Letters to the Editor

A response to the editorial ‘Better judgment was needed in promoting Queer Theory class’ in The Oracle on Thursday.

Oh, what a hubbub a picture creates! This controversy is exactly’why we need to study visual imagery and gender performance – the very subject of the picture in question and the topic of Queer Theory.

I am surprised the picture on my course flier drew so much controversy. The person pictured is almost fully dressed. There are no illicit body parts showing; much more sexualized imagery is available on billboards, the Internet, TV and movies. I think the picture is only provocative because any’public discussion of sexuality in our society is considered taboo.

Queer Theory is not new, having materialized around 1990. Sociologists have studied gender performance since the 1960s. These subjects are widely offered across the U.S. at institutions such as Yale, Duke, Cornell, University of Minnesota, University of Chicago, University of California at Berkeley and many public universities. If USF did not offer this course, we would lack in comparison to our peer universities.

To the Oracle editors’ charge of my needing ‘better judgment,’ I respectfully disagree.

The picture on the flyer comes from a book for the course, ‘Gendering Bodies.’ It’demonstrates the very topic of gender performance theory: that’transgendered, transsexual and intersexed people, effeminate men, masculine women and others are often erased from public view.

What we call in the book the ‘Gender Box Structure- the pervasive cultural belief that all females should be feminine and’desire men and that all males should be masculine and desire women – is held in place by this erasure of difference. Each of us knows people who fall outside this binary, yet we are regularly called to ignore their existence for the purpose of keeping this cultural binary in place.

It is not a lack of ‘decorum’ that motivated my use of the picture. It was the actual topic of this class. That female-bodied people can affect the appearance of ‘men’s’ gender is a very compelling’sociological argument.

This controversy demonstrates a lack of public understanding of the topic, suggesting we need to talk more – not less – about these issues.’ I applaud the USF Provost’s Office, the College of Arts and Sciences Dean’s Office and Sociology and Women’s Studies for continuing to support this important academic discussion, and I am proud that USF follows the pattern of world-class universities’sponsoring difficult discussions so that we may all learn.

Sara L. Crawley, assistant’professor of Sociology, USF


A response to the editorial ‘Better Judgment was needed in promoting Queer Theory class’ in The Oracle on Thursday.

A Statement on Academic Freedom by the USF Chapter of the United Faculty of Florida

For the last few years, USF professor Sara Crawley has taught a course on ‘Queer Studies’ that consistently runs with full to overflowing’enrollment. The course is controversial, some of which is over its advertising and presentation.

But it’s probably the subject itself that disturbs most of its critics. What gives a USF professor – a public employee paid with taxpayer dollars – the right to teach material that offends so many people?

Scholars and students are expected to explore their subject, which is dangerous, because one never knows what’s out there. To reduce the danger, politicians repeatedly try to erect fences that scholars and students are not supposed to cross.

When Aristotle’s books arrived in medieval Europe, many’universities banned them to soothe local authorities. When William Tyndale began translating the Bible into English so that ordinary people could read it, he left Oxford for reasons of health (he was later burned at the stake). And we all know about Galileo.

These fences were not erected out of malice: authorities put them up to protect the state, to protect public morality and to prevent error. But that requires a lot of trust in the authorities – trust that many of the founders’of the U.S. were unwilling’to give.

‘All men having power ought to be distrusted to a certain degree,’ wrote James Madison, the initial designer of the U.S. Constitution – a constitution designed to balance power against power, to prevent the sort of tyranny he and his colleagues saw in’18th-century Europe.

Yes, new things like nanoscience, cognitive science and queer studies are often troubling. Are our bodies actually vast arrays of tiny molecular machines? Are our highest emotions mediated by clusters of neurons similar to those of other primates? Does our sexual identity lie in a large and nearly continuous range of different types? Perhaps the answer is ‘no.’ It takes a while to sort these new things out and make sense of them. But’sometimes the answer is not a simple ‘no’ or ‘yes,’ but’something newer still.

And it is from such new things that progress is made.

Yet, while some of us are excited by these new frontiers, others are so alarmed and’offended that they would like all’this newfangled stuff to just go away. And that is why the notions of ‘the freedom of scholarship’ and ‘the freedom to teach’ and ‘the freedom to learn’ – which form the basis of ‘academic freedom’ – are important to our society. For without these’freedoms, fearful authorities would not permit anything new, and progress would stop.

The USF Chapter of the United Faculty of Florida – the union that represents most faculty and several hundred professionals at USF – is part of an’enterprise that explores the world and brings discoveries and ideas to our students and our community to be tested against evidence and unshackled debate.

It is our ‘academic freedom’ from shackles that makes this testing possible. For that reason, we are proud to support the right of the USF Department of Sociology to offer a course on Queer Studies, proud to support the right of professor Sara Crawley to teach the course to the best of her ability and, most of all, proud to support the right of the students to take the course.

USF Chapter, United Faculty of Florida: Sherman Dorn, President; Mark Klisch, Vice President; Sonia Wohlmuth, Treasurer; and Greg McColm, Secretary