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Wilfrid Laurier University Faculty of Arts
September 30, 2014
 
 
Canadian Excellence

Dr. Robert Diaz joined the Women and Gender Studies Program in July
Dr. Robert Diaz joined the Women and Gender Studies Program in July

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Faculty of Arts

The New Guy In Women and Gender Studies

Oct 19/11

Contact:

Dr. Margaret Toye (mtoye@wlu.ca)

or 

Dr. Robert Diaz (rdiaz@wlu.ca)

Dr. Margaret Toye, Associate Professor and Coordinator of the Women and Gender Studies Program introduces the Program's new full-time hire, Dr. Robert Diaz to the Program and the Faculty of Arts.

Margaret Toye: Welcome, Dr. Diaz, to the Women and Gender Studies Program. We are thrilled that you have been appointed as a full-time tenure-track member to our Program. Can I ask you a few questions as a way of introducing you?

Robert Diaz: Sure of course. I'm also thrilled to be part of the Women and Gender Studies Program. I'm excited to contribute to the Program's growth.

MT: I guess we can start with what seem like a simple question, "where are you from?"

RD: This question always makes me smile since I can't seem to answer it in a single sentence. I moved from Manila to California when I was 17. After college, I then moved to New York City to pursue my doctorate, and was finally hired in Detroit (with intermittent yearly stays in Los Angeles). So, I guess I'm technically from Michigan in the immediate sense, but I consider myself from the Philippines.

MT: Before you came to Laurier, you had a full-time job at a university in the States. What made you decide to make the move to Canada.

RD: I decided to move because of a couple of reasons: 1) I wanted be in a country where I felt accepted and protected as a gay person, not only through representation but also in terms of legal rights. My husband was based in the Philippines at that time, and I couldn't sponsor him for immigration purposes given the country's current laws and the Defense of Marriage Act. So, Canada was always in our radar.  2) Canada is an ideal place to settle and build roots. 3) I wanted to continue scholarship and teaching in queer studies, and thus would only move to an institution that offered such a possibility.

MT: Why did you move from an English Department to a Women and Gender Studies Program?

RD: Although I'm trained by and have worked in English Departments my entire career, my scholarship and pedagogy have always had Gender and Sexuality as their primary lenses. The most valuable thing Eve Sedgwick taught me is that queer theory, in its anti-essentialist focus, also carries collaborative and social justice emphases. I wanted to be part of a Program that was also committed to a feminist politics in terms of scholarship and pedagogy. Laurier's Women and Gender Studies Program pays equal attention to teaching transnational feminism(s) and community engagement, so I'd be able to contribute my own knowledge of global LGBT studies by adding new courses to the curriculum and by starting new conversations as the Program grows.

MT:  I don't think I have actually ever asked you before, but I imagine a lot of people are wondering: how do you feel about being a "guy" in the Women and Gender Studies Program? .and the only "guy"?

RD: It's an immense honor to be in a Women and Gender Studies Program as the only "guy." This speaks volumes about the Program's commitment to equality, since my work and past experiences are valued for their merit. My being the only "guy" also shows that we have to be aware of the many layers of privilege we bring to the spaces we inhabit. As a queer Filipino, one could argue that I am minoritized within North America. But, I'm also a man living in the West, which carries immense weight. These hierarchies manifest themselves in everyday life. So, I have to make sure that as I contribute to the various dialogues in the Program, I take note of the privilege my being a man carries, in order to foster equitable interdisciplinary thinking.

MT:  It is impressive that you have held not one, but two Andrew Mellon Postdoctoral Fellowships. Can you explain what these are? What was it like to be awarded them? What did they allow you to do?

RD: These fellowships are themed awards to pursue research while being housed in a particular institution. So, the first fellowship was based at University of Southern California's English Department, with a theme of "Comparative Ethnic Studies". The second award was at UCLA, on "Homosexualities: From Antiquity to the Present". Both fellowships provided financial and institutional resources to pursue work on my first book project, Reparative Acts: Queer Redress in Postcolonial Asian/America, which studies reparation outside of monetary forms of redress. I particularly enjoyed my time at UCLA, since I was also asked to mentor graduate students who were writing their dissertations, and to take part in the Sawyer Series, which were a series of seminars on LGBT Studies.

MT: What is the biggest difference you've noticed, since moving, between the States and Canada?

