about us

The Sexualities Project at Northwestern (SPAN) was created in 2010 following the establishment of a new endowment at Northwestern intended to support research and education on “life sciences, biomedical sciences and social sciences as those fields relate to the study of human sexual orientation and human sexuality.” Working together with a diverse group of Northwestern faculty members, co-directors Héctor Carrillo and Steven Epstein proposed a new initiative, which was funded by the Provost for an initial period of three years (2010-13), was then renewed for an additional five years (2014-2018), and has recently been renewed for three more years (2019-2021). Currently, SPAN is co-directed by Prof. Héctor Carrillo (Sociology and Gender & Sexuality Studies), and Prof. Gregory Ward (Linguistics, Philosophy, and Gender & Sexuality Studies).

Issues related to sexuality and sexual identity invite apparently inexhaustible public debate about the political and cultural implications of sexual diversity and its relationship to morality, equality, and social justice. Yet, we lack fundamental knowledge about many central aspects of the social structuring of sexual identity and the social and cultural implications of sexual practice. A pivotal and consequential example of this lack concerns the tightly intertwined social, psychological, biological, and biomedical factors that link sexuality and sexual orientation with health. SPAN is a broad-ranging initiative to promote research and education on sexuality, sexual orientation, and health in social context. While anchored in social scientific frameworks (including scholarship on identity, rights, policy, and immigration), the initiative is intended to be broadly interdisciplinary.

SPAN is located within the Gender & Sexuality Studies Program.


Department of Sociology
1810 Chicago Ave
Evanston, IL 60208
Phone: 847-467-0516

Héctor Carrillo is Professor of Sociology and Gender & Sexuality Studies at Northwestern.

He is the author of two books: The Night Is Young: Sexuality in Mexico in the Time of AIDS (University of Chicago Press, 2002), and Pathways of Desire: The Sexual Migration of Mexican Gay Men (University of Chicago Press, 2017). His current research investigates the sexualities of straight-identified men who are sexually interested in both women and men, as part of a larger project on the paradoxes of sexual identity as a social construction.

Prof. Carrillo serves as a member of the editorial boards of Sexuality Research and Social Policy, and Sexualidad, Salud y Sociedad: Revista Latinoamericana. Previously, he was a member of the editorial boards for the journals Sexualities and Contexts, and he was associate editor of Social Problems. He is a past chair of the Sociology of Sexualities Section of the American Sociological Association, and he served as co-chair of the Social, Behavioral, and Economic Science track of the XVII International AIDS Conference. He also has a history of involvement in HIV/AIDS community based organizations.


Department of Linguistics
2016 Sheridan Rd, #10
Evanston, IL, 60208
Phone: 847-491-7020

Gregory Ward received his BA in Comparative Literature and Linguistics (with honors) from the University of California-Berkeley in 1978, and his PhD from the University of Pennsylvania in 1985. He has been at Northwestern since 1986 and is currently Professor of Linguistics (having served as Department Chair from 1999-2004). In addition, Ward is a member of the Gender and Sexuality Studies Advisory Board and an affiliated faculty member in the Department of Philosophy. Ward’s primary research area is discourse/pragmatics (the study of contextual meaning), with specific interests in pragmatic theory, information structure, intonational meaning, and reference/anaphora.

He has published over 80 papers (including 4 books) and given over 150 talks and presentations. Recent publications have investigated deferred reference, event anaphora (with Andrew Kehler), functional compositionality (with Betty J. Birner and Jeffrey Kaplan), and generalized conversational implicature and the semantics-pragmatics boundary (with a research team). With Birner, he co-authored Information Status and Noncanonical Word Order in English (Benjamins, 1998). With Laurence Horn, he co-edited Blackwell’s The Handbook of Pragmatics (Blackwell 2004), and with Birner, he is co-editor of Drawing the Boundaries of Meaning: Neo-Gricean Studies in Pragmatics and Semantics in Honor of Laurence R. Horn (Benjamins 2006). From 1986 to 1998, Ward was a consultant at AT&T Labs – Research, working on intonational meaning. He was co-PI on an NIH grant (1991-1996) to study sentence processing and was on an NSF grant (2003-2007) to study dialogue prosody for voice response systems. In 2004-05, he was a Fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, and from 2004-2007 he served as Secretary-Treasurer of the Linguistic Society of America (LSA). In 2009, Ward was elected a Fellow of the LSA.

He currently serves on five editorial boards. At Northwestern, Ward teaches courses in pragmatic theory (Reference, LING 371; Pragmatics, LING 372; Implicature, LING 373), experimental methods (Experimental Pragmatics, LING 317), and gender and sexuality studies (Language & Gender, GSS 234; Language & Sexuality, LING 327).  In 2012, Ward received the E. LeRoy Hall Award for Excellence in Teaching in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences.

Founding Co-Director

Co-Director from 2010 to 2018

Steven Epstein

Steven Epstein (Photo by Tony Rinaldo)

Steven Epstein is Professor of Sociology and John C. Shaffer Professor in the Humanities at Northwestern and currently serves as the Sociology department chair. He is a former director of the Science in Human Culture Program and the interdisciplinary graduate cluster in Science Studies. He is a faculty member at the Alice Kaplan Institute for the Humanities, a faculty affiliate in the Gender & Sexuality Studies Program, and a Faculty Associate in Cells to Society (C2S): The Center on Social Disparities and Health at the Institute for Policy Research.

Professor Epstein studies the contested production of knowledge, especially biomedical knowledge, with an emphasis on the interplay of social movements, experts, and health institutions, and with a focus on the politics of sexuality, gender, and race. He is the author of Impure Science: AIDS, Activism, and the Politics of Knowledge (University of California Press, 1996) and Inclusion: The Politics of Difference in Medical Research (University of Chicago Press, 2007). He is a co-editor of Three Shots at Prevention: The HPV Vaccine and the Politics of Medicine’s Simple Solutions.

Epstein serves on the advisory board of the journal Sexualities; is a former Council member of the American Sociological Association’s Section on Sexualities; served on the selection committee for the Social Science Research Council’s Sexuality Research Fellowship Program; and served on the American Sociological Association Committee on the Status of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Persons in Sociology.

Faculty Assistance

Leadership in conducting SPAN activities is also provided by

Associate Director of Gender & Sexuality Studies
(on leave Fall 2018)

Administrative Assistance

Cassilyn Ostrander

Cassilyn Ostrander (sexualities@northwestern.edu) is the program assistant for SPAN.

Eliot Colin

General administrative support is also provided by Eliot Colin (gender@northwestern.edu), the program assistant for the Gender & Sexuality Studies Program, who also served as the SPAN PA for three years. Eliot joined Northwestern after completing Loyola University Chicago’s Master in Social Work program, where they developed student affairs programs geared towards LGBTQ students, staff, and faculty. They are additionally involved with trans and queer communities via RAD Remedy, an organization devoted to improving trans health access.


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