Kansas State University


Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies

Letter from the Department Head


It is with great excitement that I’d like to introduce myself as the new Department Head of Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies.  My name is Christie Launius, and I came to K-State last July from Wisconsin, where I served as the Director of the Women’s and Gender Studies program at UW Oshkosh for ten years.  Since my arrival, I have gotten to know GWSS students and faculty and have found my way around a new institution and a new community.  As the school year draws to close, I’m filled with gratitude at how welcoming and supportive everyone has been. It was a year of transitions and changes, and I have a lot of exciting and positive news to report.

First and foremost, I would like to congratulate GWSS faculty members Dr. Valerie Padilla Carroll and Dr. Harlan Weaver, who earned tenure and promotion to Associate Professor.  Dr. Angela Hubler, who has been on sabbatical this year, was also promoted to full Professor.

Two new faces have joined the department since our last newsletter: Dr. Rachel Levitt is completing their second year in the department, and Dr. Susan Rensing (who also happens to be my spouse) is completing her first year.  To learn more about them, please check out their faculty profiles in this issue of the newsletter.

The GWSS department continues to offer exciting new courses: Dr. Padilla Carroll taught a Food Justice course and Dr. Weaver taught Race/Sex/Science last fall, while Dr. Levitt taught a re-vamped GWSS 560, now titled Intersections of Violence and Resistance, and Dr. Rensing taught a special topics course called Body Politics this spring.  Looking ahead, the department will be strengthening its curricular offerings in key areas including feminist science studies, Queer Studies, and environmental studies.

We’re also hoping to encourage more students to do an internship as a part of their major, minor, or graduate certificate; toward this end, we’ll work to establish relationships with new campus and community partners that can serve as internship sites for our students.  In the big scheme of things, we’re hoping to both showcase the cutting-edge scholarship in the field and show students the full range of career opportunities that are open to them with a degree in GWSS.

I look forward to settling into my new role and tackling new projects and initiatives in the coming years.  I would love to hear from graduates of the department, whether you graduated recently or long ago, as we would love to profile alumni in future issues of the newsletter.  Please let us know what you’re up to and where you’re at these days!  You can leave a reply here, e-mail us at gwss@ksu.edu, or contact us via Facebook or Twitter.



Celebrating Our Faculty and Students

From L to R: Melanie Johnson, Tessa Ervin, Dr. Christie Launius, and Mercedes Payton.

Faculty and students in the GWSS Department gathered on May 10th, 2019 to celebrate our accomplishments and honor our graduates.  Graduating students Taylor Beashore (GWSS minor), Kayla Boltz (GWSS minor), Dennis Borror (GWSS minor), Elyse Boxberger (GWSS minor), Adam Carr (Queer Studies minor), Kayla Clark (GWSS minor), Laura Gunderson (GWSS major and Queer Studies minor), Karla Larranaga (GWSS graduate certificate), Kylee Norris (GWSS minor), Chelsea Osademe (GWSS graduate certificate), Marco Saucedo (GWSS minor), Anneliese Spence (GWSS minor), Katherine Sundgren (GWSS minor), and Tori Wiegers (GWSS minor) were honored with certificates and bookmarks engraved with the Audre Lorde quote, “I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.”

Sophomore Marley Lowe is the recipient of the Clarina Howard Nichols Scholarship this year.  The scholarship is named for a 19th century Kansas journalist and women’s rights activist, and is awarded annually to a first- or second-year GWSS major based on a combination of GPA and an essay.  The scholarship recognizes the long history of feminist activism in Kansas and supports the new generation of change-makers.  Marley is pursuing degrees in Communication Studies, American Ethnic Studies, and GWSS.  She wrote about her work organizing an “Unthanksgiving” event in her capacity as the programming chair of K-State Housing and Dining’s Social Justice Alliance.

The Kathleen C. Goetsch scholarship, awarded based on financial need, was given to Melanie Johnson this year.  Melanie is a senior double-majoring in GWSS and Sociology.

The recipient of this year’s Founders Scholarship for Academic Excellence in Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies, awarded annually to a GWSS major with junior standing based on their academic record, is Mercedes Payton.

Two students, Tessa Ervin and Mercedes Payton, shared the department’s paper competition award this year.  Tessa, a first-year Biology major, won for her essay entitled “Removal and Reeducation,” written for Dr. Levitt’s First-Year Seminar, and Mercedes, a junior GWSS major, won for her essay “Not Like Other Settlers,” written for Dr. Weaver’s Advanced Fundamentals in GWSS class.



Faculty Profile: Dr. Rachel Levitt

Dr. Rachel Levitt received their PhD in American Studies from the University of New Mexico and joined the Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies department as an Assistant Professor in 2017. Their research, which is being supported by a Faculty Enhancement Award during the summer of 2019, focuses on what queer studies theories of law and violence have to teach us about bullying, whose victimization gets to count and who is seen as disposable, and how that process of counting or being rendered disposable operates through the intersection of race, class, gender, nation, empire, and settler colonialism. Dr. Levitt has taught Introduction to GWSS (including First-Year Seminar sections), Research Methods in GWSS, Queer Studies, Intersections of Violence & Resistance, and the graduate Theories and Methodologies seminar, and is scheduled to teach Resistance and Movements for Social Change and a queer feminist legal theory course next year.

Prior to coming to K-State, Dr. Levitt was involved in Native liberation organizing, queer justice work, and various labor movements. Since moving to Kansas, they have become involved in local activism as a Board Member of the Flint Hills Human Rights Project and serve as co-chair of the LGBTQ* Faculty Staff Alliance on-campus.



