March 20, 2008
Vol. 27 No. 12

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    Emerging knowledge on sexualities of two largest minorities fuels conference to set new agenda

    By Josh Schonwald
    News Office



    The University’s Center for Gender Studies and the Center for the Study of Race, Politics and Culture are co-sponsoring what is considered the largest organized conference to examine Black and Latina and Latino sexuality.

    “It’s a bold effort to rethink what sexuality means for the two largest racial minorities in the United States,” said Cathy Cohen, the David and Mary Winton Green Professor in Political Science and the College, and one of the conference’s organizers.

    “Race, Sex, Power: New Movements in Black & Latina/o Sexualities,” co-sponsored by faculty from nine institutions, will take place Friday, April 11 and Saturday, April 12 at the UIC Forum, 725 W. Roosevelt Road. It will bring together academics, activists and artists to address topics ranging from intimacy and desire, to HIV/AIDS and teen pregnancy, and humor to hip-hop.

    “Race, Sex, Power” aims to set a new agenda for studying, organizing, writing and developing policy about sexuality, by showcasing bodies of knowledge that have emerged over the past decade, Cohen said. Over those years, scholars and political and cultural activists from myriad disciplinary fields have systematically challenged representations of black and Latina/o sexualities through new exhibitions, performances, media, writings, virtual communities and activist groups, which bear witness to the importance of how Black and Latina/o people love and express themselves sexually.

    This conference, Cohen said, “brings attention to these bodies of knowledge in their biological, social, cultural and political forms, in order to rethink how the relationship between race, sexuality and power has and continues to shape Black and Latina/o sexualities in the United States.”

    Juan Battle, professor of sociology at the City University of New York’s Graduate Center, added that the conference is not only ambitious, but also timely, as sexuality is central to current political debates. “Same-sex marriage, abstinence education and abortion rights are all at the forefront,” he said.

    Dr. Joycelyn Elders, the former United States Surgeon General, will open the conference Friday, April 11. Following Elders’ keynote address, panels and speakers—selected from hundreds of submissions—will cover media, migration and immigration, religion and spirituality, sexual tourism, reproductive rights, transgender, community organizing, gay and lesbian civil rights, poverty, social class, age and the sex industry.

    Within the wide variety of approaches in both method and topic, a key idea emerges, said Cohen. “Sexuality can only be imagined in the context of communities that are embedded in a national and international context of changing sexual mores and deeply entrenched habits of thought and representation,” she said.

    One of the hallmarks of this conference, Cohen stressed, is its emphasis on collaboration and inclusiveness. The nine coordinating institutions will draw on a pool of expertise that no one college or university could hope to contain, she added. “The unusual blend of research, activism and art encourages all participants to think outside their personal assumptions and the conventions of their fields,” she said.

    The conference’s other featured presenters include Frances Aparicio, Sonia Báez-Hernández, C.C. Carter, Staceyann Chin, Gloria González-López, Ramón Gutiérrez, Rhodessa Jones, Lawrence La Fountain-Stokes, Mark Anthony Neal, Charles Nelson, Coya Paz, Nicole Perez and Urvashi Vaid. An evening of performance and poetry on Friday, April 11 will feature C.C. Carter, Chin, Achy Obejas and Marcus Van. Film screenings will also run throughout the conference.

    In addition to Chicago, the conference is being organized by faculty from Chicago State University, Columbia College in Chicago, DePaul University, the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, Northwestern University, Roosevelt University, the University of Connecticut and the University of Illinois, Chicago.

    For a complete list of the conference program, please visit: http://condor.depaul.edu/~rsp2008/.