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Kelly Named a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow

June 8, 2009

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Woodrow Wilson Fellow Reese Kelly of UAlbany

UAlbany doctoral student Reese Kelly has been selected as one of seven 2009 Woodrow Wilson Fellows nationwide. (Photo Mark Schmidt) 

Reese Kelly, 27, a fifth-year student in the sociology doctoral program at UAlbany, has been selected as one of seven 2009 Woodrow Wilson Women's Studies Dissertation Fellows nationwide.

As a Woodrow Wilson Fellow, Kelly joins a list of scholars that includes 13 Nobel Laureates, 14 Pulitzer Prize winners, and 35 MacArthur Fellows. Among them have been novelist and poet Margaret Atwood, Presidential historian and Pulitzer Prize winner Doris Kearns Goodwin, and U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, a winner of the Nobel Prize in physics.

For Kelly, who grew up in Troy, Mich., the award will fund his dissertation project entitled Borders That Matter: Trans Identity Management.

"In our society we have a set of expectations, 'norms,' regarding sex and gender, that fundamentally shape how we see ourselves, how we view and construct our bodies, how we interact with each other, and how we interact with institutions," said Kelly.

Some of these assumptions are: that there are two discrete sexes, male and female; that men and women are opposite and complementary genders and the only genders; and, that every man is born male and every woman is born female. These assumptions are inaccurate and they create a society where people who fall outside of the categories are at risk of harassment, rejection, violence, isolation, and institutional erasure in subtle and overt ways, according to Kelly.

"While some research has been done on the identity development of those who change genders, the goal of my research is to show how these societal norms shape the way that trans people experience their gender," he said. "In other words, in what ways do trans people understand and express their identities living in a culture that is structured around the aforementioned gender norms?" 

Kelly is on the board of directors of the Capital District Gay and Lesbian Community Council, and is a leader and educator on transgender-related topics. "Something that is important to me that motivated my further interest in this area of research is that I transitioned from being a woman to a man while in graduate school. This is something that I am very open about and proud of," he said.

"I hope that my research is relevant to the daily lives of trans people and creates an awareness of the intricacies of gender for trans and non-trans people alike," said Kelly, who joins Middlebury College in Vermont this fall as a visiting instructor. 

Kelly is also the recipient of a 2009 Allen E. Liska Dissertation Research Award and a University at Albany Benevolent Grant. He helped the Department of Women's Studies propose and implement a new minor in LGBTQ studies this past academic year.

The highly competitive Woodrow Wilson fellowship remains the only national fellowship for doctoral students writing on women's issues in humanities and social science fields.

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