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On Purpose: Portrait of Race, Indigeneity, Gender & Sexuality Studies

August 8, 2018
To commemorate our 150th anniversary in 2018, the College of Liberal Arts commissioned 60 photographs taken by Xavier Tavera. Departments and programs partnered with Tavera to envision their images and to write the narratives that accompany each photograph. View On Purpose: Portrait of the Liberal Arts.

Four faculty standing in front of a photo gallery of previous presidents of the University.
Pictured L to R: Terrion Williamson, Gabriela Spears-Rico, Karen Mary Davalos, Juliana Hu Pegues

The Race, Indigeneity, Gender & Sexuality Studies Initiative (RIGS) was established in 2015 to support innovative research, teaching, community-building, and engagement for scholars and students addressing issues on these topics. RIGS is dedicated to bringing faculty and students together to pursue lines of inquiry that challenge systems of power and inequality, assert human dignity, and imagine social transformation.

Faculty and students from multiple academic units organized for many years to create RIGS. Key units include the Departments of African American & African Studies; American Indian Studies; American Studies; Chicano(a) and Latino(a) Studies; Gender, Women & Sexuality Studies; and the Program in Asian American Studies. RIGS programming includes graduate student reading groups; dissertation proposal development workshops; critical conversations on comparative race, ethnicity, and indigeneity; and community-engaged symposia addressing historical and ongoing injustices. The RIGS Initiative also serves as a hub for interdisciplinary, collaborative projects such as the Critical Disabilities Studies Collaborative, and research circles on topics such as Bodies and Borders and Education Justice. 

Importantly, RIGS catalyzes University-wide events for critical conversations and creative approaches to trenchant social problems. For example, our fall symposium on Reparations, Repatriation, and Redress will bring together multiple communities, constituents, and colleges across the University of Minnesota and beyond to think through the challenges of and possibilities for repair, atonement, return, and/or apology as potential ways to address some of the foundational wrongs that have shaped longstanding American institutional structures and inequalities. 

We are also a model for critical academic inquiry, as exemplified by our new interdisciplinary graduate minor and course of study on Critical and Comparative Race, Ethnicity, and Indigeneity. This curriculum recognizes that cutting-edge scholarship on race, ethnicity, and indigeneity has importantly shifted the focus of inquiry from the study of marginalized groups in isolation from one another to a focus on the broad, intersecting processes and structures that constructed these categories, groups, and hierarchies in the first place. 

The intellectual heart of RIGS is a multiple, comparative, and relational approach to race, ethnicity, and indigeneity that stems from the pressing needs of marginalized peoples and categories. We recognize that especially given the inequality and precarity of the contemporary moment, what’s at stake in knowledge production is the interrogation of power and its ability to shape knowledge. These epistemologies have allowed academia to better analyze uneven power relations, and are permeating, transforming, and revitalizing critical scholarship throughout the university and beyond.