From April 9 to April 11, the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (ODEI) hosted the biennial Kenyon Queer and Trans Studies Conference. ODEI, which held the conference virtually, invited an audience ranging from Kenyon students and alumni to attendees from more than 50 schools around the world to receive a glimpse into the burgeoning field of queer and trans studies.
According to Dorian Rhea Debussy, associate director of ODEI as well as the chair of the Conference, more than half of the attendees identified as transgender, nearly one-third identified as people of color and more than one-third identified as people with disabilities.
When discussing the Conference’s attendance despite being virtual, Debussy reported that they were pleased with the event’s turnout. “The response to the event has been overwhelmingly positive,” they wrote in an email to the Collegian. They attributed this success to the work of the Conference’s organizing committee, various volunteers and the community at large.
Since beginning in 2019, the Conference has become the largest LGBTQ+ student conference in the state of Ohio. Presenters like Kenyon’s own Sarah Pazen ’22 helped make the Conference what she felt was a welcoming environment.
“There was a really big sense that I felt both when I was presenting and also when I was attending others’ panels, of… how strong the community was [in] persevering and continuing to really uplift and support one another,” Pazen wrote in an email to the Collegian.
Pazen was the only Kenyon student who spoke at the conference. She was chosen after having written a Spanish paper about Ray Navarro, a famous Chicano artist, and his experience of being HIV/AIDS-positive in relation to his artwork. The Conference hosted an open call for would-be presenters, and those selected led nearly 20 workshops, including panels, discussions, information sessions and presentations.
These presentations fell under four categories: healthcare and technology; visual and performing arts; humanities and popular culture; and politics, society and law. Over the course of three days, this framework created a kaleidoscopic inquiry into everyday life in the LGBTQ+ community.
Assistant Professor of English Travis Chi Wing Lau gave the keynote speech about the importance and significance of queer and trans studies in today’s sociopolitical climate. Lau said the keynote speech allowed him to reflect on “the many ways I’ve remained indebted to [queer and trans studies] and how I can express my gratitude to these fields for making me feel seen as a queer and disabled scholar of color. I wanted also to think about what the future of these fields look like and what a practice of hope means in a moment of pandemic crisis.”
Lau feels that events like Kenyon’s Queer and Trans Studies Conference serve as a reminder of the rapidly growing academic field and contribute to the recognition that individuals who have spearheaded these developments deserve. “Who ends up on a conference program and who gets to be a part of the conversation really sends a message about which people are welcome at the table,” Lau wrote in an email to the Collegian.