Vigorous Debate and Rigorous Inquiry

Happy New Year!
Our newsletter goes to press on the eve of President Bush’s State of the Union address, in
which he is expected to argue for going to war against Iraq. By the time this newsletter reaches
you, the war may already have started. It’s a frightening moment, to say the least. Meanwhile
free speech and civil liberties are being curtailed in the name of security and scholars and
researchers have special reasons to be wary: Archives are shutting off access; the Freedom of
Information Act is being gutted; new laws are demanding that when asked by government
officials, librarians must turn over records of what books and websites their clients have perused
without even allowing them to notify the client; and new websites — which invite students to
report on their professors — are policing our classrooms and declaring dissent beyond the
patriotic pale. For the current generation of students and faculty, and for scholars both inside
and outside academia, the stakes for our labors — and for universities’ roles as sites of vigorous
debate and rigorous inquiry — have never seemed higher.
How our work at CLAGS participates in — and indeed, insists upon and pushes forward —
such debate and inquiry has been on my mind in these perilous times. A partial and hopeful
answer was suggested by the thrilling meeting of some 100 researchers from 35 countries we
hosted in November. (See pp. 12-13 for some scenes and thoughts from that event.) To argue
out different perspectives and begin a collaboration among colleagues from Egypt, Nigeria, the
Philippines, Colombia, Russia, South Africa, Argentina, Poland, Turkey, Israel, Mexico, Pakistan,
Brazil, Hong Kong, the Netherlands, Britain, Chile, Croatia, and Kenya — to name just some of
the countries represented in our meeting — was, first of all, to defy the unilateralism of our
dominant culture and, among other things, to open American LGTBQ Studies to some
affirmations, helpful additions and challenging critiques alike. And in many ways, our meeting
modeled exactly the sort of comparative and collaborative work we hope will be fostered by the International Resource Network we gathered to begin building. Indeed, scholars and clinicians
in the field of psychology who met at the conference — from Turkey, Ireland, Israel, and
Thailand (and now working, respectively in Turkey, England, New York, and Chicago) — have
been sustaining by email a discussion begun at our meeting’s closing banquet.
In other ways, the comments of colleagues who don’t share what can become a very
insular US worldview gave me new ways of thinking beyond old, stultifying paradigms. Latin
American colleagues, for instance, contested what they regarded as a bizarre US obsession with
arguing about a division between scholarship and activism — a split that has little resonance for
them. That Irish psychologist, now at the University of Surrey — Peter Hegarty — added an
illuminating comment that has remained with me ever since: “What Americans call ‘activism’
might elsewhere be called ‘citizenship’.”
Only a couple of weeks later, Jonathan Ned Katz’s stirring Kessler lecture (see the excerpt
beginning on p. 6) extended that notion, demonstrating how deeply his research grew out of
and contributed to a social movement — but didn’t stand in for his political engagement as
How in a more professionalized and balkanized academic environment we can sustain
such a practice is a challenge that world events put inescapably before us. I hope that the
programs we present and research we support in the coming semester and beyond will
continue to shine a light on unexamined assumptions, break down stultifying paradigms,
amplify silenced voices, sharpen our wits and steel our resolves.
with warm regards in cold times,
Alisa Solomon