Right now, states are deciding on transgender bathroom bills and abortion legislation. Many arguments focus on women’s and transgender rights, but it can be difficult to know why those arguments are important. Enter the Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies (WGSS) minor.
Many people aren’t aware of what WGSS is. It’s a program that teaches students about minority perspectives, particularly those pertaining to women and LGBTQ+ people. According to the department webpage, “The program takes gender and sexuality as categories foundational to understanding culture and society and investigates how these categories intersect with race, ethnicity, class, nationality and other categories of difference. Through engagement with feminism, gender and sexuality studies, queer theory and LGBT studies, the program promotes interdisciplinary inquiry into femininity, masculinity, queerness, and normativity.” Many of your classes may already do this, such as English literature courses, film classes, psychology and sociology seminars and more. Guess what? Those may all be part of the courses offered by the WGSS program.
Since the minor is interdisciplinary, it is fairly easy to accomplish all of the course requirements without even realizing it. There are only a few requirements: taking Intro to Feminist Theory, taking one other upper-level WGSS course and 15 credits of other courses. Those 15 credits have a huge list of options that can be found on the Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies homepage, but the department also allows for new courses to be added. Simply shoot off an email to the department heads explaining why this course represents minorities, attach the class syllabus, and they will review it and ensure that it is teaching diverse perspectives. Most of the time, the course will be approved.
One of the keys to the WGSS minor and program is that the classes aim to be intersectional. Intersectionality is a long, hard to understand word, and not just because it’s 17 letters long. Sara Rushing, a WGSS and political science professor at MSU, as well as the current advisor for the student Queer-Straight Alliance, explains, “At a university that has clearly made gender equity and inclusion a top priority, an academic program like WGSS is crucial, because it coheres a community of scholars and students who are rigorously trained in gender studies, feminist theory and theories of intersectionality. Understanding intersectionality is particularly important, because a truly diverse, equitable and inclusive campus community must recognize how race, ethnicity, class, gender, gender identity, religion, physical ability and sexuality are interwoven dimensions of our existence.”
Rushing continued, “While many folks know this intuitively, the opportunity to study this aspect of the human condition – historically, philosophically, cross-culturally – is foundational for our students’ intellectual and political engagement at MSU and beyond.” This is key to understanding the diverse perspectives and how people’s experiences with oppression may change based on the identities they inhabit.
The WGSS minor is something useful for everyone, as it displays to graduate schools and jobs alike that one is knowledgeable and informed about minorities and diversity, which is becoming more and more important in school and in the work force. Ekaterina Walter, a contributor to Forbes, writes that, “Diversity is essential to growth and prosperity of any company: diversity of perspectives, experiences, cultures, genders, and age. Why? Because diversity breeds innovation.” Erica Dungan, the WGSS advising coordinator, weighed in, “The WGSS minor fosters knowledge and skills that are essential for any field. The interdisciplinary research and coursework in the program encourage critical thinking, dialogue, social awareness, and an understanding of diverse perspectives and experiences.” While one may not personally have much diversity themselves, understanding and recognizing the importance of diversity is still important in the workplace. Being informed of the different perspectives that surround everyone in America is necessary to build successful groups of people and community.
Further, multiple graduate school applications ask about prospective students’ experiences with diversity and knowledge of other groups. Universities around the world are paying more attention to diverse student populations than ever. US News writers Jeremy S. Hyman and Lynn F. Jacobs list the reasons why colleges are starting to focus on diversity: “Successful performance in today’s diverse workforce requires sensitivity to human differences and the ability to relate to people from different cultural backgrounds. America’s workforce is more diverse than at any time in the nation’s history, and the percentage of America’s working-age population comprised of members of minority groups is expected to increase from 34 percent to 55 percent by 2050.” And that’s not all: “Diversity prepares students for work in a global society. No matter what profession you enter, you’ll find yourself working with employers, employees, coworkers, customers and clients from diverse backgrounds—worldwide. By experiencing diversity in college, you are laying the groundwork to be comfortable working and interacting with a variety of individuals of all nationalities.”
While MSU does not yet offer a WGSS major, achieving a minor in Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies along with your major of choice will help prepare one for the future. Start right away by downloading the application on the WGSS department homepage. It will certainly be worth your while. As political science professor Karen DeVries states, “Our world organizes knowledge, politics, and conditions of suffering around the imbricated axes of sex, gender, sexuality, race, and class. The WGSS minor here at MSU provides tools for understanding how these power structures work, and it develops critical and creative skills for transforming and creating environments that enable more flourishing. Our flexible, interdisciplinary minor complements all majors but is particularly well suited for students who care about equity, diversity, society, and the world. The more the merrier!”
To apply for or get more information on the WGSS minor, visit: http://www.montana.edu/wgs/index.html
To read the full Forbes article on workplace diversity, visit: http://www.forbes.com/sites/ekaterinawalter/2014/01/14/reaping-the-benefits-of-diversity-for-modern-business-innovation/#436e8f846476
To read the full US News article on college diversity, visit: http://www.usnews.com/education/blogs/professors-guide/2009/08/12/why-does-diversity-matter-at-college-anyway
To learn more about intersectionality and other human rights concepts, visit the Diversity Awareness Office at: http://www.montana.edu/diversity/