The Camp 10 – Milton W. Wendland

This month, I have the honor and privilege to interview my friend Milton W. Wendland, a visiting assistant professor in the Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Department at the University of Kansas. Later this summer, Milton will be relocating to Tampa, Fla., where he will teach at the University of South Florida’s Department of Women and Gender Studies. (He will also get his tan on, I’m sure!) Kansas’ loss is Florida’s gain!
1. How long have you been at the University of Kansas and in what capacity?
I started at KU as part of a special program for the “top 20” students in Kansas back in the summer of 1989. We were high scorers on the ACT and took two courses with advanced KU faculty. Since then I’ve been a student at KU off and on – get a degree, relocate somewhere, come back and get another degree, relocate somewhere. … Right now I’m here as a visiting assistant professor, finally on the faculty side of things! And I love being able to teach courses like “Perspectives in LGBT Studies,” “Sexuality & Sexual Constructions,” and “Queer Film & TV.”
2. You began in American Studies at KU, but now teach in Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. How has that changed your teaching?
Both American Studies and Women’s Studies, as academic disciplines, are steeped in social activism, so in many ways, they are deeply intertwined. And both are concerned with all forms of identity – racial, religious, sexual, economic, etc. – and how inequality and power influence our individual and collective lives. In WGSS, I get to focus more on gender, which to my mind is perhaps the identity that is present everywhere. And of course as a queer theorist, it is in WGSS that I get to really work at the places where LGBT studies, queer theory, and feminism come into conflict.
3. You are also an attorney. How have you been able to incorporate that experience into your teaching?
I teach a course called “Gender, Sexuality & the Law,” although I don’t teach it as a “law school course,” but rather with the approach that the law is a narrative, a story, a set of rules that go beyond just court cases and statutes. But also, my legal training and my law practice have taught me how essential it is that we recognize how each of us is a collection of identities and can’t be defined simply as gay or Latina or middle-class or whatever.
4. What has been most rewarding about your time at KU?
The most rewarding times I’ve had at KU have almost always been student-centered, even though KU is a research university and not a teaching school. I appreciate all the emails and Facebook messages and notes I receive from current and former students, telling me that one of my courses or lectures set them on a new and better path. I especially like it when my courses enable people to see the world more fully and critically. And of course it’s really special to get notes from students’ parents telling me what an effect my courses have had for their children.
5. What are you most looking forward to about teaching at USF?
The challenge of being in a new place, a new university, a new department. And one of the things I’ll be doing is taking over the directorship of the department’s internship program, which means I’ll get to work closely with community partner organizations and help students connect their classroom learning with “real world” experiences.
6. How do you see yourself becoming involved in the LGBT community in Tampa?
My involvement with the LGBT community has almost always been grassroots style – the courses I teach, giving campus and public talks and workshops, connecting students and others to useful resources. I imagine that will all continue. But I am also looking forward to doing some pro bono legal work with LGBT groups since I am licensed to practice law in Florida.
7. What is your dream job?
Well, frankly, something that allows me to wear a Speedo and get a tan, but barring that, I’d say anything that lets me give information to people and interact with people, especially about LGBT, gender, and feminist issues. So basically… being a professor like I am!
8. Besides being an advocate for the LGBT community, you also have a big heart when it comes to animals; you especially promote the adoption of senior and disabled dogs and cats. Why is this subject so important to you?
It’s really tied to my other work – a belief in trying to be fair and just. I believe that how we treat animals is indicative of how we treat others. Studies show that abusers usually start with animals, and the link between animal cruelty and misogyny is pretty convincing. And animals and children are the ones among us least able to speak and reach out for help, so I feel they deserve special attention.
9. So, enough of the serious questions about work, etc. You’ve been in a relationship with your partner Michael for 3½ years. How do you keep things lively?
Well, it helps that he’s half my age, so we have different ways of looking at life.
10. If you could be any piece of candy, what would you be, and why?
Peanut cluster. Sweet. Salty. A little nuts.

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