Melissa Autumn White joins the HWS LGBT Studies Department this fall as the first full-time, tenure track assistant professor in the department’s history.
“LGBT Studies stands at the intersection of the humanities, the social sciences, and even the biological sciences,” White says. “We’re in a very important moment in U.S. history where these issues are coming front and center into mainstream debates. There’s a lot of curiosity about sexuality and gender expression, and we need space to foster that curiosity, such that we can explore these issues with the kind of critical reflexivity and nuance that a liberal arts education can provide.”
White’s own explorations within the discipline — recognized recently with a grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) and in publications and translations — focus on “how social structures and systems of power shape people’s intimate and emotional lives, in both productive and constrictive ways,” White says.
Her first book, an anthology co-edited with Liz Montegary titled “Mobile Desires: The Politics and Erotics of Mobility Justice” was published this fall, and brings queer and feminist perspectives to bear on mobility studies — a relatively new interdisciplinary field of inquiry encompassing everything from transnational migration to the mobility of bodies to the movement of emotions.
With the $75,000 grant from SSHRC, White has also recently launched a research project called “Stranger Intimacies: Queer Migration and the Privatization of Refugee Sponsorship in Canada.”
This project, which will be the subject of White’s first monograph, explores the effects of the Rainbow Refugee Assistance Program, a government sponsored program in Canada that allows groups of private citizens to sponsor sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) refugees, who have come mainly from Syria, Iran and Iraq. The program provides private sponsors with seed funding to cover three months of startup costs (rent, furniture, etc.) to support SOGI refugees’ integration into their new communities.
White is examining this privatization of refugee sponsorship, “exploring what it means for individuals to become responsible for supporting migrating people and what it tells us about nation-state politics and international relations,” she says. “I’ll be interviewing refugees themselves alongside sponsors and LGBT activists working in conjunction with this program. It will be part of a comparative study that addresses intimate partner migration as well as what I am calling ‘stranger intimacies,’ or the unanticipated kinships that may emerge through private migration sponsorship.”
This research builds on White’s previous work on the affective governance of LGBT/queer family class sponsored migration to explore the opportunities and challenges inherent in privatized sexual orientation and SOGI refugee sponsorships.
White’s 2014 article on LGBTQ migration, “Archives of Intimacy and Trauma: Queer Migration Documents as Technologies of Affect,” was translated into Swedish and published in the fall 2015 issue of Fronesis, a contemporary Swedish journal of politics, theory and critique. The article, which first appeared in the Radical History Review, is based on White’s dissertation. In studying the documents that same-sex couples compile in order to migrate to Canada, White focuses on the manners in which the state adjudicates intimacies, or “the ways people have to perform a particular kind of intimacy in order to be considered legitimate subjects for citizenship and migration,” she says.
White is also an adjunct professor at McGill University’s Institute for Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies in Montreal, Quebec. Prior to joining HWS she taught at McGill and the University of British Columbia, Okanagan, following a postdoctoral appointment at Syracuse University and New York University’s Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality.
Her recent publications can be found in Women’s Studies Quarterly; Radical History Review; Sexualities; and Interventions: International Journal of Postcolonial Studies, as well as a number of edited collections. An active member of the profession, White serves as the vice chair of the Sexuality Studies Association, and is co-founder and co-chair of the Gender, Women’s, and Feminist Studies Ph.D. Interest Group at the National Women’s Studies Association.