Luther College Chips

WGST department celebrates 25 years

Anthony Ramón Pérez Soto, Staff Writer

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The women and gender studies (WGST) program held a reception and dinner to celebrate their 25th anniversary on Nov. 10. Current and former students, faculty members, and other supporters of the program joined the celebration.

The WGST program, initially called Women’s Studies, has undergone many changes since its inception in 1991. Women’s Studies was voted as a certificate program, not as a program in which students could receive a Bachelor’s of Arts.

Associate Professor of History Jacqueline Wilkie teaches courses in the program including Gender and Women’s History and was the first coordinator of the department.

“I insisted in the word ‘coordinator’ rather than ‘director’ because I saw that as the task it was,” Wilkie said. “It was to coordinate people’s work from various programs, I was not directing them. I perceived the role as really bringing people together and coordinating them.”

Before the program began, the Women’s Committee tried to create a welcoming environment to integrate WGST into the curriculum.

“Women’s Committee dealt with concerns about paid equity, parental leaving issues, … things that directly impacted women faculty and staff at the college,” Wilke said.

As part of a national trend, programs related to Women’s Studies changed curriculums and even names. Associate Professor of Philosophy Holly Moore who teaches in the WGST Program and served on the department board from 2011-2016, talked about some of those changes.

“A lot of programs actually changed their names, generally in the 90s, from ‘Women’s Studies’ to ‘Sex, Gender, and Sexuality Studies’ or ‘Women and Gender Studies’ or some other kind of more inclusive names,” Moore said.

While evolving from a certificate program to a minor and eventually into a major, the academic goals of the WGST department expanded. Associate Professor of Political Science Carly Foster explained some of the program’s current goals.

“Some of the goals are to bring in ideas and discussions that are related to WGST from different disciplines and allow students to be able to focus on topics related to women and gender studies more broadly,” Foster said.

Moore acknowledged the affect of those academic goals on the students.

“Students get exposed to a lot of different ways of doing this kind of work and seeing how fruitful it can be to approach questions from a lot of different angles,” Moore said.

WGST minor Carla Ramírez (‘19) is happy that Luther has a program that allows students to have a better understanding about the history of gender and sex minorities. In addition, she said the WGST program gives students the opportunity to talk openly about various issues and promote creative learning. Ramírez described the importance of offering dialogue around issues that are not only of women’s concerns.

“If we cannot really talk about what gender means, then how can [we] bring change about, how can we really bring a new meaning to gender or even a new meaning to what gender can be,” Ramírez said. “I feel that with Decorah being such a small community, if the program was not there, these topics and issues would not be discussed.”

According to Ramírez, important changes have occurred in the program throughout the past 25 years and she is hopeful that positive changes will continue to affect the program and challenge students.

“We still do not seem to have classes that bring [Luther] students to be more challenged,” Ramírez said. “There could be more courses offered to really challenge and put students in a mindset that bring us out of the Decorah bubble.”

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