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Honors College fosters place to explore queer perspectives in academics

The University of Maine prides itself on being a community where all students are encouraged to grow into their unique identities in a positive environment. While UMaine can offer a social environment that allows people of all identities to find a place where they belong, Jennie Woodard of the Honors College looks to provide a space for academic research of LGBTQ ideas through the critical exploration of texts. 

The opportunity, affectionately dubbed Project Q, is a collaborative that is centered around students’ perspectives and interests. Woodard hopes that through Project Q, she can provide students with the opportunity to hold an open dialogue and peer feedback sessions, which will allow them to examine the many facets of gender and sexuality within the literature that they are reading. 

Woodard is an adjunct professor in the UMaine Honors College who teaches classes in the Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies (WGS) Department. She has a background in studying women’s history, as well as a strong connection to WGS studies. Woodard explained that, because of her background, she is able to bring her experience with WGS studies into her honors preceptorials. This allows her to create a dialogue with students who have an interest in WGS but are not necessarily focusing on it as part of their undergraduate career. Through these interactions, Woodard has been able to provide students with language and resources to hone their interests and understanding of how gender and sexuality informs the intent and meaning of literature. 

The goal of the project is to provide students with resources and a space in which to discuss their perspectives and insight into how LGBTQ voices are expressed through the literature the students are studying in their honors preceptorials and beyond. 

“As with any class, with any subject, you can’t cover everything,” Woodard said. “It becomes very difficult to find a space to discuss these issues. When you have Walt Whitman’s poetry, and you want to discuss his sexuality, you also have to consider exploring themes of democracy, and other themes that are distinct to that time period. So, it becomes very difficult to cover that in one class.” 

Woodard first introduced the project in the spring semester of 2019 during one of her classes. When a discussion about a reading group to focus on LGBTQ perspectives in literature and in academic settings garnered interest from around five students in Woodard’s classes, she created a space for students to meet to discuss their interests. This grew from a casual reading group into a more structured format, and now the students participate in conversations that allow them to discuss research topics and generate ideas to explore as thesis topics. 

One of the students that Woodard works with through Project Q is currently conducting research on LGBTQ groups and people throughout the history of UMaine. This project is helping the student focus on a research topic that is important to them, while also expanding the dialogue surrounding LGBTQ history and LGBTQ perspectives at UMaine. Through this space, Woodard is creating a community for academic focus on another perspective which helps many students stay connected and feel accepted at UMaine. 

The project has also paved the way for the expansion of the honors syllabi. One of Project Q’s main initiatives is to create an environment where diverse perspectives can be discussed in an academic setting, and through this Woodard and Dean Francois Amar have worked closely to expand the syllabi of the Honors College Civilizations Sequence. Currently, Project Q and the Honors College are working together to bring literature written by LGBTQ authors about subjects that are important to the LGBTQ community into the HON 212 syllabus. Amar and Woodard plan to incorporate literature that discusses the AIDS epidemic in the spring semester of 2020. 

Woodard notes that the project has been a successful one. Students from various backgrounds have shown interest in Project Q, as the meetings are open to students both within and outside the Honors College. Woodard has been met with enthusiasm from the Honors College administration and says that she has gotten tremendous support from Amar, as well as Melissa Ladenheim, the associate dean of the Honors College. 

“My colleagues have shown incredible support for the project. They have explored different elements of gender and sexuality within their own precepts, and feel that it is a place that could be nurtured,” Woodard said. “We’ve really come across a lot of support, the Honors College is really supportive, and the more I reach out, the more I am sure that [the support] will be there.” 

Any students who are interested in participating in the project, or are looking for an academic environment to explore LGBTQ perspectives can express their interest to

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