Susan Henking, AM'79, PhD'88
Volunteer, Steering Committee Director, Oral History Project Contributor
Susan Henking was born in Darby, PA
and raised entirely in Paoli, PA, where she attended public schools.
After graduating from Duke University in 1977 with a BA in Religion
and Sociology, Henking advanced to the University of Chicago Divinity
School, earning an AM in 1979 and PhD in 1988. From 1988 until 2012,
she was a faculty member in the Department of Religious Studies at Hobart and William Smith
Colleges in New York. In 2013, Henking was inaugurated as President
of Shimer College in Chicago. She joined the LGBT Alumni Network's Steering Committee in 2011.
Why did you
get involved in the LGBT Alumni Network?
During my time at
the U of C, it was LGBT (actually L and G) friendship circles that
shaped my life, standing with me during life difficulties, providing
fun and more. During my career, I have come to focus on LGBT issues
as a scholar. And I believe coming generations, like my own, are
better off if we know our history. Plus, I never believed the U of C
would have such an organization!
What inspired you to participate in the Oral History Project? How was that experience
As I said: history matters. We are all too often
rendered invisible through the intentional or unintentional forces of
mainstream history. This seems to me especially so for lesbians. The
period when I was at the university was a lively and important one
for lesbian, gay and LGBT history with some similarities to today;
many victories and yet many many challenges. So we must know that
history as well.
Do you have other UChicago involvement?
stay in touch with friends -- and my partner, Betty Bayer, is
currently a senior fellow at the Martin Marty Center; I have been
more in touch since my time at Shimer. Current Dean of the Divinity
School Margaret Mitchell spoke at my inauguration, for example.
was your experience as an LGBT student on campus like? Were you
involved in LGBT programming on campus while a student?
briefly involved with a student organization at the end of the 1970s.
My experience was twofold: a very complex situation for lesbians at
the Divinity School where I was very well supported, but religion and
sexuality (like today) were complexly entangled and a very close set
of friends from across the university -- the College, the Div School,
various social science areas, staff -- who were L or G. As a young
woman who came out in 1976, the period was just like the histories
tell -- filled with organizations and bars for women only (code for
lesbian) and very entangled life-altering relationships. Being a
lesbian allowed - perhaps required - knowing people outside the
classroom and took me out of Hyde Park as well. In some ways it did
not matter at all; in other ways it was central to the decade of my
would you like to see the LGBT Alumni Network evolve in the future?
think engaging a range of events in the different schools within the
University would be wise. I also think the group can shape the future
by living on the edge that I believe is an inclusive LGBT life --
challenge the status quo, don't merely join it as one constituency
Please share a fun fact about yourself
with the Network’s readers.
I was recently profiled in the
New York Times
in the section called "The Boss." I did the interview via
telephone from a truck in Alberta during a major flood. Does that
The best fun fact, though, is my partner: Betty Bayer.
She reminds me of the reason for living (and having fun).