Center for Sex and Gender Research draws researchers from around the country

Morgan Marx

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Among the newspapers and periodicals with titles like “American Aphrodite,” “Screw” and “Fag Rag,” are diaries, photographs and flyers.  These items are rare.  They draw researchers to CSUN’s Oviatt Library from around the country.

“There are three places for anyone that’s serious about transgendered research in this country,” said Jacob Hale, philosophy professor.  “The Kinsey Institute, the University of Michigan and CSUN.”

Hale is the director of the Center for Sex and Gender Research, a faculty research institute housed in the College of the Humanities at CSUN.  The center promotes lectures, faculty discussions and film series in association with academic programs like gender and women’s studies and queer studies.  It also works with the Oviatt Library, the home of the Vern and Bonnie Bullough Collection on Sex and Gender.

“The mission of the center is to promote scholarly and creative work in the areas of sex, gender and sexuality by both faculty and students,” Hale said.

Vern Bullough, a history professor, founded the center in the 1970s.  Bullough and his wife, Bonnie, had collected books, magazines and personal artifacts related to sex and gender.  The materials covered sex education, reproductive rights and practices such as cross-dressing.  The Bulloughs donated their research library to the Oviatt Library in 1973, according to the Oviatt Library’s collections web site.

Like-minded faculty began meeting to discuss research being done in their areas of interest.  Out of those informal groups, the center was founded.

Hale said his association with the center began as a “lucky accident.”  After earning a doctorate in philosophy from the University of North Carolina, Hale came to CSUN to begin a teaching career.  In the early 90s he became interested in transgender issues and began working with the center, he said.  When director James Elias resigned, Hale was selected to take the position.

The center works to bring experts like LGBT leader and organizer Lisa Powell and Metropolitan Community Churches founder and activist the Rev. Troy D. Perry to campus.  The events are structured less like a typical lecture and more like a discussion, Hale said. He added the key is to create open conversation between experts, students and faculty.

“Most CSUN events are judged by size but I don’t agree,” Hale said.  “It’s the level of engagement, what people take away from the event, that really matters.”

Hale said he relies on feedback from students to tailor center-sponsored events to their interests.  Gender and women’s studies department chair Sheena Malhotra values the center’s connection to students.

“The CSGR has been a wonderful resource for bringing a wide variety of events to our campus and making them available to our students,” Malhotra said.  “With one of the most active calendars of any CSUN organization, the center hosts numerous events and talks that highlight issues in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and queer communities.”

Like other faculty research institutes on campus, the center provides these events despite receiving no university funding, Hale said. Donations from faculty, staff and alumni help support the center.  Hale said the current economic climate has affected the center, making planning a more creative process.

“Being in Los Angeles makes it much easier to do an awful lot on a low budget,” Hale said.  “This is one of the richest areas for LGBT history in the country.”

In the coming year, Hale said he would like to see the center enhance scholarship possibilities available to students.  The center also helps to form informal mentorships between students and faculty interested in the same subjects.  It may involve exchanging emails about thesis research or just getting coffee and talking about work, Hale said.

“The center provides an addendum to what we learn and who we study with in our departments” said Dorian Adams-Wilson, a 2010 graduate from the gender and women’s studies department.  “I like it for that reason.”

Hale said he sees this service of the center as equally valuable as providing internship opportunities that may lead to jobs.  Inspiring students to take action and pursue their own interests is one of the goals of the center, Hale said.

“A less tangible benefit is that students gain confidence from being treated as someone important by very accomplish people who aren’t their professors,” Hale said.