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Visiting professor brings new perspectives to campus

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With the introduction of pronoun pins to new students at the beginning of this year, increasing initiatives by the Gender and Sexuality Center, as well as the rise in students enrolling in Women’s and Gender Studies courses, there is no doubt that issues relating to gender and sexuality are becoming exceptionally prominent on Carleton’s radar screen.

Through the presence this term of visiting professor Elakshi Kumar, such ideas are becoming even more a major subject of discussion.

“I have always been involved in activism relating to feminism and LGBT issues,” he said. “I also have a major interest in overall power dynamics in a society and questions of representation.”

During this trimester, Kumar is teaching two courses in the Women’s and Gender Studies department: Introduction to LGBT/ Queer Studies and LGBT Social Movements in the U.S. For the past several years, Kumar has spent his time teaching courses in LGBT movements and feminism at the University of Minnesota, which is also where he obtained his PhD in Feminist Studies. When asked what attracted him to Carleton, Kumar explained how the small and personal nature ofthe school worked well with his areas of interest.

“Carleton came across as a really great space where a lot of these conversations were happening,” he said. “It’s a liberal arts college, which is different from my big university experience, so I wanted to be in a space where I could have more one-to-one contact with students and also have rigorous conversation relating to LGBT stuff.”

Kumar has not just studied matters relating to gender and sexuality, for his own personal experiences have contributed significantly to his understanding of such a focus area. He is a native of India, a country where there is quite a mix of perspectives relating to issues of gender equality and LGBT rights. He described the LGBT movement in India as currently holding many “decades of past effort with many different activist groups, and essentially drawing its impulse from the original feminist movement.”

Furthermore, Kumar himself openly identifies as transgender, a status that has given way to his passion in studying and advocating for matters relating to trans identity and LGBTQ issues both in the United States and India.

“[Back in India] it started with me thinking about my own identification,” he explained. “This led me to getting involved in feminist activism in Delhi, and that resulted in me to doing my Cultural Studies MA with a focus on trans identity. By the time I came to the US, I was thinking a lot more about my own identity and how the LGBT movement in India oftentimes fails to address transgender issues, and I began to explore these issues further.”

Since these topics relating to gender and sexuality are very close to Kumar’s heart, he has been closely involved with many similar initiatives on-campus outside the classroom. He has been working with the GSC on various events, including organizing a panel on the recent National Coming Out Day. He hopes to collaborate with the group more on future events.

During his time at Carleton, Kumar’s overarching goal is to encourage a greater number of students to take WGST courses and gain a further interest in these related subject matters.

“I just really want to start more of an open discussion on campus about these issues regarding gender and sexuality,” he said. “That’s my hope.”

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