's not something I can get away from. My own feeling is I am a feminist. I am not doing this work to try and colonize the field, I'm doing it because I think it's important to all of us."
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