Gender studies research expands at the college

by Amanda Zhou | 5/19/16 8:16pm


In 2013, current Gender Research Institute at Dartmouth director Annabel Martín, the then-women’s, gender and sexuality studies department chair, and four faculty members got together to brainstorm a research center to bring together a wide array of professors to study gender.

Then-interim president Carol Folt initially helped direct funding towards the program, Martín said. The professors traveled to Brown University, Columbia University, Rutgers University in New Jersey and Barnard College to learn about the established gender research institutes. Then, these institutions created their own model. With that funding, GRID put on its first spring lecture series, titled “Seeds of Change: Gender Scholarship and Social Justice.”

“None of [the other universities research institutions] incorporate the undergraduates the way we do into the model,” said Martín, “None of them have a parallel class or have the students in the seminars. It’s common with graduate students but not undergraduates.”

Martín said that GRID, as the research branch of gender on campus, produces original work on the topic. The academic branch includes the women’s, gender and sexuality studies program while the student life branch includes the Center for Gender and Student Engagement.

“Gender is one of those analytical categories,” Martín said. “What you do is learn how to interpret and create reasons why things matter. What is invisible to the common eye. That’s the originality.”

Post-doctoral fellow for the seminar Max Hantel agreed with this viewpoint, saying “I think gender research absolutely makes a fundamental demand on how you see and imagine the world, beyond a simple aggregative, ‘Take whatever you’re usually doing and add women and stir.’”

Martín noted that in the past 15 years, gender research has shifted away from focusing on how men and women are different to focusing more on how various categories of class and race intersect with each other.

Martín said that today, the most exciting and productive new field within gender research was general queer cultural studies, in which scholars have shifted towards thinking more about sexuality and the actual practice of gender.

Since then, GRID conducts a seminar research course in conjunction with the women and gender sexuality studies department and puts on a themed lecture series. Past themes include “Times of Crisis” and “Just Words: Free Speech and Social Change.“

“I think if we can generalize a little bit, we want to be critical,” Martín said. “We want to offer a lens that isn’t rosy. Diversity isn’t just the shape and size and color of people, but also how we think. That’s why it’s important for us to bring speakers who maybe aren’t necessarily mainstream or follow the flow.”

Every year, GRID chooses a faculty member to direct the lecture series and seminar. The director of spring programming then decides the theme and works with a steering committee to chose a postdoctoral fellow to teach the research class. The director and the post-doc then work together for nine to 10 months to determine subtopics, speakers and other details of the seminar.

Martín said that GRID seminars are very interdisciplinary with involved professors from departments in the humanities, social sciences and the Neukom Institute for Computational Science. Faculty apply to be fellows with GRID by explaining how their research could relate to the year’s theme.

“It’s a mix of very interesting conversations because people are coming at the topic from very different angles,” she said.

The faculty director comes up with several readings which the faculty members associated with GRID read and debate, then incorporating those readings into their research.

“If I’m a person studying nationalism and terrorism, why would I need theoretical framings coming out of feminist ecologies?” Martín said. “That’s what I’m trying to work through in the seminar. Everyone produces an article in which they translate what we’ve done as a group into their work.”

The seminar, research class and lecture series are all available to undergraduates. Hantel said that the full term seminar is part of what makes GRID unique and helps it draw students into its programming.

This year’s seminar theme is titled “Gender Matters: Feminist Ecologies and Materialisms” and was led by English professor Aimee Bahng. The issues discussed tie directly into Hantel’s research on feminist and Afro-Caribbean philosophy exploring alternative political and ecological systems of thought, which relates to the current seminar theme.

“I think there are two scales to ecological crisis and we’re really bad at talking about them together,” Hantel said.

Hantel said the large scale consists of issues including global warming, the plastic in the Pacific Ocean and “generationally huge problems.” The small scale are “intensively local versions,” including Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the recent water crisis in Flint, Michigan.

He added that he explores ways to talk about those scales at the same time.

This year’s series brought Rutger’s University professor Jasbir Puar, a choice that some students criticized because of her past remarks on Israel and Palestine.

Currently, GRID is renegotiating continuing its funding with the College.

In regards to College backing, Martín said that the administration has been very supportive. However, she also said that as the initial funding for the program has now been spent, GRID and the administration is in the process of thinking about GRID’s future funding.

“[Folt’s] gift has allowed us to exist for four years with a healthy program,” Martín said. “But now, we’re in conversation in how to be sustainable and how to grow because we want to grow.”

Martín noted that possible future projects could include funding student internships and scholarships.

GRID’s aspirations are similar to its Ivy League counterparts, but its space and funding is “not there yet,” she said.

Martín said Dartmouth losing “R1” status, a top research classification, has hurt GRID by diminishing morale, shrinking their speaker budgets, and will likely hurt its recruiting and chances at external grants, since “R2” status is a “step down.”

Dartmouth fell out of the R1 category released by Carnegie Classifications of Institutions of Higher Education on Feb. 1 of this year.

“I would hope that our school would knowingly support the activities GRID does because it helps our school to meet the challenges of a liberal arts education,” Martín said.

GRID has collaborated with Durham University through “extremely productive” visits and by co-organizing workshops and panels, said Santiago Fouz Hernández, director of postgraduate studies at Durham University in the United Kingdom.

He said they are collaborating on a book publication and facilitating future exchange programs for staff and students.

Hernandez said that GRID does a great job of putting Dartmouth’s gender research on the world map.

“I guess I would define GRID’s contribution to the field as markedly interdisciplinary, cutting-edge research of the highest standards,” he said.

As a graduate student in the late 1990s, he remembered everyone being excited about queer theory and men’s studies, with gender research focusing on “ensuring that men, male bodies and masculinities experienced the same level of scrutiny that women, female bodies or femininities had been subjected to in the previous decades.” He said that back then there was not enough focus on diversity within those categories and that today’s research focuses more on class, race, ethnicity, age and transnational issues.

Hantel also emphasized the importance of gender programs.

“There were no women, gender and sexuality programs 40 years ago, so it’s all kind of new and experimental and coming at a moment when universities are being reorganized so we’ll see [how the field evolves],” Hantel said.