From secret courts to choreography, activism to AIDS, Sever Hall 113 was abuzz Friday evening with discussions of gender, sexuality, and culture at the Harvard College Women’s Center and Harvard College Queer Students and Allies’ second annual Undergraduate Gender Research Colloquium.
While the five presenters hailed from departments across the social sciences—History and Science, Folklore and Mythology, History, Social Studies, and Women, Gender and Sexuality were all represented—the original research they had done converged around the theme of gender and sexuality.
The interdisciplinary nature of the colloquium was exemplified by work such as that of Julia T. Havard ’11, who incorporated a choreography component into her History and Science thesis on “movement constraints, codes, and violations in the shaping of the female body through physical education and aesthetic movement in Victorian America.”
Brandon T. Perkovich ’11 spoke to the value of combining the study of medicine and culture in his History and Science research on the role of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, an organization that calls attention to gender issues, in the invention of safe sex in the gay community of San Francisco in the 1980s.
“Within the context of a History and Science thesis you’re allowed to ask questions like ‘Is it such that condoms had to be something that were used to prevent AIDS, or is there an alternative? And if there is an alternative, why isn’t that alternative being used?’” Perkovich said.
History concentrator Tony R. Meyer ’11 delved into the history of queer youth at Harvard. Likening Perkins Hall 28, the preferred hangout of a tight-knit group of gay men on campus, to a “queer fraternity,” Meyer explored the development of notions of sexual vocabulary, categories, and culture in the local queer community in the shadow of the Secret Court of 1920, an attempt by University officials to out and expel gay members of the Harvard community.
Other presenters revealed a personal side to their work.
Molly E. Moses ’11 illustrated the research paper she wrote for Aesthetic and Interpretive Understanding 26: “Gender and Performance” by showing her own tallith, a fringed shawl traditionally worn by Jewish men at prayer which had controversially begun to be adopted by women.
Tara D. Venkatraman ’11 said she was inspired by her own experiences observing gender dynamics in leadership development, social justice, and classroom settings to explore her topic “Coming to Voice as a Young Urban Female Leader.” Taking a six-week hiatus from her thesis last fall, she said she felt similar challenges as those of the women she interviewed.
“My thesis journey mirrored pretty exactly some of the struggles that I think young women often go through in terms of expressing their opinions and speaking with the voice of authority,” she said.
But ultimately, she said, her return to her thesis was worthwhile because it allowed her to give voice to “young women who wouldn’t have normally been studied in an academic context or wouldn’t normally have had their voices validated as texts, as sources of knowledge.