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Rice University’s Women’s Center Celebrates 25 Years

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Mission has evolved to include LGBTQ issues.

By Lourdes Zavaleta

As with other women’s studies programs, an interest in sexuality and gender identity has progressively become more visible at Rice University’s Center for the Study of Women, Gender, and Sexuality (CSWGS).

“Feminism has a deep interest in sexuality, gender identity, and gender expression, stretching back to the ‘60s and ‘70s,” says Brian Riedel, the center’s openly gay associate director. “LGBTQ topics have always been a part of our center’s work, but sexuality was only reflected outwardly as a part of our name in 2005.”

Brian Riedel

In 1991, the Study of Women and Gender became an undergraduate major at Rice. Since then, a consistent thread of undergraduate honors theses have focused on sexuality and gender identity. LGBTQ courses, however, were not offered until almost 10 years later, in 2000.

In 2005, the Study of Women and Gender was renamed as the Program for the Study of Women, Gender and Sexuality.  

CSWGS director Susan Lurie, who has been involved in Rice women’s studies for 30 years, says she has seen significant growth in the center’s programming and community outreach over the last decade.

Lurie credits Riedel, who has taught LGBTQ courses at the university since 2008.

“Brian has been a very active component in bringing new research to the CSWGS’ curriculum,” Lurie says.

Through lectures, coordinating projects, and as a professor, Riedel has contributed to the university’s advancement of gender and sexuality research.

After receiving his doctorate in anthropology from Rice in 2005, he became involved in Houston’s LGBTQ community as a health education program coordinator for the Montrose Center. When he began lecturing at Rice three years later, a part of his curriculum was dedicated to collecting Houston’s LGBTQ history.

Each semester, Riedel had his students interview people who made contributions to Houston’s queer communities. Their findings would be presented in class as well as to Pride Houston as material for its history tent at the annual festival and parade.

The oral projects are now a part of the Houston Area Rainbow Collective History (Houston ARCH), an archive of Houston’s LGBTQ history that Riedel founded with a coalition of other activists in 2008. The histories are currently stored at Rice’s Woodson Research Center.

“We don’t just offer classes and give people degrees,” Riedel says. “We are helping to train the next generation of feminist and queer leaders by putting them in relationships with existing activists.”

Along with its contribution to the Houston ARCH and the seminar and practicum, the CSWGS houses Feminist Economics, a peer-reviewed journal that provides and open forum for dialogue and debate about feminist perspectives. The newly added Rice Feminist Forum is an online space where students can engage in urgent public concerns.

“These spaces allow students to have conversations that will make this a world a place that we want to live in,” Riedel says. 

In honor of its 25th anniversary, the CSWGS has several special events planned.   

“We look forward to continuing to expand our reach for years to come,” Riedel says. “Our goal is to bridge the work that takes place inside of the academy with the broader Houston community.”

 

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Lourdes Zavaleta

Lourdes Zavaleta recently graduated from the University of Houston with a degree in journalism. She is a staff writer for OutSmart magazine.
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