Helping students feel comfortable in the discussion


“I tell my students no one has died of embarrassment, as far as I know,” says John D’Emilio. Photo: Roberta Dupuis-Devlin/UIC Photo Services

Since 1966, the Silver Circle Award has been presented to some of UIC’s best teachers. Winners, who are honored at their college commencements, receive $500 and their names join a long list of distinguished colleagues. But what makes the award especially meaningful is its selection committee: the graduating seniors. 

Over the last four decades, John D’Emilio has established himself as one the most respected scholars of gay and lesbian studies and the history of sexuality and social movements.

Among his many career accolades are Guggenheim and National Endowment for the Humanities fellowships, the Chicago Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame and Yale University’s Brudner Prize for lifetime contributions to gay and lesbian studies.

As retirement approaches in May, he prizes the latest honor, his first Silver Circle Award, all the more because it is given by students.

D’Emilio, professor of gender and women’s studies and history, says it’s important that students feel comfortable joining the discussions that his courses produce.

“I tell them no one has died of embarrassment, as far as I know,” he says. “The way we learn is by articulating, not by just absorbing.”

His latest courses have included history of the U.S. in the 1960s, history of sexuality, and sexuality and community — his favorite. The latter begins by covering LGBT issues and history from the 1950s to the present, eventually focusing on contemporary issues such as the relationship between sexual identities and communities of faith.

D’Emilio enjoys teaching subjects that students haven’t gone over already in previous courses. “It’s all new to them,” he says.

“They know there is a big parade on Halsted Street every June and many of them go, but they have no idea the reason it’s held is because there was a major riot in Greenwich Village in 1969 that created a gay liberation movement. They are astounded.”

D’Emilio plans to write and do research, but book reviews and conferences will not be part of his initial stage of retirement.

“I would like to spend the next stage of my life figuring out how to revolutionize the content of sex education in the United States.”


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