Planning grant will boost U's queer studies program

Queer studies at the University of Minnesota will get a financial shot in the arm July 1, with a two-year, $20,000 planning grant from the U's fund for new research initiatives. The grant will fund the development of interdisciplinary academic programs and community outreach projects.

"There have been queer studies going on at this campus since 1988," says Beth Zemsky, director of the U's GLBT Programs Office. "But this is the first time the University has designated a specific pot of money for the overall development of GLBT studies."

Zemsky's office, which last year announced its intention to develop a queer studies program with a bequest of more than $500,000 from gay alumnus Steven J. Schochet, is likely to use the grant to hire a part-time staff person to coordinate the development of the academic and community program, the director says. Although several departments offer courses with queer components, there is no campus-wide coordination of such efforts, Zemsky says: "There's nobody at the University who spends part of their staff time planning GLBT studies."

While the U's Board of Regents established the GLBT Programs Office in 1993 to improve the campus climate for queers and to develop an academic program, the latter project has gone largely unfunded. "Our mission is huge," Zemsky says of the mandate given to her three-person staff. "So the money for coordinating this academic program will go toward part of our unfunded mission."

A 20-person committee made up of U faculty, administrators, and community advisors has met four times over the past year to develop a loose framework for the fledgling GLBT studies program, Zemsky says. After deciding to make queer studies an interdisciplinary field instead of a separate department at the U, the committee applied for a planning grant from the U's New Initiatives in Interdisciplinary Research and Post-Baccalaureate Education Fund. Once a plan has been developed, Zemsky says, the committee is likely to apply for a $50,000 grant to implement the program.

The queer-studies committee has also decided that any future queer-studies program should be "connected and grounded in the greater community," Zemsky says. "One of the major complaints about queer studies is that it's inaccessible and not relevant to the day-to-day lives of people in the community," she explains. The committee is developing a series of community forums on GLBT issues that will serve to connect the queer-studies program to the local GLBT community, Zemsky says. On June 24, with a small grant from the U's graduate-student association, the GLBT Program's Office held a community forum, called "What's Biology Got to Do with It?," at Intermedia Arts in Minneapolis. The subject of the discussion was the links between the physical sciences, social sciences, and sexuality and gender.

Zemsky says the community outreach will help shape the U's queer studies program as it evolves. "Not only do we want to bring information to the community," she explains. "We also want the community to tell us what they want in the GLBT studies program."

 
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