RD: The key difference involves day-to-day things, such as health care. I was surprised to see that in Canada, having health care was not connected to one's having an employer, as is the practice in the U.S. This felt more humane to me, since losing one's employment does not also mean losing one's access to health services. As I mentioned, my marriage is also recognized in Canada. The legal recognition that we are partners was an immense moment for my spouse and I. So, these might be quotidian things for most Canadians, but coming from the other side as it were, these rights carried such symbolic importance.

MT: I think it's hilarious that you have a PhD in English but as part of Canadian immigration, you had to take an English test. What was that like? (.and did you pass?)

RD: I received my IELTS results two weeks ago in fact, and I'm glad to report that I did pass with high proficiency in English. The test was a bit bizarre of course, given my educational background. During the test day, I was nervous that I wouldn't pass, and would fumble on questions that required meticulous attention to detail. Interestingly enough, since it's required for all skilled migrant applications, there were a lot of native English speakers during my exam. From a more critical standpoint, I find the argument that an immigrant's lacking English communicative skills as paralleling an inability to settle to be problematic. The test is also a cause for concern given the high fees people pay to take the test and prepare for the exam.

MT: What courses are you in the middle of developing to teach next year?

RD: I'm developing an Introduction to LGBT Studies Course which gives an overview of the various historical and theoretical shifts within Queer Studies. The course is also more transnational in nature, so we'll be discussing queer communities outside of North America, such as those located in Asia and South Africa. I'm also developing a Gender, Sexuality, and Nationhood course which will examine the relationship between the formation of nationalism(s) and narratives of gender and sexuality. Finally, I'd like to teach a course on Performing Gender and Sexuality, given that Performance Studies is a very important lens to read theories and representations of queer identity. I'm also hoping to teach a First Year Seminar course on LGBT Representation beyond mainstream culture, which looks at the representation of sexual minorities outside of what we normally see in North American film and television.

MT: You keep telling me you can't wait to get into the classroom again. Why do you like teaching so much?

RD: I decided to be an academic not because I wanted to pursue research but because I wanted to be a good teacher. When I was going through college, I was working full-time at a gas station. I was able to survive that time because of the close relationship I had with different mentors, and because of the compelling material I encountered in my courses. These are the elements that I aim to foster as an instructor. I also like challenging students with materials they may not have encountered, LGBT representation beyond mainstream culture, and theories that may be hard to easily digest. Difficulty can also be rewarding, since it teaches students to negotiate various limitations and to surpass them.

MT: You keep traveling to Manila-what brings you there?

RD: My research focuses on queer archives and social movements in the Philippines. As a postcolonial scholar living in the West, I have always felt a political commitment to invest my energies in being in the Philippines, in continuing relationships with various institutions and colleagues there. I'm cautious of performing as a "parachute scholar", or scholars who do research about a certain space by going for a few days or weeks, and then writing an entire study out of that brief period. I find this to be colonizing practice. In my work, it is necessary that I am aware of and participate in current discourses about local queer culture. More importantly, I go back to Manila because it is still "home" to me. My mother decided to return to the Philippines after more than a decade in the United States, and thus for me, family is also in Manila. 

MT: Have you done anything else besides going to and teaching at university?

RD: Yes, I did. While going through graduate school, I was also an Outreach Coordinator for the Asian Pacific Islander Coalition on HIV/AIDS in New York (APICHA). APICHA is the largest HIV/AIDS not for profit organization in the city that specifically administers outreach to Asian and Pacific Islanders. I've always told my students who want to be academics that it is also healthy to ground yourself in some form of community work, or work outside academia in general. Oftentimes, it ends up feeding our own interests, and also gives us a sense of what is it to be another form citizen, or other ways of contributing outside of being a teacher.

MT: What do you think students learn in an Arts degree that will help them in their future jobs and careers?

RD: An Arts degree teaches students critical thinking, and to approach a problem from different perspectives. Arts degrees are not only interdisciplinary, they also teach us about different cultures, languages, artistic mediums, and forms of expression. These are essential skills in a more globalized work space. Because an Arts degree also focuses on ways of articulating oneself, in writing and speaking, people who graduate with this degree are able to understand how to synthesize material in a coherent and organized manner. But aside from the more practical skills student can learn, what an Arts degree provides is a nuanced understanding of the many factors that influence the ways people interact with each other and with their environment. This is a key component of figuring out what makes people passionate about a certain task or endeavor.

MT: Thanks for the chat!  I hope that other faculty and students will have a chance to get to know what a great colleague and teacher you are sooner than later this year.  We are looking forward to hearing you talk about your current research on October 27 at noon in R138 to launch our Program's Research talks with your paper,  "Repairing a Community: Performance in the Specter of HIV/AIDS."

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