VCU looking to hire new professors in expanded LGBTQ and intersectional studies departments
VCU hopes to put its money where its mouth is with an initiative to position the university as leaders in LGBTQ studies. The new head of the college of Humanities and Sciences, Dean Montserrat Fuentes, plans to begin her time at VCU with big ideas.
“When she came in she negotiated nine new tenure stream faculty hires and put it out to all of the faculty to compose big ideas for how to use new hires to greatest effect -especially where we might be able to hire multiple positions in a specific area at a time to have a greater impact,” said Myrl Beam. “She called this the Big Ideas competition.”
Beam is an Assistant Professor in the Gender, Women’s and Sexuality Studies (GSWS) department at Virginia Commonwealth University. “I teach classes on queer studies, queer theory, trans activism, queer social movements, and essentially the connection between trans and queer movements and issues of racism,” he said. His proposal was one of three that were chosen to go on to the final stages of the competition.
He collaborated with Richard Godbeer, a professor of history and chair of the Humanities Research Center, as well as Kathy Ingram the chair of the GSWS department.
“We all put forward fairly similar proposals for cluster hires that would focus on queer studies or sexuality studies LGBTQ studies,” said Beam. “We put together a proposal that complemented what we saw as the importance of what is called a ‘cluster hire’. [Cluster hiring is] when you hire multiple faculty at the same time for a new initiative, most times in a similar research area or in different disciplines. We submitted that proposal and we’re very excited that we’re on of the winning ideas.”
VCU’s Big Ideas competition in the College of Humanities and Sciences mirrors other big initiatives on other campuses such as the University of Arizona or the University of Minnesota.
In Arizona, the university elected to engage in a transgender studies cluster hire: “They hired four people across the university who are all addressing gender non-conformity,” said Beam. “There might be someone who is a literary studies person who looks at film, a scientist who looks at disparity, and a historian who looks at the policing of cross-dressing or how that affected a person. They are all looking at [the subject matter] from different lenses but they all provide a complete picture of a given subject area. When you bring people on in a cluster, it has an exponential impact, especially for students.”
This decision to expand LGBTQ studies through new hires comes on the heels of much intersectional unrest in the national LGBTQ community.
“This is a major investment on the part of the university,” said Beam. “It is a big deal, it’s a lot of positions and new investments,”.
The investments in new faculty within the Humanities and Sciences college are meant to spark new research opportunities on campus, inspire community engagement with Richmond and position VCU as the premier institution for understanding how LGBTQ communities navigate life in the US from an intersectional lens.
“It matters a lot to have these conversations happening across the university. For teaching and research clearly, but also in terms of how people navigate the university as a university- things like gender-neutral bathrooms, trans-accessible housing and trans-accessible healthcare for students, faculty and staff,” said Beam. “The more we can amplify this critical conversation, the better the experience of moving through VCU for all of our students will be.”
Examples and opportunities for community engagement are endless. New faculty would be able to collaborate with local institutions and non-profits much like other universities have: “We may hire folks that are doing a community engage scholarship, like a local non-profit, queer youth, or LGBTQ elders. OR for instance we may hire an oral-historian,” said Beam.
These new positions being tenure-track is notable as well. Many public colleges and universities nationally and in-state are facing issues of inflating operating cost and tenure tracks are often high on the cut list. Schools elect to keep these cost down by offering scholars and professors part-time positions.
“VCU, like a lot of different universities, relies on three different categories of faculty members. Adjunct are contingent faculty who teach one or a few classes but are not full time. Most time they do not get benefits,” said Beam. “Sector-wise, there is an over reliance on contingent as precariously employed faculty who are adjunct. Long term faculty were people with three year contracts. Imagine having a job but never knowing if your contract will be renewed at the end of the year… Then there is tenure track… That’s where you come in and have responsibilities toward teaching but also research and service to the university,”.
These cluster hires are also delving into other areas of study that mirror contemporary issues like migration studies and big data.
“I am excited that the other major investment is in latinx/latino studies. I see tremendous overlap between sexuality studies, immigration, Latin America and latinx people in the US,” said Beam. “For example, [think of] queer Dreamer activist or undocumented trans folks in [immigration detention centers]. There are enormous intersections between queer social movements and immigration, historically.”
For more information and details on how to apply for the new positions, check out more through VCU’s website here.
Editor’s note: This story originally misgendered and and misspelled Beam’s name – we apologize for the mixup and have updated the text to correctly reflect Beam’s identity. Thanks for reading and those to those who let us know our mistake.
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