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Instructor Spotlight: René Esparza

Dr. René Esparza (he/his) is Assistant Professor in the Department of Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Washington University in St. Louis. He holds a PhD and MA in American Studies from the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities.

At WashU, Dr. Esparza teaches courses that address the racial and sexual politics of public health as well as courses that examine gentrification and its impact on gender and sexuality. Committed to the use of knowledge as a means of dismantling oppressive systems, Dr. Esparza’s teaching foregrounds self-reflexivity—the deliberate examination of how and why people come to their beliefs in the context of broader power relations. With this understanding, students are then able to apply the lessons learned in the classroom to generate solutions for problems outside the classroom.

Like his teaching, Dr. Esparza’s research considers how space interacts with existing structural inequities in exposing certain populations to ill health and disease, including HIV/AIDS and now COVID-19. His upcoming book manuscript, From Vice to Nice: Race, Sex, and the Gentrification of AIDS, explores how privacy-oriented approaches to HIV prevention in the 1980s coincided with and amplified the “cleaning up” of low-income neighborhoods and the policing of communities of color in the upper Midwest.

In his free time, Dr. Esparza enjoys staying active. He is an avid CrossFitter, runner, and certified yoga instructor. Dr. Esparza’s hobbies also include watching films (from the indie flick to the superhero blockbuster), trying out new restaurants, and listening to podcasts and musical theater selections. A Chicago native, Dr. Esparza is a lifelong Bears fan.


Dr. Esparza teaches the  Exploration Course: Spandex, Spangles, and Stripes: Race, Gender, and the American Superhero.

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