Letter from Sarah E. Chinn, INCOMING EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR

I’m not the kind of person who procrastinates – I’d rather do something right away
than worry and further feed the procrastination. But I have been putting off writing this inaugural
column as the new executive director of CLAGS. The challenge, I think, has been where
to begin: taking on a position that has been so magnificently filled by Paisley Currah, Alisa
Solomon, Jill Dolan, and Martin Duberman is already such a challenge that
contemplating actually writing about it seems even more insuperable.
And introductions are hard. How much should I say about myself? How
much about my plans for CLAGS? Luckily I didn’t need to polish my writing
skills for that defining modern genre, the personals ad, or have to introduce
myself to hundreds of people I don’t know, one by one (“Hi, I’m Sarah. I’m
a Scorpio. Turn-ons: queer theory, foundation grants, offices with windows.
Turn-offs: homophobia, fluorescent lighting, inadequate state funding”). The
obstacle here, of course, is the same as the reward for taking over this intimidating
position: the thrill of the unknown; privilege of stewarding an organization
as it grows and flourishes; the desire to deepen our strengths and remedy our
weakenesses.
CLAGS has achieved dizzying heights in the past fifiteen years, sponsoring
any number of groundbreaking events, rewarding exceptional queer scholarship,
honoring our most distinguished scholars, developing innovative new projects. Paisley’s work
with the International Resource Network (IRN) is a telling legacy to his time as Executive
Director of CLAGS, uniting queer scholars from around the world who can share their work
and interests in a multiplicity of languages, both in person and online. The breadth and ambition
of this project is mind-boggling, and I only hope that I leave as remarkable an imprint on
CLAGS and on queer scholarship as Paisley has done with his involvement with the IRN.
CLAGS is a hybrid creature, part of the The Graduate Center, CUNY but also larger in scope,
national and international. This hybridity is one of its great strengths. A project that is still
in its nascent stage, a website dealing with queer histories, is a perfect example of this. It’s our
hope that this website will provide a portal to the queer past for students, teachers, scholars,
and casual visitors, built on a broad and deep archive of images, documents, scholarly work, and
offer a forum for users to share their thoughts and their individual histories. Although still in
its early days, this website promises to be an exciting addition to the roster of CLAGS projects,
one that, like so much of CLAGS’ work, combines academic rigor with grassroots involvement.
At the same time that we’re planning this ambitious website, I’m also committed to cementing
CLAGS’ place in the CUNY system, as a facilitator of queer scholarship throughout
CUNY. Much as the IRN connects LGBTQ intellectuals throughout the world, I’d like to see
CLAGS connect queer scholars within CUNY. I would like to compile a list of queer studies
course offerings across the CUNY system, set up discussions among faculty working in LGBTI
research, and create networks between students at different CUNY campuses to bolster the
wonderful work done by the Queer CUNY conference. I’d love to see a directory of all faculty
doing work in queer studies at CUNY and of courses offered at CUNY campuses, for example.
The City University is a magnificent resource and a nexus of all kinds of queer subjectivities
and areas of inquiry – it would be thrilling to see CLAGS play a significant role in that maelstrom
of activity, activism, and scholarship.
And I know I won’t be alone in this work. The commitment and energy of the CLAGS
board, the hard work and creativity of the staff, and the ongoing connection and contributions
of our members are, after all, what CLAGS is. Executive Directors may come and go, but the
amazing, provocative, groundbreaking work that CLAGS does remains the same, even as it is
continually changing.