The University of Louisville was the first school in the South to offer an LGBTQ Studies minor, which was developed in 2009 by Dr. Kaila Story, associate professor of Women’s and Gender Studies and Pan-African Studies. In June, Story was recognized by NBC Out (a division of NBC News) as one of the 30 most influential LGBT people in the country.
Story, who joined UofL in 2007 as the Audre Lorde Chair in Race, Gender, Class and Sexuality Studies, recently took some time to talk to UofL News about how she ended up in Kentucky, how she approaches curriculum development, and what advice she has for her students.
UofL News: How did you end up at UofL?
Kaila Story: When I was still in Philly working on my dissertation. I saw a job advertisement in ‘Diverse Issues in Higher Education,’ for an Audre Lorde Chair in Race, Gender, Class, and Sexuality Studies at the University of Louisville. I knew that I would be finished in time for the appointment, so I went ahead and applied for the job. I got it and here I am almost 10 years later.
UofL News: What would you say is your favorite part about working here?
Kaila Story: It has to be my students that I have had the pleasure and honor of teaching, and my colleagues in Women’s and Gender Studies and Pan African Studies. Both make working here worthwhile.
UofL News: How long did the process take you to develop curriculum for an LGBTQ minor?
Kaila Story: Prior to the creation of the minor, UofL already had professors teaching about the intersection of gender identity and sexuality; for example, Anne Caldwell’s Queer Politics class and Nancy Theriot’s History of American Sexualities were already being taught before I got the job here. When I came to UofL, I immediately created a number of courses that would aid in the creation of the LGBTQ minor. I created Black Lesbian Lives, Intro to LGBTQ Studies, and Queer Perspectives in Literature and Film, which helped solidify the minor. Since its creation, I’ve also created Queer Performance. It really took no time really to get the minor going. I arrived in 2007 and we had the minor by 2009.
UofL News: Why was it important to you to have this minor in place?
Kaila Story: I think having this minor in place was important because, unfortunately, when we talk about traditional disciplines – English, history, political science, etc. – oftentimes they don’t speak to the experiences of LGBTQ folk.
We needed our students to have a more holistic view of the contributions and knowledge that have come directly from LGBTQ thinkers, intellectuals, activists and communities. Further, I think it’s important that our LGBTQ see themselves reflected within our curricula. It not only gives them a sense of where they fit in history, but it also gives them folks to admire and allows them to gain a better sense of self.
UofL News: Were you surprised to be named to NBC Out’s list of 30 LGBTQ influencers?
Kaila Story: I was so surprised and honored to be nominated for NBC’s inaugural list. It truly meant the world to me to have my work highlighted in such a way. I also felt so humbled by being listed amongst such extraordinary and influential LGBTQ thinkers and activists. I consider being nominated such a gift.
UofL News: What drives you to teach?
Kaila Story: My passion for learning and my passion for social change.
My interest in queer theory and LGBTQ Studies began at the same time that my interest in Black Feminist theory began. Being a Black Lesbian cis-gendered woman, I had been subjected to discrimination all of my life based upon my race, gender and sexuality. I wanted to be able to figure out the root of this discrimination and how I could change it. Teaching for me, became the best avenue in which I thought I could most effectively ignite social change amongst my students. This is what drives me to teach. Changing minds and the world in which we inhabit.
UofL News: How has the subject-matter changed since you came on board, if at all?
Kaila Story: I’ve learned a lot from students and other professors over the years, and have also incorporated this newfound knowledge within my courses. I go with what piques my interest, personally and academically, and begin working from there. As I have evolved and changed as a person and as a scholar, so has my research focus.
UofL News: Will UofL have an LGBTQ major?
Kaila Story: I’ve been thinking about that more and more, as my time at UofL has progressed. I think that the creation of a major is necessary and needed.
I also think that students would greatly benefit from such a thing. I don’t have anything in the works as of yet, but in the years to come I hope I will be able to see one come to fruition.
UofL News: What is next in terms of curriculum and focus in your field?
Kaila Story: Right now, I’m working on several projects, none of which I want to elaborate on at this moment because they’re still in progress. One that I am particularly excited about is a new book project that explores the representation of Black lesbian identity as it is posited within popular media.
UofL News: What advice do you have for incoming students who may be interested in this field?
Kaila Story: My advice would be to remain open to receiving new information and enlightenment.
I would also suggest that they be open to change themselves based on their new knowledge, and to turn that personal change into action. Our world only becomes better if we do. Change starts within and works outward.