Women’s and gender studies minor to be official in the fall

Kristina Abeyta

History is in the making at MSU with its first female president, Suzanne Shipley, waiting to take the helm Aug. 8, and starting in the fall, students will be able declare a minor in women’s and gender studies.

Of the 29 member institutions on the Council of Public Liberal Arts Colleges, 24 have programs on women’s and gender studies. Now there will be 25.

Linda Veazey, assistant professor of political science and program coordinator for the new minor said she is excited to be part of bringing it to the university.

“It’s something we’ve seen an interest in from our students, and I know that several members of the faculty teach classes on gender across campus,” Veazey said. “So it seemed like the right thing to do, for us to try and put them together so that students could take a variety of classes that are gender focused, but take them in a variety of disciplines.”

Veazey said the minor is unique because it offers classes from many of the colleges on campus, ranging from criminal justice, history, nursing, philosophy, sociology and English.

“There are political scientists, like me, who study gender, just as there are people who work on women’s literature, or gender and sexuality in literature, history, mass communication and even healthcare,” Veazey said. “We find gender studies in multiple disciplines. It makes sense to put this together, so that people who have an interest here can really explore their interests in learning about gender through different classes, which is one thing that makes a liberal arts college great.”

Veazey said studying gender could be beneficial to any student, man or woman.

“Our lives are organized around gender, and we don’t even notice it most of the time, it seems invisible,” Veazey said. “So part of what gender studies does is to try to make that visible, and think about how society is different, and what kind of effects does it have when the thing we are focusing on is gender? Or if we’re talking about women’s rights, does that give us a different answer than if we are just talking about issues that affect men, or people? If it does, than that gives something else to talk about, to think about.”

MSU offers a Feminist Philosophy class co-taught by Nathan Jun, associate professor of philosophy, and Lucy Schultz, assistant professor of philosophy.

“It helps that the course is being team-taught by both a man and a woman. It challenges the idea that feminism is an exclusively female discourse,” Jun said. “It makes clear that men can be feminists as well. Feminism is a way of looking at the world. Although it pertains chiefly to the experiences of women, it also deals with how men relate to women. To that extent, it’s a discourse that always and already includes men, whether they know it or not.”

Of the 18 hours required for the minor, the only required course is Introduction to Women’s and Gender Studies, taught by Veazey, an honors course first offered last spring. There are 22 students in the class this semester, and starting next spring, it will be offered as part of the core curriculum.

“After the one core class, students would need five more classes to fulfill the minor. Out of the five remaining classes, four of those courses have to be upper division classes, 3000 or 4000 level.”

Veazey said this will also give students another opportunity to take upper-level classes, because they are required a certain number in the advanced category to graduate.

“Sometimes students get near the end and realize they need a few more classes, so I made sure to construct the minor to be helpful,” Veazey said.

The remaining classes in the minor are going to be drawn from a variety of subjects, and they’re courses already on the books that can count, Veazey said.

“And now, there might be more classes created in the future to count for students wanting the women’s and gender studies minor,” Veazey said. “The goal is to have classes in gender taught every semester for students, to be able to count, but also so that they can be taken within a variety of fields. We all work in different disciplines, but we are also a part of this larger discipline of women’s and gender studies. That’s really the legacy of these programs, they allow students to explore this topic of gender in all kinds of different fields, because it’s everywhere, and that’s where it should be.”

In addition, Veazey said this new program is modeled on the minor at the University of Houston, which started as a core class. Veazey was a postdoctoral fellow in their women’s and gender studies program before she came to MSU.

“They are a much bigger school, but they now have a major in gender studies,” Veazey said. “So I am really excited that MSU is working on this. We have had a lot of interest from students, and I’m hoping that in a couple of years, we’ll have our first minor to graduate.”

And that student just might be Andrea Mendoza, English sophomore, who said she is considering declaring the minor in the fall and is enrolled in Veazey’s honors course.

“I really want to work with children and women,” Mendoza said. “I had a political science class last semester and my project was about maternity leave and that made me really involved in wanting to have better working policies for women.”

Mendoza is originally from Guadalajara, Mexico. This is only her second year living in the United States since she got her letter in the mail from MSU.

“There are some good things and bad things,” Mendoza said. “For example, Mexico has paid maternity leave, and they don’t have it here. I was really surprised by that.”

Along with the students, members of the faculty are looking foreword to the prospect of the new minor.

“Considering our liberal arts mission, the fact we now have a women’s and gender studies minor is awesome,” said Todd Giles, assistant professor of English. “It’s 20 years behind the times, but thank goodness we finally have one. I’m really excited about it.”

Giles teaches Postfeminist Theory and Contemporary Experimental American Women’s Literature that will fit within the minor.

“I make a real effort to stray away from the dead white guy cannon of American Literature,” Giles said. “All of my classes, whether it is freshman comp, an American survey, or an upper level class, I am always very conscientious to include female writers, African-American writers, Native-American writers, gay and lesbian writers. I make a real effort to do that. It’s important that this stuff be taught, for me it’s a no-brainer.”

Giles said MSU is experiencing a sort of intellectual renaissance.

“Schools like Midwestern State are now, because of the economy, able to hire people like Lucy Schultz, Nathan Jun, Kirsten Lodge,” Giles said. “It’s a real renaissance because we are bringing things to this campus that have never existed here before. It’s exciting for us, and I think it’s exciting for students too.”

Last semester Giles taught MSU’s first environmental literature class, called Eco Criticism, a relatively new theory in the liberal arts.

“It’s really important that as an institution we embrace courses like Veazey’s gender studies this semester, or Jun and Schultz’s feminist philosophy, because that’s what the humanities and liberal arts are all about,” Giles said. “It’s about diversity, critical thinking, it’s about challenging pre-conceived notions of truth, and right and wrong. I’m excited that we have this, it’s a big deal.”

Jun agrees, he said the time is right for the introduction of the new minor.

“There seems to be a lot of interest on campus right now on issues related to gender,” Jun said. “These classes being offered now are responding to a demand. As opposed to trying to generate a demand, which is the way it used to be.”

In addition, Jun said that this program is long overdue.

“That’s one area in which MSU has been really behind the times, I’m really glad that were catching up on that particular score,” Jun said. “I was involved in a similar proposal three or four years ago that really didn’t go anywhere. So I’m glad to see that Dr. Veazey has been able to bring something to fruition.”

Jun said he sees evidence of growing interest regarding feminism in the feminist philosophy class.

“I really appreciate it when students are able to connect what we are talking about with their own personal experiences, which happens a lot,” Jun said. “Some of the material can be kind of abstract and theoretical until students are able to apply it their own experiences, then it clicks, and those make for the most interesting discussions.”

Jun said there were some students that came into the course already committed to feminism on some level. But those that were just curious about it initially, were interesting to watch evolve.

“They are getting it,” Jun said. “It’s very satisfying.”

The feminist philosophy class is mostly female, but Jun said there are three males enrolled.

“But they are really open to it, and have interesting contributions to make from a male perspective,” Jun said. “They’re definitely not throwing a wrench into the works. They are adding richness to the discussions by bringing their own perspectives to bear.”

The new women’s and gender studies minor opens a door for students that want to explore the topic, but for the foreseeable future there will still be backlashes, Jun said.

“But that’s actually a sign of health,” Jun said. “There wouldn’t be a backlash if feminism were not gaining ground, particularly among men. Feminist discourse is having an impact on the way that men think of themselves, in this culture, as men. And that’s a very good thing. But then there are also, sadly, men who tend to think of feminism some kind of like existential threat to their masculinity… I think that perspective is losing ground. And these classes are attracting students, there is a real interest there.”