From the Editor: Gender on Campus

By Rana Jaleel

This issue arrives in the midst of a national reckoning with sexual harassment and assault. From high-profile campus controversies to Supreme Court confirmation hearings, in this political moment it is exceedingly difficult to talk about gender without talking about sex and violence. This is both the beauty and the bane of the times. On the one hand, sexual assault and harassment on and off campus are receiving sustained attention. On the other, as the AAUP’s 2016 report The History, Uses, and Abuses of Title IX details, a narrow focus on sexual injury can mask relations of inequity on and off campus and overshadow the prevalence of other conditions prohibited by Title IX, including uneven access to educational resources, wage disparities, and inequitable representation across the university system. Crucially, mainstream feminist and campus activists have yet to grapple with what sexual or gender justice might look like—within or beyond Title IX frameworks—in the context of the legacies of slavery, exploitation, indigenous dispossession, and trans- and homophobia. Who gets left out? What histories of exploitation and dispossession are obscured in prevailing frameworks of “justice”? And what can a look at “gender on campus” contribute, both to the sexual politics of the moment and more broadly?

While not the only feminist methodology, intersectional feminism serves as a through-line for this issue’s contributors and a key way they approach these sorts of questions. Roughly speaking, intersectionality is a way of comprehending how social concepts such as race, class, gender, disability, and sexuality are mutually constitutive, or cohere and gain meaning in relation to and through each other. These social concepts help organize how we understand the world and how we recognize and explain how power moves through it.

In this issue, most authors engage intersectionality as both a theory and a practice. Anne Sisson Runyan provides a condensed history of the term’s many meanings and possibilities. Rachel Ida Buff traces the devastating effects of the “regime of austerity” on campus—a form, she notes, of class warfare—on the hard-won (if partial) gains of the civil rights and labor movements. Melinda Myrick repurposes and expands the meaning of “safe space” to include the living and working conditions of the precariously employed and in this way underscores the university’s complicity in worker exploitation—even as it champions and capitalizes on calls for “diversity,” “tolerance,” and liberal benevolence. Meanwhile, Grace Kyungwon Hong asks what the scholarship of indigenous feminists, feminist women of color, queer activists, and others can add to ongoing Title IX policy discussions. Finally, Gabi Kirk gives a broad overview of activist struggles and how graduate student organizing is informed by intersectional feminist commitments. Collectively, the contributors to this issue ask us to reckon with what “gender on campus” now means, what it can mean, and what it should mean as we teach, research, and organize in universities and colleges that are, like the world in which they are embedded, sites of both hopeful potential and crushing exploitation.