A Fond Farewell

Sadly, this is my last column as the Executive Director of CLAGS. After five years teaching and working at CUNY’s Graduate Center, I’ve decided to accept a position at the University of Texas at Austin. This was a difficult decision to make, but the offer of an endowed chair in the Department of Theatre and Dance at UT was finally too attractive to pass up. I’ve had a wonderful three years leading CLAGS. It’s been a pleasure to work with a terrific board of directors, who’ve taught me a great deal about how to be an activist academic. That hybrid, too often maligned, person, uses her intellectual capital and her pedagogical position to advance a political discussion in the academy and in the community. With my colleagues at CLAGS, I’ve strived to be such an activist academic, one who truly sees her work as bridging the many constituencies with whom she I ives and works. As activists, we’re challenged daily to make our work meaningful, to our students, to our colleagues, and to our friends working in other aspects of the political movement. At the same time, as academics, we use our positions to advance the knowledge in the field, to fu rther the ways in which we articu late ideas and what they might come to mean. This dual mission is one at which I think CLAGS has excelled over the last several years. The end of the millennium marks an auspicious moment for the field of lesbian/gay/queer studies. On one hand, the field has become very successful and visible. The number of book series showcasing our work proliferates; books, articles, and journals appear at a remarkable rate; more and more graduate students sign up for courses and gear their work around the field’s founding principles; and more and more people contend with the chal lenges queer theory brings to conventional thinking about sexuality, race, and gender. At the same time, that very visibility leads to highly publicized vilifications. The New York press has recently had a field day with a hiring situation in the English Department at SUNY-Stonybrook, using the opportunity of what was finally a routine decision to leave a position after trying it out for a year to excoriate the project of queer theory and the practice of hiring queer partners. The anxiety queer people prompt, in the academy and in the rest of American cultu re, remains astounding. Of course, colleagues working in lesbian/gay/ queer studies outside of large urban areas remain vu lnerable professionally and personally in even more startling ways to this cultu ral anxiety. Our activist academic communities need to advance our work on a number of different levels at once. It’s very much to CLAGS’s credit that we’ve been able to serve all different kinds of constituencies, and to address the myriad issues that face lesbian/gay/queer studies and the people who study, teach, and practice this work. We provide resources for students and faculty, independent scholars and artists, through our increasingly useful advocacy work and the number of fellowships we now can provide to advance thinking in the field. We’ve become very quick and articulate in our response to attacks on the field and on the movement, chal lenging the most egregious assaults on the integrity of our intellectual and political work. And through our conferences and public programming, we’ve really pushed the discourse of the field to new levels of insight and elegance. I’m so pleased to have been a part of all this work. I’ve learned an enormous amount in the last three years, from the Board, the staff, the administrators who work with us at CUNY, and from CLAGS’s members and everyone who’s participated in our programs over the last several years. I’ve made friendships and connections that I know will last a lifetime; I treasure them all. I want to give just a few thanks here: to the Board members whose terms are up (Arnalda Cruz-Malave, Beth Freeman, Carol Kaplan, Art Leonard, Martin Manalansan, and Oscar Montero), all of whom have worked extremely hard and well programming events, assembling fellowship vetting committees, fundraising for the board, and much, much more; to the Board members who are continuing, with whom it’s been a pleasure to work; to the new folks who are joining the CLAGS board, whom I know will make important, visionary contributions to the work; and finally, to the CLAGS staff, Rachel Cohen, Heidi Coleman, jordan Schildcrout, and jim Wilson, who do enormous amounts of work for CLAGS exceedingly well, and who’ve been my intellectual and political advisors over the years, as well as my friends. I’ll miss working with you all very much, but I’m looking forward to seeing you, as a visitor, at next year’s events. The The Graduate Center, CUNY of which CLAGS is a part is moving to a beautiful new building this june and july. The old B. Altman department store at 34th and Fifth Avenue has been completely renovated to bring all of the Graduate Center’s programs and centers together in one location. CLAGS will have a sparkling new office, which we’ll invite you to help us inaugurate in the Fall. Board members Paisley Currah and Martin Manalansan are putting together a provocative new colloquium series, on topics that include transgender issues, violence, non-gay-identified men of color, research methods, and more. I’m also delighted to announce that historian and activist john D’Emilio will present the 1999 Kessler Lecture on Friday, December 10. I do hope you’l l join us for what’s always one of the most moving events of our programming year. And our final Rockefeller-sponsored conference in Spring 2000-organized by Board member Ann Pel legrini and by janet jakobsen-will address religion, sexuality, and geography. These events and more wi ll continue to make CLAGS a vital place for the exchange of ideas that have real currency in our diverse work toward greater social justice, more radical understandings of the meanings of sexuality, race, and gender, and increasing awareness of the richness and variety of lesbian/gay/queer lives. Finally, let me welcome Alisa Solomon, the next Executive Director of CLAGS. Before she took a year’s leave in 1998-99, Alisa was one of the longest-running members of the Board. She’s been a vital force in (LAGS’s history, as an acute thinker, a hard worker, and a vis ionary leader. Her positions teaching journalism at Baruch College-CUNY, and theatre studies at the Graduate Center, and as a staff writer for the Village Voice, give her a unique perspective on lesbian/gay/ queer studies, and on CLAGS’s place in a beleaguered public institution like CUNY. I know Alisa will do a wonderful job; everyone is very excited about her leadership of CLAGS, and I wish her all the best in her new role. Thanks for the privilege of working with you all.

With warm regards,
Jill Dolan
CLAGS Former Executive Director