Identity studies major introduced

Piper Wood, Staff Writer

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Luther plans to offer a new identity studies major that will combine the disciplines of Africana studies, Asian studies, dance and women and gender studies into one discipline. The identity studies major will be available to students starting spring 2019.

According to Professor of Africana Studies and English Novian Whitsitt the major will focus on the intersections between disciplines that combine to form the identity studies major.

“The grounding theoretical principle behind our identity studies program will be the notion of intersectionality,” Whitsitt said. “[Intersectionality is] a term that highlights the ways in which systems of power, privilege, hierarchy, and domination are in place in most social environments, and it looks particularly  at how those systems coalesce . . . as a result of those moments of overlapping, what you have are unique kinds of subjectivities and identities.”

The major will require 10 courses overall, with five core courses and three different areas of studies: gender and sexuality, race and ethnicity, and body studies. Whitsitt explained that students will be required to take courses in each area, but are also able to specialize in a specific area of study.

According to Whitsitt, the new major will be an adjustment to the already existing disciplines in order to satisfy the needs and interests of students.

“This is a move to create a new major that is relevant to students’ lives in a new and exciting way,” Whitsitt said. “Much of the coursework will remain similar to what currently exists in these different majors and yet they will be reshaped and crafted in order to speak more directly to the goals of identity studies and intersectionality.”

Anna Lavender (‘21) is looking forward to the possibilities of the new major for expanding the overlap of identities in the 21st century.

“Given recent events, it is really important to have an open dialogue about the role of race in our society and to figure out how to have a society where everyone is equal,” Lavender said. “With the [#Metoo] movement, and with society viewing gender differently, [identity studies will be] more current than looking at women and gender studies under one perspective.”

The creation of the major will dissolve the respective individual majors.

“These programs and majors have all faced similar challenges in creating interest among the student body in our courses,” Whitsitt said. “We would like to see a greater level of student interest in our courses, for the sake of the courses and not for the sake of general education requirements.”

Whitsitt is aware of what this change means for the visibility of Africana studies and was initially concerned about the shift to identity studies.

“Africana studies has been a central part of the Luther identity and campus life for a long time,” Whitsitt said. “As a faculty member of Africana Studies that has been here for basically 20 years, I don’t take lightly what it means for Africana Studies as a department to be subsumed within a new major and department.”

Although the majors will all be dissolved, Lavender is optimistic about the opportunities that the interdisciplinary study will offer students moving forward.

“None of these disciplines are mutually exclusive,” Lavender said. “They are all cohesive with each other and they all run into the same kind of issues with identity…having the opportunity to look at all the different aspects of the identity is really interesting.”

Women and Gender Studies professor Holly Moore is interested in the major as a facet of Luther’s interdisciplinary mission.

“I’m very excited about this program, both for what it can offer the faculty involved and how it can become a model for truly interdisciplinary, intersectional study.” Moore offered.

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