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  Susan Henking  

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 for you?

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?
I 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.

What was your experience as an LGBT student on campus like? Were you involved in LGBT programming on campus while a student?
I was 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 graduate education.

How would you like to see the LGBT Alumni Network evolve in the future?
I 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 among many.

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 count?

The best fun fact, though, is my partner: Betty Bayer. She reminds me of the reason for living (and having fun).

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