Yale Daily News

With administrative support and growing student demand, the Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies program has hired five new senior faculty members, taken on its first cohort of graduate students and increased its cross-disciplinary academic coverage — all in the same year.

The WGSS program has increased its core faculty size by 50 percent since last year. New hires — many of whom have joint appointments in other programs like American Studies and Ethnicity, Race and Migration — are intended to add new breadth and complexity to the program and its course offerings, especially in cross-disciplinary fields. The new faculty members will also allow WGSS to expand its new graduate program. The program welcomed its first cohort of students this fall. WGSS plans to leverage its greater faculty size to expand its graduate course offerings and enrollment capacity. 

“That’s a place where we have just made spectacular additions,” Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Tamar Gendler wrote in an email to the News. “It’s one of the places where there was growing student interest and extraordinary faculty quality, and so we’ve brought together in the last five years what I think is one of the greatest Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies programs in the English-speaking world. It’s just an extraordinary group.”

Lecturer and Director of Undergraduate Studies Igor de Souza told the News that the new hires came after program leaders realized that “our classes [were] all basically full,” and more needed to be offered to accommodate the growing demand among students.

The program’s new hires include Fatima El-Tayeb, Scott Herring, Regina Kunzel, Dara Strolovitch and Kalindi Vora. The WGSS program also plans to pursue two more hires by 2023.

De Souza noted that some of the new faculty members fill gaps in the program by bringing expertise in specific areas of scholarship.

“We expanded by finding people who do more global scholarship, so that was one of the reasons behind hiring Fatima El-Tayeb,” De Souza said. “Another focus that we wanted to develop was hiring people at the intersection of gender and STEM, and that’s one of the reasons that we hired Kalindi [Vora], who does amazing work with technology, AI, surrogacy and many things in relation to gender and sexuality.”

Vora joins the Yale faculty as a professor of WGSS and ER&M, with visiting status for the 2021-22 academic year. She previously taught Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at the University of California, Davis, where she served as Director of the Feminist Research Institute.

Vora wrote to the News that, in addition to her joint appointment in WGSS and ER&M, she holds a secondary appointment in History of Science and Medicine and taught a course in the fall called “Science and Technology Studies: Anti-racist and Feminist Approaches to Technocience.”

Vora said that she came to Yale because of the opportunity to collaborate with scientists

“in an institution that highly values the humanistic part of that collaboration, and where students want to understand why both those kinds of knowledge are important.”

Vora and the other four incoming faculty members will enter as tenured, ladder-level faculty members. In fact, the WGSS program is composed almost entirely of ladder-level faculty members, De Souza told the News. 

“We have a dearth of instructional faculty in our department,” De Souza said. “There’s me and there’s Craig Canfield, but we don’t have many more instructional faculty than that.”

Many of the new hires come to Yale after years of teaching and research experience at other institutions and are already well-regarded in their fields of study. 

All five new faculty have written books, and some have written multiple. Kunzel’s most recent book, “Criminal Intimacy: Prison and the Uneven History of Modern American Sexuality,” was awarded the American Historical Association’s John Boswell Prize, the Modern Language Association’s Alan Bray Memorial Book Award, the Lambda Literary Award, the Foundation for the Scientific Study of Sexuality’s Bonnie and Vern L. Bullough Award and was a finalist for the American Studies Association’s John Hope Franklin Prize.

“Reg [Kunzel] and Dara [Strolovitch] are great additions for our department — it was great that we were able to get them to come here because they both are very big names in their fields,” De Souza said. “And with Regina, we’ve expanded into more courses in the history of sexuality, which is what I teach, and what Maria Trumpler teaches, and now we have someone who’s a senior faculty member teaching it also. We have students who are interested in both gender and political science, and that’s exactly what Dara does, so it was very helpful to have somebody come in to fill in that gap that existed.”

Though Strolovitch is on leave this semester, when she returns, she will hold joint appointments in both WGSS and Political Science. 

Scott Herring, who has also joined the WGSS faculty, focuses on literature and LGBTQ+ health and health policy, which De Souza said was a priority for the program. Before coming to Yale, Herring was a professor of English at Indiana University.

“I was thrilled to join other WGSS faculty at Yale given our university’s resources (especially archives at the Beinecke), the reputation of its student population at both the graduate and the undergraduate levels, the interdisciplinary reach of my field-defining colleagues and the strong leadership of my chair, Rod Ferguson,” Herring wrote in an email to the News. “My first semester of teaching last fall — a first-year seminar on LGBTQ Spaces and Places and an upper-level seminar on LGBTQ Life Spans — provided me with two of the best pedagogical experiences of my career.”

Fatima El-Tayeb, the last of the new faculty members, studies Black Europe, comparative diaspora studies, queer of color critique, critical Muslim studies, decolonial theory, transnational feminisms, visual culture studies, race and technology and critical European studies, according to her profile on Yale’s ER&M website.

De Souza said that the program could not have grown as it has without the support of the administration. He hopes that soon it will grow its physical space on campus, too.

“We are sort of half of a hallway, on the third floor of WLH — it’s getting a little crowded because we’ve expanded and we’re continuing to expand,” De Souza said. “And so, if . . . I could dream up the most perfect plan, I would love to have a Gender Study Center on campus. Something that would be its own building, where we could have the department, and we could have all of the other offices and student services associated with gender and sexuality in the same building . . . that would be really wonderful.”

Though the program has grown in faculty number, it has also grown in student number. This year, the program took on its first cohort of graduate students, all internal students who were accepted to other graduate programs at the University. 

And, although the undergraduate cohort is still small compared to other majors, Reilly Johnson ’22, a WGSS major, expressed excitement about the new developments within the program.

“WGSS as a department does a lot of service to the University—though the number of students who major in it is small, students from many academic backgrounds take advantage of the critical interventions into gender and sexuality that WGSS classes offer,” Johnson wrote in an email to the News. “I’ve had an incredible experience as a WGSS major and I could not be more excited about the increases in resources and scope in WGSS.”

Looking forward, De Souza hopes that the program will continue its expansion so that, in the future, it can have graduate students independent of existing programs and further academic coverage. He also hopes to eventually see a professor who specializes in transgender studies, as well as someone who focuses on gender and the environment.

The Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies program was established at Yale in 1979 as the Women’s Studies program.

Evan Gorelick is Managing Editor of the Yale Daily News. He previously covered Woodbridge Hall, with a focus on the University's finances, budget and endowment. He also laid out the weekly print edition of the News as a Production and Design Editor. Originally from Woodbridge, Connecticut, he is a junior in Timothy Dwight College double-majoring in English and economics.