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​Promote transgender studies

This year, the Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies department will host a series on transgender studies and the humanities with support from the Franklin Humanities Institute and the Mellon Foundation. In light of their commendable effort, today we suggest further avenues to bolster Duke’s effort to promote trans-specific scholarship, advocating for the expansion of funding and course offerings for the field of transgender studies.

Thanks to House Bill 2 and its aftershocks, Duke and the broader country have been thrust into a particularly pertinent cultural moment for the development of transgender studies. The heightened public attention to transgender issues means any scholarship can have an immediate effect on policy and advocacy; in particular, it can work to counteract any commonly propagated falsehoods. Since academia contributes a variety of resources to elevate the discourse surrounding politically sensitive topics, increasing funding for transgender studies would allow Duke to take initiative toward fostering healthier, more accurate discussion in this field.

Since the 1990s, academics from various fields have attempted to trace the socio-political history of transgender people, study the differences in gender and gender expression and elaborate on identities separate from conventional identities. In recent years, however, transgender scholarship has turned to exploring the diversity of gender, sex, sexuality, embodiment and identity in ways that have not been adequately addressed by prior feminist and queer academia. Recognizing the specificity and indisciplinarity of transgender studies, Duke should devote more attention to the field. It is important to note that attention to this field would promote visibility and validation for transgender students on campus. Introducing an array of trans-specific course offerings would provide opportunities for exploration to students and academics whose experiences are not currently legitimized by discourse in academic settings.

In the past decade, Duke has advocated for the transgender community in a variety of ways. In 2007, the Board of Trustees added gender identity to the nondiscrimination policy, and in 2015, Duke opened the first transgender health center in North Carolina. Currently, Duke is is in the process of converting single stall bathrooms into gender neutral facilities. Still, in line with a goal central to our stated mission “to promote a deep appreciation for the range of human difference and potential,” Duke currently has a unique opportunity to set the tone for discourse on this subject and ought to further its service to transgender persons.

Funding more trans-specific research through a specified department housed under the Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies Program can create a conduit connecting students and faculty with the slew of trans-specific resources on campus. Moreover, the academic focus of a transgender studies department foregrounds the necessity to engage in informed discussion on the subject.

In the past, we have advocated for the validation of other marginalized identities through academics. The systemic discrimination propagated by legislation in North Carolina has pushed transgender issues to the forefront of our conscious. Research continues to be vital for marginalized groups struggling to gain respect within public discourse and pushing for equal rights and representation. To that end, Duke has a vested interest in facilitating the production of knowledge in the service of society. Like everyone else, transgender people want the ability to freely express themselves, to use names and pronouns consistent with their gender identities and to have unburdened access to residential spaces, bathrooms, and other facilities. More importantly, they want to be treated with dignity and respect.

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