UVic is home to the first Chair in Transgender Studies in the world

Here’s the scoop on the world’s first and only Chair in Transgender Studies

Screenshot accessed via https://www.uvic.ca/transgenderarchives/.

Did you know that UVic is home to the first and only Chair in Transgender Studies in the world? The Chair was established in 2016 following a $1 million USD donation from the Tawani Foundation — an American charity founded by Lieutenant Colonel Jennifer Pritzker, a retired U.S. Army veteran who is also the current head of the foundation. The Foundation’s goal is to support the arts, culture, health, military awareness, and LGBTQ2+ and human rights issues. Their donation allowed UVic to appoint a Chair of Transgender Studies within the Faculty of Social Sciences for a five-year term.

Aaron Devor has been the Chair since 2016. He is also a professor in the Sociology department at UVic. He teaches two courses every year and is also a scholar in the field. Devor is constantly doing research and writing and he recently co-authored a reference book in transgender studies that is coming out in February 2019.

“The fact that we call it a Chair in Transgender Studies does create a little bit of confusion for some people because most people immediately think that means we’re a department and we give out degrees in Transgender Studies,” says Devor. “But in fact, there is nobody anywhere in the world giving out degrees in Transgender Studies.”

The goal is to become a degree-granting program one day, but that is a long ways away, says Devor. There are, however, many courses offered in other departments at UVic, however, that highlight trans issues or create a space for trans content.

There is also a scholarships and fellowships program through Transgender Studies, says Devor.

“The scholarships are for UVic students,” he says. “There’s one for Undergraduate students, there are two for Masters’ students — the Masters’ students scholarships are either for trans, non-binary, and Two-Spirit Masters’ students studying any subject or for people of any gender identity studying Transgender Studies and there’s another set just like that for Doctoral students.”

The fellowships are for people who are not at UVic, but who would like to come to UVic to do some research in Transgender Studies, says Devor.

“The fellowships come in two varieties,” he says, “one is for people who are associated with a university … they may be students, they may be faculty, they may be librarians, they may be staff, and the other is for people who are community-based.”

As the first ever Chair in Transgender Studies, Devor collaborates with many of the world’s top researchers and scholars, as well as activists and students from the transgender community. Together, they work to expand the existing canon of research concerning the lives of trans and non-binary people as well as issues like healthcare, poverty, discrimination, and suicide.  

The goal of the Chair in Transgender Studies is to compile and preserve information that will “drive social change and improve the well-being of trans, non-binary, and Two-Spirit people.”

“Right now I have a scholar who is with me for a year — a professor from China — and a Masters student from Thailand who is here for six months,” says Devor.

Another professor from Japan will be coming to UVic in the spring and will stay for a year.

The goal of the Chair in Transgender Studies is to compile and preserve information that will “drive social change and improve the well-being of trans, non-binary, and Two-Spirit people,” according to the UVic website. The Chair does this by fostering communities and creating safe spaces that support the wellbeing of those who identify as trans, non-binary, and Two-Spirit — and their allies.

The other big project that Devor works on is the Moving Trans History Forward conference. The conference started in 2014 and they have attendees of all ages from all over the world.

In March 2018, the Chair in Transgender Studies hosted the third biennial conference.

“Since 2014, close to 1 000 trans, non-binary, and Two-Spirit community activists, researchers, educators, artists, service providers, family members, and allies [from around the world] have come together to understand their past and work together to create a better future,” said Devor on his website.

The conference, one of the largest of its kind in Canada, will be held again in 2020.

The Chair in Transgender Studies hosts visiting scholars, actively supports community outreach, and provides mentorship opportunities pertaining to Transgender Studies. They are also working to help UVic faculty incorporate trans content into their courses.

“I have committed myself to making a difference in the world and I feel like this work is doing that.”

The UVic McPherson Library is also home to the world’s largest Transgender Archives, established in 2011 —before the Chair started.  Archives hold “original documents that historians use to write history,” says Devor.

“We have the largest collection of material about transgender activism and transgender research anywhere in the world. The research records go back into the 19th century [and] the activism records start in 1960.”

How much material do they have in the archives? Well, that’s a tricky question. “The way archivists describe how much they have is they say ‘well, if we put it all on one shelf… how long is the shelf?’” says Devor. “So, the shelf for the Transgender Archives would be a football field and a half long — so it’s over 160 meters.”

Devor does a lot of public education regarding the archives.

“Classes come through all the time, I go out into the public and make lectures about what we have in there, we put on displays in various places, [and] we loan material to a number of places that are doing exhibits about transgender history,” he says.

At this point, the Chair has only been approved for a five-year term. “The next five years … are not assured because I have not yet been able to raise enough funding to say the next five years will be paid for. So that’s a big project that I’m undertaking right now.”

They are constantly taking donations through the Chair of Transgender Studies webpage of the UVic website and the donations do not have to be substantial.

“Every little bit helps,” says Devor. “Right now, the original donor is still matching all donations so every donation can be doubled.”

Devor is very busy but enjoys the work and is honoured to be the world’s first Chair in Transgender Studies. “It’s work that is satisfying,” he says. “I have committed myself to making a difference in the world and I feel like this work is doing that.”

There are several events in the coming weeks being hosted by the Chair in Transgender Studies. For more information visit the Chair’s Twitter account at www.twitter.com/TransArchives.

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