A History of Sexuality Studies at Carolina
by Katelyn Campbell, Sexuality Studies Research Assistant; updated by Professor Karen Booth, Director of Sexuality Studies
The Program in Sexuality Studies at UNC formally began in 2004 as a result of years of activism by students, faculty, and staff at the University. Since its founding, the Program has provided a home for the study of LGBTQ lives and of sexuality. Now housed in the Women’s and Gender Studies Department, it offers an array of courses, an undergraduate interdisciplinary minor, a graduate student reading group in queer studies, speakers, colloquia, and films.
The mission of the Sexuality Studies Program is to coordinate scholars and students from a wide range of disciplines to study, teach, and create knowledge about human sexuality in its myriad functions and forms. As part of our work, we create opportunities for students, faculty, staff, alumni, and members of the broader UNC community to come together to learn about and address topics of concern for LGBTQ people.
Prior to the formal organization of the Program, faculty in several departments taught courses about sexuality. Cecil Wooten, now Professor Emeritus of Classics, was an early vocal supporter of sexuality studies and LGBTQ students on campus. He taught courses on sex and gender in antiquity and advised the Carolina Gay Association — UNC’s first LGBTQ student organization.
Together with many students, Professor Wooten and other lesbian- and gay-identified faculty established the foundation for a sexuality studies program at UNC. In 1992, they secured a $200,000 bequest from Carolina alumnus Charles Williamson, who died of complications due to AIDS. The money was set aside for course development in LGBTQ studies. The Williamson Fund launched courses on sexuality and LGBTQ lives in political science, history, English, women’s and gender studies, global studies, and other departments. In a 2001 oral history, Professor Wooten described the Williamson bequest as a critical step toward gaining acceptance of scholarship on sexuality and of LGBTQ students, faculty, and staff at UNC. Many of the courses developed with support from the bequest are still taught today.