This plea comes from a colleague looking to link efforts in Georgie and Florida. I’ve already posted the FL info and petition in a previous post. You can find the link to this petition in the quoted material at the bottom of the post. As you can read below, I have also fact checked the accusations being levied and I think you’ll find the facts about what the faculty actually research and what is actually being offered course wise, radically different than what is being reported. You will also note that though this has been reported as an attack on queer studies it is actually an attack on Women’s Studies Programs who offer queer courses or sexuality concentrations. (And yes, I intentionally put “Dr.” in front of each of these faculty members names to remind those legislatures out there that think they know better than we what education is that we have earned the right to weigh in.)
The state of GA is facing a 2 million shortfall in this year’s budget and they are looking to make up the difference by cutting faculty lines/prohibiting the hiring of new lines in areas that some lawmakers consider risque. Representatives Charlice Byrd and Calvin Hill have joined with conservative Christian constituencies to put an end to educational offerings Byrd feels are “not considered higher education.”(Fort Mill Times)
According to Rep. Calvin Hill, the role of higher education is to teach: math, science, and business. By extension, the role does not include the humanities despite the fact that you need reading, writing, and critical thinking skills in every single position you will ever have in life. Social capital is usually generated through knowledge gained in the humanities and any basic economist can tell you that at certain levels of society social capital matters far more than economic capital for your ultimate obtainment of generational wealth. So if GA lawmakers are really concerned about the intellectual and economic progress of their students, they are forgetting their own societal history.
Despite his words, neither Rep Byrd nor Rep Hill are attacking all of the humanities. (Yet.) Instead, they are looking specifically at queer studies and queer studies faculty. They believe that neither Queer Theory nor expertise in sexuality or sex work should be allowed in Georgia schools and they are specifically complaining about a faculty member with supposed expertise in “male prostitution” and “oral sex.”
The Actual Facts
The faculty members in question are actually both doing research that falls under the sciences as well as anthropology. Dr. Kirk Elifson, is a public health expert, who studies risk factors in the spread of HIV/AIDS. His research population includes male sex workers. While we might question Elifson’s continued focus on a gay male population when black females are the most infected group in the U.S. the spread of HIV/AIDS is interrelated in many cases, can shed light on the spread of disease in other areas, and is important to the overall health and safety of the nation.
Dr. Mindy Stombler, who teaches at Georgie State University, is an even more odd choice to target. Her work is on whether popular culture and other factors have led to an increase in oral sex among teenagers. While I cannot speak to her politics, I would think that her research could be easily misappropriated for conservative interpretation of media culture, teen sexuality, etc. Her work helps to illuminate teenage sexuality, sex practices, choice, coercion, etc. that have particularly important social health impacts like the spread of STDs, teen pregnancy, shifts in understanding of bullying and/or rape culture, etc.
UGA is one of the most conservative of the big campuses in Georgia. It is the site of both a homophobic beating and racist graffiti in the last 5-10 years. While the UGA Women’s Studies program offers a truly exciting array of programming throughout the year, offers a list serve of local, national, and international gender related events, courses, and job opportunities, and a diverse array of classes, it has no queer studies minor or concentration. After searching the UGA website, I have confirmed that they have no Queer Studies program or degree. They have a single class offered through WS this term. Which means that a campus that would benefit most from information taught in Queer Studies and Ethnic and Women’s Studies is being targeted as the vanguard of risky intellectual pursuits.
A review of GSU’s website shows that they do have a descent amount of offerings in sexuality studies as well as a concentration in sexuality; these are all offered through WS. Courses include things like: Sexuality, Race, and Globalization, Global Perspectives on Violence Against Women, Feminism and Queer Theory, and African-American Lesbian and Gay Activism. Based on the core requirements for the major, one can easily gain a concentration in sexuality studies without concentrating in the queer studies offerings in that “strand.” And I personally think they should be applauded for expanding the conversation about queer studies and sexuality into communities of color and the global as well as linking it to processes occurring under globalization.
Apparently, despite the unsupportable accusations of Rep.s Hill and Byrd, GSU is being forced to testify today in defense of their concentration and their course offerings in general. And while I take this attack very seriously, I am personally waiting to see what happens when some member of the GA State Legislature tries to drag Dr. Francis Smith Foster or Dr. Beverly Guy-Sheftall in there to justify anything (they are at Emory and Spellman respectively, both of which have stellar feminist offerings. As of now, neither school has been targeted but they would also lose funding and lines if the Representatives and their Christian Coalition get there way).
Here’s the letter from my colleague:
Lawmakers in Georgia and Florida are beginning to use ‘budget cuts’ as an excuse for targeting programs and courses on sexuality, queer and women’s studies. Georgia State University is being forced to testify TODAY in front of the state senate about ‘questionable’ faculty research and course offerings on sexuality. At Florida Atlantic University, the administration is trying to suspend the Women’s Studies program. Please help us by signing the petition below, and forwarding this to anyone else who may be interested in signing on.
We have the support of several hundred academics so far, we need more. McCarthyism is alive and well in these states. Your state could be next.