Introducing Identity Studies


Annalise Meyer ('23) Chips

Associate Professor of Philosophy Holly Moore hands out informational fliers at the identity studies student forum on Nov.5.

Associate Professor of Philosophy Holly Moore led an “Introducing Identity Studies Student Forum” in Valders 262 on Nov. 5 for students interested in learning about Luther’s new identity studies department, which will merge women and gender studies, Africana studies, Asian studies, and dance into one department in the fall of 2020.

Professor of Sociology Char Kunkel says the identity studies department’s development was a result of a women and gender studies program review that took place in 2016.

“The outcome of that review [said] that we were doing well, but there were some intersections across campus that we were not taking advantage of, particularly with Africana Studies and Asian Studies,” Kunkel said. “We developed conversations with those programs and had other forums with students and faculty to ask, ‘Where should we go? How could we make all of our programs stronger?’ The notion of identity studies came out of these conversations.”

According to Moore, the goal of integrating these areas of study into one department is to better understand the intersections between them.

“It’s important in the liberal arts for students to really get to see a bigger picture by connecting the dots across classes,” Moore said. “Without an intentional program for that, it’s pretty difficult. We want to give [students] the opportunity to get that infused thinking across boundaries because we think it’s actually the only way to dismantle systems of oppression.”

The identity studies department aims to study the history of oppressive systems and how they evolve over time, examine the interactions between these systems, and promote appreciation for a diverse array of cultures and backgrounds.

Students who have already declared a major in one of these departments will not need to complete the new course requirements and will graduate with their original major. However, those interested in identity studies as a major must take five required courses that explore power systems, identity, and global traditions. IDS majors will also complete an internship, a senior seminar course, and five electives. To minor in identity studies, students must take two core courses, two courses in different areas of study, at least one elective, and the senior seminar.

Associate Professor of Chinese Hongmei Yu says that because some classes for the Asian studies minor will become electives in the IDS department, the Asian studies board has altered which courses will be required for the Asian studies minor.

“The Asian studies board proposed a two-pronged approach to reconfigure our academic resources,” Yu said. “Some Asian studies courses will be included in IDS, and some will be part of a Chinese studies minor to address the global importance of Chinese culture, politics, and economics from an interdisciplinary perspective. In the long run, I think one or two identity studies courses should be included as part of our all college requirements.”

Assistant Professor of Africana Studies and History Kelly Sharp hopes the IDS major will lay the groundwork for more Latinx studies at Luther.

“My number one hope and dream is that it will make space for more classes on campus that focus on Latinx studies and conversations of race and ethnicity more broadly on campus,” Sharp said. “There is a growing Latinx student population, both with international students and domestic students, and I want to welcome a colleague who specializes in the broader Latinx identity experience.”

Dance will also be incorporated into identity studies. While Luther does not currently offer many classes that focus on critical disability studies, Moore believes including dance in the IDS department is a way for students to learn more about disability and provides an avenue for Luther to expand its course offerings on the subject in the future.

“We have little faculty availability for [disability studies], but I think it’s an area in which we might be able to make future investments,” Moore said. “Critical disability studies is not exactly new, but it’s not particularly well-represented. Certainly, it’s not something that Luther has had a lot of academic focus on, but we do have some faculty who have some exceptional competence in the area.”

In addition to providing more emphasis on disability, Kristen Hansen (‘20) believes IDS will offer more opportunities to address topics like race that the current women and gender studies program was not initially designed to contend with.

“As it stands right now, a women and gender studies major could make it through all four years of their degree without having to take a class on something like critical race theory, which interacts with a foundational part of women’s experiences,” Hansen said. “The identity studies program will help address this and will help students relocate their studies in real life experience.”

In the IDS mission statement, the department says its goal is to empower students to identify systems of power and challenge them through an emphasis on diversity and consideration for other perspectives. Grace Olson (‘21) appreciates the broader goals of the new department and its potential for application in the real world.

“I really like [how] the mission statement [addresses] recognizing power and challenging that,” Olson said. “I think it’s really important to learn how to challenge things, especially things that are wrong in the world.”

Kunkel believes that the idea of bringing many different departments together is revolutionary, especially since Luther’s IDS department will be the second to exist in colleges located in the United States. She hopes that the IDS department inspires collaboration among students and faculty that eventually makes room for every member of the Luther community.

“We’ll be forging new ground,” Kunkel said. “We could develop new courses, bring in fellows to be guest faculty at the campus, and eventually grow into a vital, cutting edge service where the faculty and the students are excited about an intellectual community where we can all find a home.”

Students interested in learning more about the new major may contact Moore, Sharp, Kunkel and other faculty members of the IDS department with any questions by email.

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