San Diego State University’s Department of English and Comparative Literature deserves a moment in the spotlight for the great work it has done in the past month. Not only did they host an inter-disciplinary LGBTQ conference that invited brilliant minds from all over the world to our humble campus, but they also organized the Humanities in Action event that consisted of current SDSU English Professors and Master’s students who shared their research projects and interests in the field. The Department’s efforts to give students an educational experience outside the classroom that includes opportunities for attendance and participation at these academic events have not gone unnoticed.
The Coming of Age of LGBTQ Studies: Past, Present, and Future, which took place at San Diego State University April 17-18, brought in scholars from all over the world to share their work in this field with others. This conference brought in professors, master’s students, and independent scholars from the U.S., U.K., Australia, Netherlands, and Canada! It was a melding of minds interested in the advancement of the broad field of LGBTQ Studies through a closer examination of the sub-sections of interests that people investigated.
The conference also included two movie screening followed by a Q&A session with the directors. The movies were Suddenly, Last Winter (2009), with directors Gustav Hofer and Luca Ragazzi and Homeboy (2011), with director Dino Dinco. The keynote speaker, Dr. Karen Tongson from USC, gave a fascinating talk that reflects her work for her latest book project, Empty Orchestra: Karaoke. Critical. Apparatus. It offered a critique of prevailing paradigms of originality and imitation in aesthetics and critical theory, while exploring karaoke cultures, technologies, techniques and desires.
Not only was this two-day conference a huge success, but it also paved the way for The Humanities in Action program, which hosted a smaller, one day symposium for the English Department. This event allowed the faculty and Master’s students in the Department of English and Comparative Literature to get together and share their own research interests and current academic projects in 5-minute lightning talks. As a graduate student, my peers and I can say this was a wonderful experience because it allowed us to see what our professors’ areas of interests are and who would be a good person to work with for the thesis or portfolio project. Not only did everyone share their current projects and research interests, but it also lead to very stimulating conversations about the intersectionality of some of these works.
In attendance was our very own NCSCL Director, Dr. Joseph Thomas. Dr. Thomas showed off his creative side by making his lightning talk an alphabetized list of every single word from the title of all of his publications. One can certainly make note of his interest for Shel Silverstein from this list, alongside the odd words from some of his quirkier publication titles such as ““a joint rolled in toilet paper”: Funkadelic’s Funky Soul.”
The event concluded with a keynote lecture by Dr. Oona Eisenstadt from Pomona College. Her lecture, entitled “Dress for the Revolution: “The Hunger Games” and Continental Philosophy,” discussed the appeal of dystopian novels for young adult readers. She stated “In some ways, imagining dystopia is a safer activity than imagining utopia. The latter involves projecting our hopes desires and fantasies rather than simply our fears.” She continues to explain how dystopias actually result from utopias, which explains why it is easier to project our fears than our hopes: because our hopes for utopia will often ask us to sacrifice some part of our humanity. She states that the books representation of “corruption and injustice as unavoidable” in this “politically dark and hopeless” world is what appeals to most young readers. This change in the literary appetite of young adults points to a shift in the expectations and desires of young readers. Dr. Eisenstadt applauded these novels’ lack of moral that suggests “a clear eye and a good heart can set things right” because life is a lot more complicated than that and today’s youth are learning that at an earlier age. These dystopian novels introduce young readers to complex scenarios and difficult decisions that can have severe costs, and perhaps our own capitalist world with its insistence on accelerated progress will call upon these future generations soon to make such decisions in reality. Dr. Eisenstadt’s lecture was fascinating and led to a fantastic discussion afterward. It certainly was an intellectually stimulating day at SDSU!
Overall, the Department’s involvement in events such as these, and their encouragement of the students’ participation as well, has been a great example of the rewarding educational experience students in the English and Comparative Literature fields can get at SDSU. The small yet powerful community that we have here allows for a lot more personal interactions between faculty and students, which enhances the quality of the program for students and develops their own academic interests. Though we who pursue a career in the humanities are few, we are mighty in our spirit and valiant in our ideas!