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The Provost’s 2023 Outstanding Teaching Awards: Elizabeth Williams

By Lindsey Piercy 

A portrait of a professor.
Elizabeth Williams

LEXINGTON, Ky. (June 8, 2023)  Elizabeth Williams, an assistant professor in the Department of Gender and Women’s Studies in the College of Arts and Sciences, is one of 10 winners to receive the University of Kentucky’s 2022-23 Outstanding Teaching Awards.

These awards identify and recognize individuals who demonstrate special dedication to student achievement and who are successful in their teaching. Recipients were selected via nomination and reviewed by a selection committee based in the UK Provost’s Office for Faculty Advancement and the Center for the Enhancement of Learning and Teaching.

Williams is well-known for pushing boundaries to create avenues for learning that extend beyond classroom walls and provide lasting educational experiences.

"I'm excited and honored to receive this recognition of my work as an instructor here at UK,” she said. “As a professor, I see myself as a collaborator — working with my students to help them find ways to make sense of their own experiences, and to develop the skills and mindset necessary to engage with experiences different from their own." 

Williams has taught courses on a variety of topics, including the politics of sex scandals, the history of sexuality and global LGBTQ+ identities.

In addition to teaching, Williams conducts research on the history of race, gender and sexuality. Her book, “Primitive Normativity: Race, Sexuality, and Temporality in Colonial Kenya (Duke Press),” will be published this fall.

While traditional scholarship has argued colonizers universally represented indigenous peoples as sexually deviant, Williams argues an entirely different narrative developed in colonial Kenya — a narrative that emphasizes the normativity of Kenyan African sexuality. 

The book traces the genealogy of a distinct narrative about African sexuality that British colonial authorities in Kenya used to justify their control over African populations.

Williams identifies a discourse of “primitive normativity,” which suggests Kenyan Africans were too close to nature to develop the forms of sexual neuroses and practices such as hysteria, homosexuality and prostitution that were supposedly common among Europeans.

Throughout the book, Williams demonstrates that colonial officials and settlers used this narrative to further the goals of white supremacy by arguing that Africans’ sexuality was proof that Africans must be protected from the forces of urbanization, Western-style education and political participation.

Williams is also the co-editor of a collected volume on The History of Sexuality and has published articles in Gender & History and the Journal of Colonialism and Colonial History.

This year’s Outstanding Teaching Awards were given to seven faculty members and three graduate teaching assistants. Each winner received an award certificate, a commemorative engraved gift and a cash award in recognition of their teaching excellence.

As the state’s flagship, land-grant institution, the University of Kentucky exists to advance the Commonwealth. We do that by preparing the next generation of leaders — placing students at the heart of everything we do — and transforming the lives of Kentuckians through education, research and creative work, service and health care. We pride ourselves on being a catalyst for breakthroughs and a force for healing, a place where ingenuity unfolds. It's all made possible by our people — visionaries, disruptors and pioneers — who make up 200 academic programs, a $476.5 million research and development enterprise and a world-class medical center, all on one campus.   

In 2022, UK was ranked by Forbes as one of the “Best Employers for New Grads” and named a “Diversity Champion” by INSIGHT into Diversity, a testament to our commitment to advance Kentucky and create a community of belonging for everyone. While our mission looks different in many ways than it did in 1865, the vision of service to our Commonwealth and the world remains the same. We are the University for Kentucky.