Dr. Julie Kubala is a Senior Lecturer for the Institute for Women's, Gender and Sexuality Studies at GSU. In addition, she serves as the Director of Undergraduate Studies for the Institute AND oversees the Graduate Teaching Assistants in their feminist pedagogy course. Needless to say, Dr. Kubala interacts with a lot of students, both undergrad and grad. In this interview, we hear more from Dr. Kubala about her experiences teaching and working in WGSS.
Where did you go to school? What are your areas of specialization?
I studied Philosophy as an undergraduate, and in my senior year of college, I took Introduction to Women’s Studies with Dr. Jane Gallop, and that course really did change my life. What I found most exciting about Women’s Studies was that I could integrate the theoretical questions I found most stimulating from philosophy with real-world applications. Like so many other people, I was also shocked to recognize how much I did not realize that my previous coursework was so heavily focused on ideas and concerns written by those who were male and white.
For my Ph.D., I studied at Emory, in the Institute for the Liberal Arts. I feel most comfortable in interdisciplinary departments since I find traditional disciplinary structures unnecessarily confining and intellectually conservative. When I began at Emory, Women’s Studies was housed within this Institute, though it later became its own department. At Emory, I specialized in feminist literary criticism and political thought, and I also became interested in the newly emerging field of what was then called “Lesbian and Gay Studies.” My dissertation focused on lesbian autobiographical anthologies, to explore two central questions: how people use personal experience to make theoretical arguments, and how anthologies, through collecting a variety of individual narratives, can function to cohere community formations, in both positive and problematic ways.
What drew you to WGSS?
In addition to what I said earlier, I was also drawn to WGSS by theories of social construction. The idea that what we think of as “natural” is necessarily ideological seemed to provide a potent space for the possibility of deep change. While we spend a great deal of time talking about the complexities and persistence of systemic inequality, WGSS also provides openings for thinking and feeling our way to alternative visions of what it means to live in this world and to continually work to envision a more just and less violent way of being with each other.
How long have you been teaching at GSU and in WGSS? What were you doing before you joined the department?
I began teaching at GSU in 2001, part-time, and then I became full-time in 2004. Before that, and while I taught part-time here, I also taught Humanities at Clark Atlanta. I have taught at most of the universities in Atlanta, including Georgia Tech, Emory, and what used to be Georgia Perimeter, but as I always tell my students, Georgia State is my favorite place to teach, because the students here are amazing.
What are your favorite classes and lessons to teach to students? What do you see students get most excited about?
That’s a hard question, because I am deeply attached to all my upper-level (3, 4, 6, and 8000 level) courses, and I really love teaching intro. The different courses have various pleasures associated with them. I love teaching intro because it may have the most significant impact on students; it can feel significantly life-altering in ways that are truly substantial. In the 3000 level courses, students often say how much they wish they had access to information about, say, LGBT studies earlier, and how exciting it is to learn the histories and varieties of ways people experience their sexuality. In my upper-level courses, I thrive on the intellectual stimulation of class conversation and the sense that I am continually growing as a thinker and teacher. While I’ve taught some of these courses, like Activism and Queer Theory, many times, I still make new connections and have fresh insights about heteronormativity, racism, economic exploitation, and other issues, and of course, I am always learning from students in these classes. In these upper-level classes, I often see students get excited when they realize they are comprehending material that they felt was difficult. When they start to make connections and recognize their own insights, it is truly remarkable. For instance, when students begin to see the broad reach of neoliberalism or understand the explanatory potential of biopolitics, they can see themselves as part of an academic conversation about things that really matter in the world.
What’s something memorable that has happened in a class?
There are so many things that are memorable in classes! For one, several years ago when I was teaching my Girls class, one student asked if she could bring her mother to class one day. After she came to visit our class, her mom decided to go back to college! Also, one day in my Queer Theory class last semester, when we were discussing queer utopian thinking, I felt the class really cohere in a way that embodied the theoretical perspective we were talking about. These moments, which are often ineffable and inchoate, point to the alternative worlds that we are working to create.
Why would you encourage someone to major in WGSS?
First of all, I always tell students that they should major in what they are the most interested in because the skills that are important to learn in college, such as good writing and oral communication, are available in a variety of majors. I believe that, at its best, the university is a place where we should have the space to wrestle with the complexities of social justice. In WGSS, students can engage deeply with the rigors of intellectual work, and they have opportunities to think about what they care about. I think many students want to be intellectually engaged and are committed to making the world a better place, in whichever ways that make sense to them. Students should have access to this version of academia, which values critical thinking and intellectual rigor, and not only the neoliberalizing university with its investment in profit as the only marker of “the good life.”
Where do you see WGSS outside the job? (media, daily life, etc)
One thing about WGSS – you can see it everywhere! It becomes hard to watch tv, because you see sexism, racism, homo/transphobia, and nationalism everywhere. It makes it so clear how deeply sedimented these inequalities are! The compulsory nature of (hetero)sexuality and gender itself, as well as commitments to white supremacy and ableism become so obvious and infuriating when you study WGSS.
What other interests and hobbies do you have outside of work?
I love to read fiction, especially mystery novels. I also really like to be outdoors, hiking and running. And, I love hanging out with my partner, Louisa, my kid, Tayo, and my beloved friends.