By Tom Sarmiento
Students in my Advanced Fundamentals of Women’s Studies (WOMST 305) are excited about the Women’s Studies Department’s name change to Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies (GWSS). Comprised of majors, minors, and students generally interested in Women’s Studies, my WOMST 305 students this semester (Spring 2016) have taken at least one Women’s Studies course prior to enrolling in my class. Their ability to critically analyze the intersections of gender and sexuality with race, class, and nation, for example, illustrates the expansive work our faculty are already doing in other courses and reveals why my students see the department’s transformation from WOMST to GWSS as a logical progression.
My version of WOMST 305 surveys the herstory of Women’s Studies as a discipline and engages some of the key debates in the interdisciplinary fields of Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies. Students have been learning about the structural and intimate workings of power through such social formations as sex, gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, nationality, class, and ability and how feminist, queer, trans*, critical race, postcolonial, and crip (disability) theories can operate as intersectional bodies of knowledge that engender positive social transformation. Students also have become familiar with and have been applying multidisciplinary research approaches—including oral history/interview, (auto)ethnography, quantitative analysis, and cultural criticism—in the study of sex, gender, and sexuality as they intersect with other social formations, thereby allowing them also to participate in the production of knowledge within these fields.
Student research topics include exploring cultural attitudes toward feminism, feminist parenting, the enforcement of gender roles in parenting, single-mothering, cultural attitudes toward menstruation, reproductive justice and HIV, sex positivity, domestic violence, gender and mental health, women living with disabilities, and gender and politics. As this diverse list reveals, our students are putting intersectional feminism into practice. More importantly, they are developing a strong foundation to enact social change as future educators, lawyers, and reproductive health advocates (some of the professions students plan to pursue). Having graduated college with a degree in Critical Gender Studies more than a decade ago, I now understand the hope my professors saw in my peers and me—it is the same hope I see in my students who are already making our world more habitable for all.