Linh Do, Staff Writer

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The departments of Women and Gender Studies, Africana Studies and Asian Studies combine disciplines to create new field of study.

Professor of Women and Gender Studies Charlotte Kunkel, Professor of Africana Studies and English Novian Whitsitt, Professor of Religion Gereon Kopf, and Professor of Dance Jane Hawley (‘87) are creating a new identity studies major that combines all four disciplines into one new discipline.

The new major will allow students to explore the notion of intersectionality  as it pertains to forms of oppression and systems of power. Whitsitt is optimistic about the new combined major.

“We see that there is an exciting opportunity to merge some of the different majors on campus into an area of common ground that allows us to combine our areas of expertise in creative ways,” Whitsitt said. “The [combined majors] have some common ground with regard to looking at the way in which people have shaped their own identity in very complex ways and have used those identities to empower themselves as they confront various kinds of systems of oppression.”

Kopf says that the new major will provide students with various opportunities that can help them in their  vocations and professions.

“The whole [concept of] intersectionality is possible now and it’s marketed as such,” Kopf said. “Through the department, we can have a better opportunity in terms of finding funding, [having relationships with] other institutions, [setting] up internships, and also studying abroad. So we are now working together, not three independent small agencies, we now have one bigger agency so we [have] more support, we can accomplish more.”

Whitsitt also says that the new major will include a core curriculum that introduces students to theoretical concepts, while also offering the chance to study different in-depth subjects such as race and ethnicity, gender and sexuality, and body studies.

According to Whitsitt, the academic study of the body can allow students to understand their individual identity, human, and social experiences.

“That psychological experience is one that is processed via the body so the curriculum will look at all of those complex ways in which intersectionality and the complexity of forming identity is in fact embodied and how does that look like, [feel] like, [and] play out in physical terms,” Whitsitt said. “So the curriculum will challenge us to move beyond certain limits of understanding of how life is experienced for human beings.”

Kopf says the new major will help address and solve multiple issues of the institution, especially in attracting more students to help increase enrollment.

“It’s not inventing something — it’s an institutional reorganization that gives us more space to be creative and draw more students,” Kopf said. “We hope that merging those three plus one program [body studies] will strengthen [our] own departments, [our] institutional presence.”

The departments of Africana studies, women and gender studies and Asian studies, will cease to exist as departments and will be absorbed by the new identity studies department.

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