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Faculty Spotlight: K.J. Rawson

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Rawson is an Associate Professor of English and Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies, as well as the Coordinator of Digital Integration Teaching Initiative. Rawson earned his BA in English Literature from Cornell University, his MA in English Literature from the University of Colorado, Boulder, and his PhD in Composition and Cultural Rhetoric from Syracuse University. He recalled that it had taken him until his second year of graduate school until he found his true calling in rhetoric. The best advice he has for students is to give themselves permission to change their mind and to follow their passions wherever it takes them, as he did. 

Rawson finds that teaching often doesn’t feel like work. He’s still surprised that he gets to make a living from having conversations with people. Especially working as a professor in higher education, he says, the students he teaches are already well on their way to becoming scholars in their own right.

As a professor, Rawson hopes to provide students with opportunities to use their own personal experiences as a tool to learn in the classroom. He achieves this by “opening up” his assignments, allowing students to bring their own interests and knowledge to the table and adapt the coursework to ensure what they learn impacts each student in the most meaningful ways for them. Ultimately, he hopes to give students a chance to do work that makes a difference—either for themselves or for a greater community. 

The approach he has in his classroom also applied to his research projects. Rawson is a co-chair on the editorial board for Homosaurus. This project serves as a vocabulary that makes LGBTQ+ resources in cultural heritage institutions more discoverable. The project recently received a Tier 1 grant from Northeastern. Homosaurus aims to be a truly international platform that supports multiple languages—currently, most terms are defined in English. Rawson explains that only providing English definitions poses an issue because there are a lot of concepts and meanings that are captured within other languages and cultures that can be lost in translation when converted into English. Therefore, providing terms in various languages will elevate the usefulness of vocabulary as well as benefit a wider, global audience.  

Rawson is also the project director for the Digital Transgender Archive, or DTA. The purpose of the DTA is to increase the accessibility and visibility of transgender history by providing a free online database that is open to all. The backbone of the project is made strong by graduate and undergraduate students doing the most important work: making historical materials available online. At its best, the DTA creates a space where people invested in trans social justice can work to make knowledge and history more readily available for others around the globe. While Rawson can track visits to the DTA from Google Analytics, those metrics aren’t the true indicator of the DTA’s impact.

According to Rawson, “what matters more are the emails and social media messages people send expressing how the DTA has helped feelings of isolation by being able to see historical material about the trans experience help them feel that they and/or their loved ones are not alone in their journeys and never have been.”

He highlighted that he can tell that the DTA is having an increasingly global impact, because he now receives these kinds of messages in different languages too. 

As people may observe by looking at high school curriculums and at systems that govern all levels of education, most schools are not teaching queer and trans history, modern relevant queer and trans topics, or approaches to healthcare and sex education for queer and trans people. Rawson emphasized that it’s important that students learn about queer and trans history because so many LGBTQ+ students come into college with no points of reference, no reputable sources of information, and very few ways of building community and connecting with other trans and queer students. Because of this, he tries to not only offer educational opportunities in his curriculum but provide pathways to also build community. Moreover, he believes that students need to gain competence and digital fluency with digital tools, so he integrates opportunities to build these skills in his courses as well. He believes these skills make students better prepared for the world. 

At Northeastern, Rawson teaches courses such as ENGL 1160 Introduction to Rhetoric, ENGL 4400 Opening the (Queer) Archive, ENGL 7380 Queer Digital Curation, and WMNS/HIST 1105 Introduction to Trans Studies. 

Outside of being a professor, Rawson is also a busy family-man living at home with his partner, three children, and two nieces. In his free time, he likes to be active outdoors and partake in activities like hiking, mountain biking, or skiing. 

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