Duke Course on Transgender Studies To Hold Service-Learning Showcase Friday

Cole Rizki leads discussion in a service-learning course on transgender studies.
Cole Rizki leads discussion in a service-learning course on transgender studies.

When Cole Rizki first heard about HB2, North Carolina’s infamous “bathroom law”, he immediately changed the syllabus for his class to reflect what was happening. This fall, Rizki, a Ph.D. candidate in literature, is teaching Duke's first service-learning course on transgender studies.

The course is sponsored by the Literature Program, Duke Service-Learning and the Transgender Studies & the Humanities speaker series.

“It feels urgent and necessary in light of HB2, and is something that I have such personal and professional investment in. Being able to further these conversations feels really vital for me right now,” says Rizki, who identifies as transgender and whose scholarship focuses on cultural and theoretical representations of transness in Latin America.

A lot of students felt compelled to take the class to better understand HB2 and Rizki was able to bring some of the discussion happening in courtrooms to the classroom. Joaquín Carcaño, the lead plaintiff of the ACLU case against Governor McCrory came to speak to the class and tell his side of the story. “Having Carcaño come into class really changed my perspective on HB2. It can be easy to see the political side of it and not understand how this impacts someone on an individual basis,” said Bianca Martin, a senior currently enrolled in the class.

In addition to hearing from legal experts and transgender studies scholars, students are taking what they’ve learned through class discussion and readings into the community. Eleven students are doing service-learning projects with six community organizations in Durham. The partnerships and projects not only offer a breadth of experiences for students but also will generate resources that will outlast the course and not reenact harm on a vulnerable population. “To me it’s an ethical imperative: who benefits from these interactions? Students who are learning to navigate difference or those whose ‘difference’ ends up on display?” says Rizki. 

Once every two weeks, senior Samantha Huff meets with Kristen Russell, LCSW, a social worker and one of the co-founders of the Duke Child and Adolescent Gender Care Clinic, to develop a set of resources that can be given to patients, ranging from self-care tips to safe-binding and tucking practices. “The topics from class have been really helpful in trying to think through what would be the best way to create these resources,” she says.

Zephyr Farah, a sophomore, has been working with the Museum of Durham History to collect oral histories of LGBTQ+ people living in Durham. The stories will be archived online through community member Luke Hirst’s archive project “Love and Liberation: a History of LGBTQ+ Durham” hosted by the Durham Public Library website. For Farah, the project represents an opportunity to burst the Duke “bubble” and learn about activist history in the surrounding city.

In an effort to continue the conversation and expand coverage of trans* issues across the university, Gender, Sexuality and Feminist Studies is running a year-long series on Transgender Studies & the Humanities and is hosting a post-doctoral fellow in transgender studies for the next academic year, who will teach another dedicated course. Through greater awareness and scholarship dedicated to transgender issues, students, faculty and staff can become better advocates for marginalized communities.