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New UA LGBT Institute Director Begins Post
Preeminent transgender theory and studies scholar Susan Stryker, UA's new director for the Institute for LGBT Studies, arrives with a fervent devotion to enhancing research around lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues.
Susan Stryker is deeply invested in expanding research related to lesbian, gay, bisexual and, especially, transgender communities. In fact, this has been her life's work.
Having spent decades involved in political activism and studying and documenting the lives of LGBT community members, particularly transgender individuals, Stryker arrives at the UA intent on emphasizing the research institute's strengths while introducing initiatives on and beyond campus.
Developing a better understanding of social and individual concepts of the body can produce "different ways for LGBT people to make alliances with people who thought they weren't concerned with LGBT people," said Stryker, who self-identifies as a transgender woman and also is an associate professor of gender and women's studies.
Stryker succeeds Eithne Luibhéid, the institute's former director who returned to teaching in the UA gender and women's studies department. The institute centers on LGBT-oriented research, outreach and curriculum development on campus.
Since her arrival, Stryker and colleagues from around the world have launched a new, international scholarly journal, "Transgender Studies Quarterly," which Duke University Press plans to begin publishing in 2013.
The academic journal, which Stryker has spent years working to establish, is the culmination of a two-decade effort on her part to make transgender studies a recognized field in the academy. The journal will provide a space for transgender studies scholars around the world to expand the field of study.
"We're very excited. We just got the green light," said Stryker, the journal's co-editor who has authored and co-edited an anthology, numerous journals and books in the field of transgender studies, both in the U.S. and abroad.
"Getting a journal is a great way to secure the field," she added.The UA Institute also has taken over the administrative responsibilities of Somatechnics, a scholarly journal based in Australia.
Other plans are in the works, including the revival of a lunchtime lecture series on LGBT topics and expanded efforts to collect and document stories about Arizona's LGBT community.
Stryker has already engaged with Jamie Lee, a graduate student in the School of Information Resources and Library Science. Lee originally developed the foundation for a statewide project detailing the lives of LGBT community members, one Stryker intends to support toward greater expansion.
"An archive is an intellectual resource for everyone, and it is fundamental for research," Stryker said. "Currently, there is no central location for researching LGBT lives in Arizona."
In working with Lee and others, Stryker's long-term vision is to develop an established archive with documents, personal papers and artifacts that could then be made accessible for public review and scholarly work.
"It's about providing material for research and providing knowledge. It's a good community service," Stryker said.
Above all, a deeper understanding and broader representation of LGBT issues and concerns are tremendous drivers of her work.
Jennifer Hoefle, program director for the UA's Office for LGBTQ Affairs, noted that even while Stryker was interviewing for the position, she received numerous calls in support of her being hired.
In 1992, Stryker earned her doctoral degree in history from the University of California, Berkeley. She went on to work in the area of sexuality studies at Stanford University under a Ford Foundation/Social Science Research Council post-doctoral research fellowship.
Prior to the UA, Stryker served as an Indiana University associate professor of gender studies. She also served a five-year period as the GLBT Historical Society's executive director in San Francisco.
One of her leading documentaries is the co-produced and co-directed "Screaming Queens: The Riot at Compton's Cafeteria," which was released in 2005. It details a 1966 uprising in San Francisco in what came to be known the first instance of LGBT resistance to police harassment in the U.S. The uprising is said to have served as a source of motivation for Stonewall in New York.
"I received so many calls from students saying, 'I just need you to know how much it would mean to me to have a role model like Stryker on campus,'" said Hoefle, who did not serve on the selection committee, but was engaged in the process.
"That really matters to me," Hoefle added. "I'm personally delighted to have a role model like Susan Stryker on campus. It's so meaningful."
Like Stryker, Hoefle also emphasized the importance of continued and expanded research around LGBT issues, particularly with regard to transgender identity.
"Our national research shows us that when we're looking at the discrimination facing the LGBT community, the proportion our transgender community members are facing is so much more extreme," Hoefle said.
In a 2010 report, the Q Research Institute for Higher Education noted the LGBT community members – students, faculty and staff – across the nation continue to feel unsafe and unsupported by their higher education peers and the community beyond their campuses.
Another report, jointly released by the National Center for Transgender Quality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, indicated that transgender individuals overwhelmingly experience discrimination in all facets of their lives.
In both cases, authors of the report called for institutions to continually work toward improving safe environments for engagement and learning for LGBT community members and others.
This is the charge the UA Institute for LGBT Studies has maintained since its founding, and it will continue to emphasis, especially in the areas of research and outreach, Stryker said.
"It not just abstract knowledge," Stryker said, "but practical knowledge."