Redefining “Institution”

I’m thrilled and honored to be succeeding Jill Dolan as Executive Director of CLAGS. Thanks to Jill and to Marty Duberman before her-and to all past and cu rrent Board members and to the miracle-working staff- CLAGS is a secure and solid institution. Let me quickly explain what I mean by ‘institution’ for it is a word I don’t always use comfortably as it tends to conjure in my bohemian brain images of stuffiness and caution, bureaucratic stasis and lumbering loss of purpose. That’s the last thing CLAGS has become. On the contrary, CLAGS remains lively, responsive, provocative, and ever self-critical. What I do mean is that CLAGS is on sure footing administratively and (more or less) financially, and that means, remarkably, that we can concentrate all the more intensely on developing public events and projects that foster scholarship in the burgeoning field of Lesbian and Gay Studies, and that link such scholarship to the immediate concerns of lgbtq communities. Sure, we will always have to devote labor to fund-raising, and without a doubt, the scandal-mongering,horizon-narrowing, radical right will be keeping us in their cross-hairs. But this is a wonderful time for CLAGS and the work we seek to advance. We’re still here, we’re sti ll queer, and all over the country, the academy, at least, is getting used to it. It’s not always easy, of course, as overheated attacks on professors and conferences at SUNY campuses, at NYU, and elsewhere make all too plain. And for some of our col leagues, opposition often comes from within their very own universities, where everyone from presidents to deans to curriculum and tenure committees devalue and ridicule lgbtq scholarship-and even people. We know how fortunate we are that CLAGS is part of the The Graduate Center, CUNY where the administration not only supports us, but is enthusiastic about and proud of what we do. CUNY is an important place to be for other reasons, as well. By v.i.rtue of being in a public university, CLAGS insists that the work we promote belongs to and in public discourse. While attacks on state financing-whether of arts or healthcare or education-typically use queer content as a means of assailing the very idea of public spending, CLAGS asserts that studying our histories, literatures, scientific investigations, political analyses, high theories, and very lives, makes a crucial contribution to the public good. At the same time, being situated at CUNY declares that our student body-immigrants, working-class students, people of color- deserve access to the productions of new knowledge that we foster, and indeed, have much to contribute to the process. I have come to hold these convictions dear over the last 15 years or so that I have been a member of the CUNY community. I started teaching at Baruch College as an adjunct in the English department in 1983, joined the journalism program there on a full-time basis in 1987, and was appointed to the English and Theatre programs at the Graduate Center in 1996. I have been lucky to straddle a couple of disciplines, teaching journalism to undergraduates while also writing for the Village Voice, and also pursuing scholarly studies in dramatic li terature, theater, and performance. The emergence of Lesbian and Gay Studiesand the existence of CLAGS-has expanded my work in both areas, offering not only new ideas, information, and models to gird my research and writing, but also raising new questions that have required me to look at old material from new angles and that, most fruitfully, have punctured assumed paradigms. For all these reasons, I joined the CLAGS Board of Directors in 1990 with excitement and anticipation. In the lively debates around the table at board and committee meetings over the eight years I served, I met a brilliant group of folks who frequently shoved me away from my unexamined assumptions (at least far enough away to examine them); I got an inkling of the impact of Lesbian and Gay Studies in a range of disciplines; I was challenged to find ways to sustain a marriage between activism and academe. Over and over, I experienced in microcosm, the inspiring principle on which CLAGS is based: the power of ideas to change consciousness. And always, I was blown away by the sheer amount of activity CLAGS was producing with committees staffed by overworked teachers, scholars, professionals, community activists all volunteering time they didn’t have to_ keep CLAGS vibrant and growing. When my time on the board finally ran into the term limits established in our bylaws, I was actually sad to leave my beloved comrades and our stimulating Saturday symposia -which is what board meetings often felt like. To be returning now as Executive Director feels like a tremendous privilege. And, to be honest, a daunting one. With the commitment of our board and staff, and the ongoing support of so many members and participants in CLAGS programs who have offered time, ideas, money, criticism, affirmation, and presence at our events, I know that CLAGS will continue to thrive. I look forward to working with all of you. On a personal note, I’d like to thank Jill for her vision and labor. I have learned much from her scholarship, her leadership, her profound menshlikhkeyt. And as my first official act as E.D., I’d like to speak for everyone at CLAGS in saying how much we appreciate all Jill has done, how deeply we will miss her, and how sincerely we wish her much happiness in Texas.

Alisa Solomon
CLAGS New Executive Director