The Next Generation

The undergraduate roundtable at CLAGS’s Futures of the Field
conference confirmed one thing that should have been evident
before we entered the room: that, in general, young people
question assumed ideas and concepts much more than their elders do.
More than twenty of us attended this roundtable and we came from
places as varied as Duke and Dartmouth, and many were from colleges in
the New York City area. The first pleasure was that, without leaders, we
engaged in a far-ranging and expansive discussion that began with our
own conceptions of what the word “queer” means and what it may or
may not include and, ultimately, how much more needed to be included
in the concept “queer.” Although some were uncomfortable with the
idea that straight people could be queer, others suggested that the
concept “queer,” might be imagined conceptually as something that goes
beyond sexual and gender orientation, something which might have
caused great discomfort to ensconced members of the academy then
outside of our room.
We discussed the fears of taking queer-related courses and the related
fears of parents’ and employers’ reactions to seeing these courses listed on
transcripts. We talked about what use there might be for Queer Studies
beyond academia (or even within academia) in the job market, although
there we concluded that this was a difficult thing to predict but agreed
that a related degree may soon be useful in a human resources
department, for example. We all agreed that much more communication
is needed between queer faculty and student groups, due to the fact that
many students voiced a feeling of separation—and sometimes a lack of
support—from queer members of the faculty. Finally, as some mentioned
throughout the course of the two-day conference, many of the
undergraduates felt that there needed to be a greater connection between
scholarship and activism.
Of the group, less than half plan to become professors, and I am one
who intends to pursue teaching. I was the only trangendered person at
the roundtable and was, by far, at 36, the oldest person to attend. The
latter fact came to light when a woman suggested that more history
should be added to the introductory courses. I was able to share my own
memories of reading the first articles in the Village Voice about GRID (Gay-
Related Immune Deficiency), an early acronym that some of the others
were not familiar with. The roundtable helped me to appreciate the much
more intuitive understanding of my gender that younger people generally
have, as opposed to a much more intellectual approach—or worse—taken
by older members of the LGTBQ community. The discussions that the
students had showed how willing the young are to shake things up and
displayed a broad acceptance of new ideas that they are bringing to the
movement. Thomas Jefferson suggested that revolutions are needed every
twenty years, and many people at the undergraduate student roundtable
showed both a willingness and ability to take part in any new revolution
that is ignited.

Alyssa K. Harley, an out transwoman studying literature at Brooklyn College, is
the winner of the 2001 Helen Brell Honors Scholarship for excellence in English,
and the President of the BC LGBT Alliance.