$5 million gift to fuel new ideas, welcome new leadership at Brown’s Pembroke Center

On the eve of its 40th anniversary, which it will mark during the 2021-22 academic year, Brown University’s Pembroke Center already has two big reasons to celebrate.

The Pembroke Center, a hub of research on gender and sexuality that brings together scholars from multiple fields of study, received its largest gift to date this spring. In July, it will welcome an accomplished humanities scholar as its new director, a role endowed for the first time ever by the new gift.

The $5 million gift from Shauna McKee Stark, a Class of 1976 Brown graduate and member of the Pembroke Center Advisory Council, will permanently endow the center’s director position and bolster programming that influences the way questions of gender, sexuality and difference are addressed in scholarship and society.

Taking the helm as the inaugural Shauna McKee Stark ’76 P ’10 Director of the Pembroke Center is Leela Gandhi, a professor of the humanities and English at Brown. Gandhi, a literary and cultural theorist whose research and teaching focuses on the legacies of colonialism, will begin her three-year term on July 1. She succeeds Suzanne Stewart-Steinberg, a professor of comparative literature and Italian studies, who has led the center since 2014.

University President Christina H. Paxson said the gift will enable the center to continue breaking down gender, sexuality, race and other barriers through research and engagement that transcend fields of study.

“The Pembroke Center brings together people from across disciplines to engage with ideas that are important to the world and demand diverse perspectives,” Paxson said. “By making this profound investment, Shauna Stark underscores the importance of research and teaching on women’s history and feminist scholarship, and enables the center to grow and build on its initiatives that serve students, scholars and the public.”
As director, Gandhi will oversee a wide-ranging slate of Pembroke Center programs, initiatives, courses and research projects. Those include the gender and sexuality studies program for Brown undergraduates and graduate students; the scholarly journal differences; the Pembroke Center Archives, which houses documents, oral histories and papers that aid scholars in studying gender and sexuality; the Black Feminist Theory Project, which enhances Black feminist discourse with speakers and scholars from across the globe; and the Pembroke Seminar, which brings together an intergenerational group of scholars and practitioners from across multiple fields of study to explore topics ranging from human rights to consent.

Gandhi said one of the many reasons she was compelled to take on the Pembroke Center directorship was the “intellectually exciting and capacious” experience she had convening a Pembroke Seminar on pacifism in 2017-18.

“At Pembroke, I felt there was encouraged a spirit of genuine collaboration, intersectional inquiry and what I like to think of as dissident fields in the humanities space,” Gandhi said. “The best term for that, I think, is intersectional critical human sciences — a combination of feminist, gender, sexuality, race and post-colonial studies. I saw that, at the Pembroke Center, transformative thought mattered.”


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