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Inaugural Boswell Symposium to focus on same-sex unions in Virginia

The William & Mary Boswell Initiative will host its first symposium on April 12 in Andrews Hall, Room 101.

The event, titled “Left Behind: The Consequences of Virginia’s Continuing Opposition to Same-Sex Unions,” will include two keynote addresses and panel discussions with activists and community members.

The poster for the 2014 Boswell Symposium (click for a larger version)“We hope this inaugural symposium will give our community insight into the topic of same-sex unions, as it pertains to the U.S. as a whole, and more specifically as it pertains to the Commonwealth of Virginia,” said Associate Professor of Sociology Thomas Linneman, one of the faculty advisers for the initiative. “We're excited to bring together top academics in the field, diverse Virginia activists and William & Mary community members to share their knowledge and experiences.”

The symposium, which begins at 9 a.m., is free and open to the public, but participants are encouraged to email Linneman in order to receive a free lunch.

George Chauncey, Samuel Knight Professor of History and American Studies at Yale University, will give the event’s first keynote address at 9:15 a.m. Mary Bernstein, professor of sociology at the University of Connecticut, will give the second address at 10:45 a.m.

Following lunch, two panel discussions will be held: one featuring activists at 1:30 p.m. and another with community members at 3 p.m. The day will end with a reception at 4:15 p.m.

In addition to the symposium, the Boswell Initiative is also sponsoring five sections of a one-credit course for undergraduates this semester. Students in the course, which began in late March, are studying two books by the symposium’s keynote speakers: Why Marriage: The History Shaping Today's Debate Over Gay Equality, written by Chauncey, and The Marrying Kind: Debating Same-Sex Marriage within the Lesbian and Gay Movement, co-edited by Bernstein.

“The one-credit courses are working wonderfully,” said Linneman. “Over 50 students are registered throughout sections taught by five William & Mary faculty. The courses are really helping to build community ahead of the symposium, as well as getting the students prepared to participate fully in the day's events. The students are really excited about the material we're covering, and are very much looking forward to the symposium.”

According to its website, the Boswell Initiative “aims to promote innovative, interdisciplinary scholarship on the cultural, economic, political, and policy dimensions of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender life in the United States and in other countries.” Established by the Arts & Sciences Dean’s Office and William & Mary Gay and Lesbian Alumni Association (GALA) in 2013, the initiative grew out of the John Boswell Lecture Series, which has been sponsoring lectures during Homecoming weekend since 1997.

Along with Linneman, three other faculty members currently serve on the Boswell Initiative’s faculty advisory committee: Chelsey Johnson, professor of English; Jennifer Putzi, professor of English and gender, sexuality, and women's studies; and Kathrin Levitan, professor of history.

The initiative is named for W&M alumnus John Eastburn Boswell ’69, who passed away in 1994. After receiving a doctorate in history from Harvard, Boswell went on to become a professor at Yale and was acclaimed for his teaching as well as his scholarship on medieval history and the history of sexuality.