Durba Mitra, a scholar of sexuality in South Asian history, will join the Committee on Degrees in Studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality as its first full-time faculty member in the fall of 2017.
The Committee—currently comprised entirely of joint appointments between WGS and other departments—is also searching for a full-time senior faculty member to join the following year.
WGS Director of Undergraduate Studies Caroline Light called Mitra’s appointment “historic,” and said that small interdisciplinary committees like WGS tend not to hire their own faculty. Mitra comes to Harvard from Fordham University, where she was an assistant professor of history specializing in the effect of gender and sexuality on social and political thought in South Asia.
“What’s so exciting about this year is that the deans have recognized that WGS needs to grow–that we need more faculty, and that we are having difficulty staying afloat with just our very small faculty,” she said.
The appointment comes after an increase in demand for WGS classes in recent years and, according to Light, a shortage in faculty to teach them. Although joint appointments are “wonderful” because of their interdisciplinary nature, Light said, “the labor side of things” can be difficult.
“They end up splitting their energy and time between two departments, and it’s very, very difficult when you’re jointly appointed to get all that work done because both departments are making these demands on you all the time,” Light said.
While Mitra taught several courses in Fordham’s WGS program, she said that she is “really excited” about the opportunity to be a full-time WGS scholar.
“At the time when I was doing my Ph.D., very few people were doing Ph.D.s in women’s studies. I think it really says something about the nature of the field that Harvard is hiring me as a full-time professor in WGS. It’s really expanding,” she said.
Mitra will be teaching three undergraduate seminars in the next academic year: a history course for concentrators in the fall and the theory course for concentrators as well as an elective on sexuality and colonialism in the spring. They will all explore questions of race, colonialism, and sexuality in different parts of the world.
WGS is now in the midst of hiring a full-time senior faculty member. According to Light, WGS is looking for “leadership skills and administrative talent” in the senior hire.
“We really need someone who’s going to help lead this program forward with hopefully, one day, in the not-too-distant future, maybe that transition from program/committee to a real department,” she said.
Finalists for the senior position are expected to come to campus in late February or early March.
—Staff writer Alexis J. Ross can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @aross125.
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