Luther College Chips

Women and Gender Studies program undergoes structural changes

Anna Becker ('19) and Gillian Allison ('21) engage in discussion during the fall introduction to Women and Gender Studies course.

Anna Becker ('19) and Gillian Allison ('21) engage in discussion during the fall introduction to Women and Gender Studies course.

Karl Nyckelmoe ('18) I Chips

Karl Nyckelmoe ('18) I Chips

Anna Becker ('19) and Gillian Allison ('21) engage in discussion during the fall introduction to Women and Gender Studies course.

Karl Nycklemoe, Staff Writer

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The women and gender studies (WGST) program is considering changes to their name and curriculum. The goal of these changes is to take a more interdisciplinary approach to the major.

The program’s external review last year prompted discussion  by highlighting what the program was doing well and what could be changed. Program Director of WGST and Professor of Sociology Charlotte Kunkel explained the recommend changes.

“The suggestion from the reviewers, who are highly involved in the National Women’s Studies Association, recommended that we think about moving more towards intersectionality,” Kunkel said. “[This] means we see women’s studies and gender studies as being intimately interconnected with other oppressions.”

The shift would not move the focus of the program away from the study of women and gender in society, but rather  expand it to intentionally include other aspects of identity. Associate Professor of Political Science Carly Foster, who is also associated with the WGST program, explained the shift.

“At this point in time we are exploring the possibility of shifting from a specific focus on women and gender to a broader, more inclusive focus that will incorporate the critical identity studies,” Foster said. “This would certainly be a place where women and gender studies would fit in, but it could also open up connections between other areas of study.”

Specifically, the changes will include a restructuring of the introductory course of the program, a slight restructuring of the major’s requirements, and possibly new courses added to the program. Kunkel hopes the expanded program will include greater studies into different identities, and unique courses that have not been offered before.

“We are talking about having courses in gender studies and sexuality, but also courses in race studies, body studies, and other interdisciplinary areas,” Kunkel said. “Many of these courses are already offered, but they may be packaged together differently. This also opens the door for some new courses. I would love to see a course on post-coloniality.”

After receiving the review last year, the WGST board met and discussed the results. The following spring, the program hosted forums to introduce ideas and further discussion, followed by faculty meetings during the summer to address how the transition would work and what the new program would look like. Currently, an official proposal is being drafted and will be submitted to the faculty of the Africana studies, Asian studies, dance, and WGST departments for approval.

While any changes in the curriculum have yet to be officially enacted, the WGST program already has courses that reflect their focus on interdisciplinary and expanded identity studies. This semester, interdisciplinary courses that already count towards the WGST major include the Africana studies and English course African-American Literature, the dance course Contact Improvisation, and the philosophy course Identity and Power. WGST’s current and future interdisciplinary study of identity is important to major Sthela Gun Holly Hanitrinirina (‘19).

“Anything you are doing, no matter what major you are, will relate to identity studies, gender issues, oppression, or inequality,” Hanitrinirina said. “In business, management, accounting, and others, you will see and feel that.”

Looking toward the future, Hanitrinirina also believes that the change in the program will engage a wider community of students. She expects a greater number of non-female identifying students to consider the program as their area of study.

“I think changing the name will work, as it engages people beyond women,” Hanitirnirina said. “It will engage people who want to learn about themselves and learn about others. Learning about that dynamic between the other and yourself is a good dynamic for a college-level education.”

Beyond engaging a wider group of students, the change in the WGST program is meant to create a better sense of inclusivity in the program and student body as a whole. Kunkel believes the program changes will give a sense of belonging to students who currently feel isolated or excluded.

“I think [the restructured program] will give students who have formerly struggled with belonging at Luther an intellectual and personal home where they can see and feel belonging at the college,” Kunkel said. “So, students with differences can find a vibrant intellectual, academic, and personal home at Luther.”

Kunkel encourages students with ideas regarding the changes in the WGST program or students who may want to know more about the program to contact her at [email protected]

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