Best Becomes First Black, First Male Director in Gender and Sexuality Studies Program History

Written by
Diya Kraybill and Andrew Somerville, The Daily Princetonian
Oct. 30, 2020

Wallace Best

Wallace D. Best, a professor of religion and African American Studies, was appointed director of the Gender and Sexuality Studies (GSS) program last month. Best is the first Black and the first male director of the program in its 38-year history. 

The transition comes after the previous director Regina Kunzel, Doris Stevens Professor in Women’s Studies, completed a predetermined five-year term in the position that ended in July 2020. In an email to The Daily Princetonian, Kunzel noted that she is proud of the progress that the program has made during her time as director. 

“We’ve more than doubled our number of certificate students, our faculty are extraordinary scholars and teachers, and we just formalized our graduate certificate,” she wrote.

Kunzel added that she is “very glad” that Best is taking on the directorship and that he is qualified by his prior experience as Interim Director of the Program in GSS and as Interim Director of the African American Studies Department. She wrote that she believes Professor Best will “continue to pursue our collective goals of building an intellectually vibrant GSS with connections across departments and programs and broad impact across campus.” 

Happy to announce my new position at Princeton. Looking forward to directing this great Program. Apologies for the hair.

— Wallace Best (@nomadprof) October 1, 2020

Best did not respond to a request for comment from the ‘Prince.’ In an interview with the University’s Office of Communications, he discussed the value of a multifaceted approach to gender and sexuality in an intersectional and modern political context. 

The GSS program at the University was originally established as Women’s Studies in 1982, before it was renamed as Gender and Sexuality Studies in 2011.

Best said his vision for the program can be described by the motto “Looking Back, Moving Forward.” Specifically, he aims to focus on “visibility and impact” at the University and hopes to “maintain the momentum that we’ve gained in the last several years under the phenomenal leadership of Jill Dolan and Regina Kunzel.” He also hopes to further integrate gender and sexuality studies into conversations in departments and programs both at the University and beyond. 

Both Kunzel and Best suggest that there is value now, more than ever, in studying gender and sexuality studies, with Kunzel noting that it has become “ever clearer that issues of gender and sexuality are central to our political, intellectual, and cultural life.” 

Best corroborated this viewpoint, saying, “Gender and sexuality studies has long been involved in confronting the world’s complexities. And the world is complex now in ways we’ve never witnessed before.”

[Originally published on October 13, 2020 via The Daily Princetonian