MU holds first Diversity in Action seminar of the semester

The seminar began in 2006 as part of the Chancellor’s Diversity Initiative.

Huddled together with their sparkling tiaras and wearing their beautiful smiles, the first picture shown at the latest Diversity in Action seminar depicted the three winners of the 2012 Miss Chinese International Pageant.

“Why is it that in Chinese beauty pageants, there are three winners with one obvious winner, and in dominant images of Miss America and American beauty pageants, we have one woman?”

That was the question posed by Dr. Minnie Chiu, a postdoctoral fellow with the Department of Women and Gender Studies, to her audience Wednesday during her presentation entitled “Chinese Beauty Pageants: Can the Heteronormative Also Be Queer?”

Chiu's presentation kicked off the spring 2012 Diversity in Action seminar series, which started in 2006 as part of the Chancellor's Diversity Initiative.

“The idea behind the Diversity in Action seminar series when we started it was to highlight the critical research that our faculty and our advanced graduate students are doing in many different areas of diversity,” Interim Chief Diversity Officer Noor Azizan-Gardner said in her opening speech. “We get the chance to not just highlight their research but also for us to learn the work that they do and how it leads to a better understanding of the diverse and complex world that we live in.”

Chiu, who received her Ph.D. in political science from Columbia University, delivered the presentation based on her dissertation on local ethnic Chinese beauty pageants addressing the issues of race, queer subjectivity and heteronormativity through the practice of these pageants.

“We need to move away from simplistic essentialist beliefs and cultural centralism and instead, we need to ask what is it that these cultural practices, in this case beauty pageants, are actually trying to do, and we need to consider the value of heterosexuality in this practice,” Chiu said.

The 20-minute presentation was followed by a 40-minute question and answer session, which engaged both the presenter and audience in a lively discussion.

“I am hoping this can contribute to the scholarly world, but really, I see this more as a political project and I am hoping that you will, too," Chiu said. "By political, I mean I want to contest or challenge culturally established givens, let it be about ethnic Chinese or racial categories and queer subjectivity, heteronormativity or heterosexuality."

Assistant professor Treva Lindsey attended the seminar not only to support her fellow Women and Gender Studies faculty member, but also because of her interest in the ideas of examining heteronormative queerness in the space of a pageant, the construction of beauty and the notion of cultural imaginaries.

“(The presentation) helps (us) to understand the diverse identities within the Chinese-American cultures, the Chinese cultures and the Chinese diaspora more broadly and how queerness as a lens might be a way for us to rethink how we re-imagine these different Chinese communities and even how Chinese people are imagining their various communities within the context of diaspora,” Lindsey said.

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