Changing of the Guard

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.

Sarah E. Chinn

Incoming Executive Director