Group plans queer studies program

A group of Portland State students, instructors and advocates from the Queer Resource Center are drafting a proposal to launch a queer studies minor at PSU in fall 2007.

Queer studies is an interdisciplinary approach to the history, accomplishments and issues facing people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, or who hold other nontraditional sexual or gender identities. Professors will teach queer studies courses from many departments in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, including psychology, sociology, history, English literature and women’s studies.

The group, called the Queer Studies Planning Committee, plans to hold fundraisers and will look toward donations for financial support. The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences informed the group that the college will give matching funds to the queer studies program fundraising efforts in order to help the program become established.

“This is the first program of its kind at a Portland university, and there is a lot of community interest,” said Christa Orth, an adjunct women’s studies instructor and queer historian who is working on the fundraising subcommittee. “The university matching funds will also make this more attractive to donors.”

Since fall 2005, the committee has been meeting to develop a vision for queer studies at Portland State. This has included identifying existing courses that would fall under the queer studies rubric, discussing the requirements for a queer studies minor and outlining the financial demands of such an undertaking. The committee will write the proposal over the summer and submit it in the fall.

“The proposal will go through the university channels, which will probably take the whole year,” said Ann Mussey, a women’s studies professor who has been a key organizer for the queer studies program. “I think it will probably be approved. There’s a lot of interest from both faculty and students.”

The queer studies program would initially be housed in women’s studies. Sassafras Lowry, a women’s studies major and a member of the planning committee, said she thinks having the queer studies department will be an asset to the existing Portland State community.

“It will draw students and faculty to the campus by making Portland State a destination for students and faculty interested in focusing their academic careers in the expanding intellectual world of queer studies,” Lowry said.

“But who knows where it will grow?” said Mussey. “It could eventually become a major.”

Fundraising for the program will be another key concern for the planning committee. Most of the professors who would teach queer studies courses are from other disciplines and would have obligations to their own departments. The group wants to raise enough money to fund a faculty member dedicated entirely to queer studies.

“The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences has said that if we can raise $40,000 a year for five years,” Mussey said, “the college would commit matching funds, and at the end of five years, the college would pick up the faculty member’s salary.”

Orth said the committee plans to diversify funding by looking to outside sources to help get the program started. She said they will be approaching PSU alumni and individuals in the community who are queer or queer-friendly to raise money.

The committee will also be approaching local organizations such as the Equity Fund and Pride Northwest.

“We’re hoping the queer studies program will create alliances with people in the community,” Orth said. “The Portland queer community is growing and changing all the time, and queer studies will help students connect to that community.”

The Queer Studies Planning Committee is still seeking feedback from faculty, students and staff on a number of topics, including the name of the program.

“The name is not settled on,” Mussey said. “That’s another aspect where discussion has to happen. We’re focused on being a home for people who identify as ‘queer’ – gay, lesbian, trans, bi, polyamorous. There is the possibility of making this very broad, for instance, ‘sexuality and gender studies.'”

“I’m not aware of any resistance to the name ‘queer studies,’ said Orth. “We want the name to reflect inclusiveness. ‘gay and lesbian studies’ can exclude people who are trans or bi. The term ‘queer’ encompasses more sexual and gender identities.”

The planning committee will also hold a major visibility event next year, and is soliciting suggestions for speakers, artists and musicians. Michele Pearce, graduate assistant for the Queer Resource Center, asks that students, faculty and staff e-mail suggestions and feedback to [email protected]