By Tracy Jan, Globe Staff
Harvard University will announce tomorrow that it will establish an endowed chair in lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender studies, in what is believed to be the first professorship of its kind in the country.
Harvard President Drew G. Faust described the academic post as “an important milestone” in an ongoing effort by faculty, students, and alumni to raise the profile of LGBT studies at the university.
The university has received a $1.5 million gift from the Harvard Gay & Lesbian Caucus, a 4,900 member group, to endow the F.O. Matthiessen Visiting Professorship of Gender and Sexuality. Matthiessen, who Harvard says stands out as an unusual example of a gay man who lived his sexuality as an “open secret” in the mid-20th century, was an American studies scholar and literary critic at Harvard and chaired the undergraduate program in history and literature.
A growing number of colleges have begun offering academic programs related to sex, sexuality, and sexual orientation, though LGBT studies is a relatively young discipline. The City University of New York began the first gay and lesbian studies program in 1986.
“This is an extraordinary moment in Harvard’s history and in the history of this rapidly emerging field,” Mitchell L. Adams, a member of the Harvard Board of Overseers, said in a written statement. “And because of Harvard’s leadership in academia and the world, this gift will foster continued progress toward a more inclusive society.”
Adams is expected to announce the gift during the caucus’s annual commencement dinner tomorrow. The caucus, composed of alumni, faculty, staff, and students, was founded in 1984 to advocate for Harvard’s gay community.
The new professorship will allow Harvard to invite scholars studying sexuality or sexual minorities to teach in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences for one semester.
The visiting professorship will advance LGBT studies at Harvard by exposing students and faculty to cutting-edge ideas as leading thinkers rotate through the position, Harvard officials said, as well as help expand the field. It will also funnel new scholars to Harvard’s women, gender, and sexuality department.
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