A College of the Holy Cross professor’s project to develop a “Digital Transgender Archive” (DTA) was recently hailed by Dr. Margaret Freije, dean of the College, who cited the Jesuit mission of Holy Cross in support of the initiative, according to the College’s magazine. Asked whether such an initiative could conflict with the College’s Catholic identity, a Holy Cross spokesperson simply verified the dean’s support for the project.
Assistant professor of English K.J. Rawson received an $84,700 grant earlier this year from the American Council of Learned Societies’ Digital Innovation Friendship in order to build a transgender archive, which will reportedly be “the first digital archival collection of transgender-related historical materials.”
The project reportedly “aims to develop a database of information on the works, studies and experiences of transgender individuals and the social movement to advance their rights” and will “put all sorts of people, from seasoned researchers to inquisitive youth, in quick and easy contact with primary historical materials so that they can better understand transgender phenomena.”
“Given our mission as a Jesuit undergraduate college and our commitments to scholarly excellence and engagement with the world, it seems particularly appropriate that this work will allow our undergraduates to pursue original scholarship in digital humanities and will allow them to engage with a community that historically has been marginalized and excluded,” Dean Freije, who also serves as vice president for academic affairs, told the magazine.
Rawson similarly told the magazine that “the core Jesuit qualities that distinguish Holy Cross” serve to inspire the initiative and stated that “Holy Cross encourages every member of our community to be passionate about truth, promote social justice and foster dialog in order to more deeply understand and respect diverse experiences.”
Neither Rawson nor Dean Freije mentioned in the article how Catholic teaching on sexual identity would be supported through the project. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that “‘being man’ or ‘being woman’ is a reality which is good and willed by God” and they “reflect the Creator’s wisdom and goodness,” as “man and woman have been created… in their respective beings as man and woman.”
“A person might object to transgender people for any number of reasons, including religious beliefs, but such objection doesn’t eradicate the existence of transgender people,” Rawson told the magazine. “The DTA represents a viable and important scholarly enterprise.”
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Rawson reportedly said that the response to the project had been positive. “I haven’t heard a single negative thing. In fact, I have been directly approached by a few different alums who have been out of touch with Holy Cross for many years, some for decades, because they had some negative experiences around LGBTQ issues on campus,” he said in the article. “When they learned of my project, they reached out with excitement and enthusiasm that Holy Cross was supporting this type of work.”
On his website, Rawson describes his scholarship as being “at the intersections of queer, feminist, and rhetorical studies… focus[ing] on archives (in both a theoretical and material sense) and the ways that they facilitate the collection, organization, access, and preservation of LGBT pasts.” He has an M.A. in English Literature with an emphasis in queer theory and completed his Ph.D. at Syracuse University with a dissertation titled, “Archiving Transgender: Affects, Logics, and the Power of Queer History.” He currently teaches in a variety of fields at Holy Cross, including “LGBT Studies.”
The College of the Holy Cross responded to The Cardinal Newman Society’s request for comment on whether this project was in conflict with the College’s Catholic identity by simply reconfirming the comments “[a]s our Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of the College stated in the article.”
Reprinted with permission from The Cardinal Newman Society.