University launches Centre for Sex, Gender and Sexualities
by Jo Phoenix, Director of the Centre for Sex, Gender and Sexualities
It is very difficult to convey my excitement at being able to launch the Centre here in Durham and my gratitude to all who have taken the time to support us in doing so, so I will begin by telling you a tale.
It was just over 29 years ago that as an eighteen year old, I left my childhood home of Texas, by myself, and moved to the UK. I could tell you any number of reasons for that move, but underneath them all was a single, inescapable reality. I was a stubborning uncompromising young lesbian who did not accept the image of myself as a young woman or a young lesbian that was imposed on me by my peers, my teachers and many of those around me. I left in order to find a place that was more comfortable to be me, and where I could get some critical distance to understand how things came to be like there were.
How things change because now, a centre is being launched that pulls together a team of over fifty academics whose research interests cohere around sex, gender and sexualities – academics of arts and humanities and of science. As if that was not enough, we are launching this centre in the third oldest university in England, and the third best in the UK. To do so with the full support of University senior management is, quite frankly, a tremendous mark of the changing times as well as a mark of just how forward thinking and progressive Durham University is.
My excitement is also framed by the sense of enormity of what this Centre stands for. Sex, gender and sexualities are not marginal issues, confined only to women, or to LGBTQ communities. The study of them is, at core, the study of what it means to be a person. Every human alive today will have a life that is, in some fashion, shaped by sex, gender or sexualities, whether that is through our choice of partners, the opportunities presented to us in schools, the ways people respond to us, to name just a few of the most obvious.
You may ask why another centre on gender and sexualities is important. I’d respond by saying that despite the seismic cultural change that have happened in many western countries in relation to diversity and equality, there is still much work to be done, both intellectually and politically. We need to drive hard to create the critical mass of expertise that will enable us, at Durham University, to be a centre of excellent and a beacon of research so that we can protect the good work we do and drive the search agenda in new, novel and creative ways.
The vision for the Centre is broad, ambitious and bold. It will tap into interdisciplinary, cutting-edge scholarship and research. It will support students through a series of scholarships and grants. It will fund visiting scholar programmes to enable the best in the field to come to Durham. it will also support research stakeholders and users through a programme of targeted engagement and impact activities in which the work of the Centre can be used for maximum social benefit. In short, our ambition is to become nothing less than an international beacon for the study of sex, gender and sexualities.