Group meets monthly to open conversation on different issues

Casey McCarthy

A variety of individuals gathered to a few tables; the dim lighting and close proximity provided an intimate atmosphere for intellectual discussion. Questions and conversation abounded at the Science Café Monday evening, as students dissected the topic of gender identity.

Richard Gelderman, a professor of physics and astronomy at WKU and director of the Hardin Planetarium, helps organize the event, which occurs once a month. The meetings are open to everyone to come discuss a different topic or issue.

Gender identity is the most controversial topic discussed yet, Gelderman said, adding  he tends to avoid highly controversial topics. 

Gelderman said the Café started as a way to extend the reach of the Southern Kentucky Science Festival from an annual event. The Science Café is meant to be a science event for adults, he said.

Each event features a speaker who is an expert in the subject being discussed. Originally, the Café was held at White Squirrel Brewery, which Gelderman said helped build traction for the event.

“We’ve been blown away,” Gelderman said. “People want to get off work and have a cool conversation about science.”

Gelderman got the idea for the Science Café after seeing a similar one set up in Europe. He followed guidelines including no microphone, no electronic devices, no presentations and most importantly, the setting has to be a place people want to be.

“Imagine you’ve all been invited to dinner, like a dinner party,” said Gelderman.

Lance Hahn, a psychological sciences professor at WKU  , was the featured speaker. Hahn teaches a class on psychology and sexuality at WKU.

“I like the idea of interacting with the community,” Hahn said. “Sexuality can be a difficult topic to discuss, and it is better to confront the issues and move past them.”

The conversation covered different aspects of gender identity. Hahn identified three elements that make up one’sidentity — biological sex, sexual orientation and gender identity — and how they relate to one another.

“People try to oversimplify things,” Hahn said. Psychological matters are never all one way or one thing; there are always exceptions. Environment, genetics and prenatal environment are all factors that affect gender and sexuality, he explained.

Hahn spoke of gender dysphoria, or identifying with a gender other than the one you’re born with, which has been treated as a malady or disorder throughout history. Psychology often repeats past problems by simply labeling them as problems, he said.

“The discussion was great,” Hahn said about Monday night’s event. “Everyone provided lively interaction, contributing ideas and keeping the discussion going.” 

Hahn said he hopes as the conversation continues, gender identity lines will continue to blur.

Issues such as the bathroom bills in North Carolina have reinforced the topic’s debate. As our culture becomes more accepting, people become more open to addressing his or her own gender identity, Hahn said. 

The Science Café will meet next month to discuss storm chasing, led by Joshua Durkee, associate professor of geography and geology. Durkee teaches a class at WKU that involves students actively chasing storms in the Midwest.

Reporter Casey McCarthy can be reached at 270-745-0655 and [email protected]