World’s only chair in transgender studies

Social Sciences

- Anne MacLaurin

A million dollar donation to establish a chair in transgender studies—the first of its kind—will make all the difference to students such as Alyx MacAdams, who self-identifies as a genderqueer and trans-masculine person.

“I am very grateful that this chair now exists, and I look forward to participating in and witnessing what happens over the next few years,” says MacAdams.

“It was through building community at university, taking courses that included content about gender identity and expression, and volunteering with student advocacy groups that I came to understand my identity as a genderqueer and trans-masculine person,” MacAdams adds.

Supporters, friends, MLAs, students, faculty and members of the university executive were on hand for the historic announcement on Jan. 15 in the UVic library archives and special collections. UVic President Jamie Cassels, Dean of Social Sciences Catherine Krull, MP Esquimalt-Saanich-Sooke Randall Garrison, Dr. Aaron Devor and social work masters student Alyx MacAdams all provided remarks.

“The overwhelming reality for transgender people during most of the 20th century was profound isolation, secrecy, silence and shame,” according to Devor, who will fill the chair for its inaugural five-year term in UVic’s Faculty of Social Sciences.

UVic established the new chair to inspire research and discussion and to tackle essential issues that make a difference for members of the trans and gender nonconforming people, who often occupy complicated, vulnerable and contested positions in wider society. The chair is supported by a donation of $1 million USD by from the Tawani Foundation, founded and led by Lieutenant Colonel Jennifer N. Pritzker, US Army (Retired). In addition, the foundation has also pledged up to another $1 million USD to match contributions from other donors toward the Chair in Transgender Studies at UVic.

“The Chair in Transgender Studies sets UVic apart as a place that offers the highest quality research and is also home to exceptional students, faculty and staff who inspire bold action for positive impact on the lives of others," says President Jamie Cassels. "I am proud of our campus community’s commitment to diversity, as well as grateful to Dr. Devor, Lt.-Col. Pritzker, the Tawani Foundation and all those who help us continually learn and grow in a welcoming environment that promotes the rights and affirms the dignity of all persons.”

As the first Chair in Transgender Studies, Devor will work with some of the world’s top researchers and scholars, thought leaders, transgender community activists and students to further research into a broad range of topics concerned with the lives of trans and gender-nonconforming people—including crucial issues such as healthcare, poverty, discrimination and suicide.

“The University of Victoria has made itself a leader in the subject of human gender identity,” Pritzker noted. “It has already established a first-class archive on the topic—the largest and most comprehensive in the world. My support is an investment in success. It is a major personal goal of mine that this chair in transgender studies stimulates the outstanding work of other institutions and creates a global network for the study of this topic.”

“Far too many trans and gender nonconforming people still live in poverty and fear,” added Devor. “As the inaugural chair, I will act as a resource locally and internally for those needing information for their own research or for policy development, as well as building linkages between community-based and academic scholars working in transgender studies,” continued Devor, who is also the founder and academic director of the Transgender Archives at UVic, launched in Sept. 2011 at meetings of the World Professional Association for Transgender Health.

The Transgender Archives at UVic represents 17 countries on five continents, more than a century of research and over 50 years of activism. If the materials were lined up along one long shelf, the collection would stretch the length of a football field.

Devor is an elected member of the elite International Academy of Sex Research, an elected Fellow of the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality and a national award-winning teacher. He is a professor in UVic’s Department of Sociology and a former dean of UVic’s Faculty of Graduate Studies.


In this story

Keywords: transgender, gender, research

People: Aaron Devor

Related stories