Justice and Gender at Georgetown

By Jeff Donahoe

Scholarship, policy, law, medicine, and society at large are increasingly addressing equality issues related to sex and gender—sex being biologically determined differences between male and female, and gender being socially determined ideas of what is feminine and masculine. Georgetown faculty have a history of scholarship and activism in gender-related issues, including biology, sexuality, and racial and economic injustice, but until now have not had the benefits of an intersectional, interdisciplinary approach to gender studies across the university’s campuses.

The new Gender+ Justice Initiative is fostering a more integrated approach, starting with how the name is styled. The plus sign attached to “gender” is intentional— it announces how closely gender is intertwined with inequity and other justice issues, says Georgetown law professor Naomi Mezey, one of the initiative’s leaders: “The Gender+ Justice Initiative fits with Georgetown’s core mission of social justice and scholarship at work in the world.”

The initiative began two years ago, and last year sponsored a day-long colloquium. Faculty across all campuses, including the School of Foreign Service Qatar, gave more than a dozen presentations including:

  • What Differences Do Gender Differences in Ways of Speaking—and Listening—Make?
  • Sex Differences in Memory and Language
  • #CanYouHearUsNow—American Muslim Women Responses to Islamaphobia
  • Custom in Question: Female Circumcision Between Cultural Accommodation and Universal Rights

The second Annual Gender+ Justice Initiative Faculty Colloquium is scheduled to take place in October 2017, with the work ahead to make the initiative a permanent Georgetown fixture.

“The potential impact is an increase in dialogue, scholarship, and policy about gender, racial, and economic justice,” says Kristi Graves, associate professor of oncology at the Medical Center. “Ideally we increase the visibility of gender issues at Georgetown as a whole.”

In addition to Mezey and Graves, GJI leaders include: Denise Brennan, professor and chair of anthropology; Nan Hunter, professor of law; and Kathryn Sandberg, professor of medicine and director of the Center for the Study of Sex Differences.

“It is wonderful that Georgetown is at the forefront of other justice issues,” Mezey says, noting that the Gender+ Justice Initiative takes inspiration from the university’s racial justice initiative. “There’s a real interest and a broad desire to pursue this effort. The many faculty members who work on these topics are thrilled to see the university embracing it.”