In her own words, Professor Juana María Rodríguez, Gender & Women's Studies, was "an accidental academic." She did not go to college after high school, having left home at the age of 17 to work. It was only after a chance encounter with one of her former high school teachers at a gay bar that she even considered enrolling in college.
It would take her 11 years to finish her BA. Rodríguez recalled being a freshman, "and hearing the word 'syllabus' in all of my classes, and not knowing what they were talking about and not being able to spell the word in order to look it up." A point she always likes to mention, and believes is especially relevant now, is that she was a product of the California public educational system. She took classes at City College of San Francisco (at five dollars a unit); received her BA from San Francisco State University (365 dollars a semester for all the classes you wanted); and earned her Ph.D. in Ethnic Studies at Berkeley.
Professor Rodríguez is interested in the underlying questions that motivate the political and social relationships in the queer Latin@ community (the arroba or @ sign in a term like Latin@ or amig@s, is a way to get around the gender binary of Latino or Latina or Latino/a; an inclusive way to talk about where you are “at” in terms of gender). In her book Queer Latinidad, Rodríguez presents language usage amongst the queer Latin@ community in San Francisco as both a vehicle to express ideas, and as a powerful instrument that produces and conveys concepts, feelings, sensations, anxieties and desires. Her work reveals how social movements, law, and cyberspace present generative possibilities as well as limitations for representing the queer Latin@ subject.
Rodriguez believes that there should be a scholarly imperative for understanding how gender and sexuality are constituted through language, ethnicity, and race as well as by history and location. She believes it is impossible to fully discuss race without an understanding of sexuality, because sexuality is foundational to the very idea of race, nation or culture. The risk is always, she acknowledges, that work by queer scholars of color will be ghettoized—that is to say, marginalized as being only about a particular sub-group or identity, and not about the larger, more meaningful issues of desire, temporality, space, sociality or justice that define their collective experiences. She believes however, that the scholarship being produced right now at the intersections of queer studies and ethnic studies are simply too important, and too powerful, to be ignored. Thus, ethnic studies scholars who ignore sexuality, or queer studies scholars who elide questions of race, do so at their own risk.
Now in her role as an educator and mentor, Professor Rodríguez always strives to get students to think in intellectually imaginative ways about themselves and their relationships to the world around them. Much of what she attempts to do in her classes is to get students to question all of the assumptions that they bring with them into the classroom, such that even as she tries to teach students about race, gender, nation, ability, sexuality and other forms of difference, she also tries to get them to question the underlying assumptions that produce these very categories. In her current research, Rodríguez is interested in exploring how sex and sexuality are utilized in different political discourses pertaining to a wide range of subjects including kinship and domesticity, academic freedom, visual cultures, and state projects of nation building. Her project considers how normative ideas about sexual subjects and sex itself are produced and disciplined through ideas about race and sexuality.