Faculty Profile: Dr. Susan Rensing

Susan Rensing was trained in the history of science, medicine, gender, and sexuality and earned her Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota. She joined the GWSS department in August 2018 as a Visiting Assistant Professor while on-leave from UW Oshkosh, where she is a tenured Associate Professor in a joint position (History & Women’s and Gender Studies). Since her arrival, she has taught Intro to GWSS, Research Methods in GWSS, and a special topics course called “Body Politics.”  She will teach another special topics course in the fall with the title “Reproductive Rights and Wrongs.”

Dr. Rensing’s historical research focuses on the gendered dimensions of eugenics in the Progressive Era United States.  She is also engaged in the scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL); she and her co-authors Christie Launius and Holly Hassel have a book under contract with Palgrave MacMillan entitled Vital Work: A Guide to Teaching Introductory Women’s and Gender Studies. In addition, Dr. Rensing has experience working with non-profits on projects designed to enhance social sustainability and community health. She was a humanities expert for the 2018 exhibit, “Color-Brave Photo Gallery: Black and Brown Faces, A New Narrative,” which was a recipient of the Wisconsin Humanities Council Major Grant and an Oshkosh Community Foundation grant. In Manhattan, she plans to engage in similar work related to health equity and has joined the Health Equity Action Team of the Flint Hills Wellness Coalition.  She is currently exploring the healthcare experiences of members of the LGBTQ community in Riley County and also the maternal and infant health disparities in the region.


K-State GWSS Faculty Serve as National Leaders on Transgender Justice in Academia

Dr. Rachel Levitt and Dr. Harlan Weaver, along with their colleague Dr. Cáel M. Keegan from Grand Valley State University, spent spring break in Chicago training the chairs and directors of Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies programs from across the United States in how to protect, support, and retain transgender faculty, staff, and students. Their work calls for change at the federal level, the organizational level of the National Women’s Studies Association, the institutional level of individual universities, and the department level of Women’s Studies programs.  They were invited by NWSA leadership to present their important and compelling work at the chair’s and director’s meeting after they presented at the organization’s 2018 conference in Atlanta, GA.

Universities are gendered institutions, reinforcing cis-hetero-normativity through policies, practices, and tacit cultural norms, from sex-segregated bathrooms to a lack of transcompetent faculty and medical providers. For students, the struggle can be overwhelming. Transgender students experience high levels of harassment, bullying, and discrimination in higher education. According to the National Transgender Discrimination Survey in 2017, which surveyed 6,500 transgender people, 35% of those attending college were mistreated, harassed, and bullied, not only by other students, but by teachers and staff as well.

Weaver, Levitt, and Keegan drew from these statistics in their workshop, highlighting the stories and experiences behind the numbers, making a compelling case for a range of trans-related changes needed, not just for transgender students, but also for faculty and staff in university settings.  Their work not only draws attention to the pervasiveness of trans-antagonistic campus climates, but also points to the possibilities for changing such climates.


Dr. Padilla Carroll presents work in Australia

Dr. Valerie Padilla Carroll participated in “Placing Gender,” a workshop on gender and environmental history hosted in Sydney, Australia in December 2018.

At the workshop, she presented a paper, “Reaffirming Gender and Erasing Race: Ralph and Myrtle Mae Borsodi’s Vision of Back-to-the-land as a White Heteropatriarchal Refugium during the Great Depression,” which explores the work of the Borsodis as they promoted their vision of back-to-the-land during the Great Depression.

Padilla Carroll’s work focuses on the often under-explored gendered meanings underpinning the U.S. back-to-the-land movement.  She will be on sabbatical leave during the 19-20 school year to complete her book manuscript, Selling the Simple Life: Gender, Race, Class, and Sexuality, which is under contract with the University of Nebraska Press.


Triota at K-State




This has been a fantastic year for Feminist Fridays—a monthly event created, developed, and led by students where feminist topics that are relevant to the student body, community, and larger world are discussed. The event is hosted by the K-State Beta Alpha Chapter of Iota Iota Iota (Triota), the Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies Department’s academic honor society. Feminist Fridays take place in a local coffee shop, providing a safe space for anyone—fierce feminists and curious citizens alike, to explore ideas impacting the human experience. Topics covered in the 2018-2019 academic year include: The Sorry Reflex, Internalized Prejudices, Deconstructing Love, and Your Identity Our Campus. These feminist discussions have drawn dozens of GWSS students, faculty, and other interested folk. Triota plans to continue this form of consciousness raising in the future.

Current members of Triota are: Laura Gunderson, Kenzie Kriss, Tara Magana, Zoe Nicolet, Jordyn Peyla, Susanne Pohlman, Mariah White, and Madeline Wilson.  Six students were inducted this spring: Courtney Keith, Kaylee Kipp, Mercedes Payton, DeAnna Scheffler, Katherine Sundgren, and Brianna Womack.

Dick and Sandra Haines establish new fund


The Haines Daughters Women’s Studies Pioneering Excellence Fund honors the memory of three of Dick Haines’ great-aunts, who came to Kansas as children with their parents as part of the battle to bring Kansas into the Union as a free rather than a slave state. During the Civil War, the sisters were in the first enrolling classes at Kansas State Agricultural College: Isabella (Belle) Mary Haines (left) was a teacher in the Preparatory Department as well as a student, earning a Bachelor of Arts in 1867 and a Master of Arts in 1871; Laura Emma Haines began at age 14 and also graduated in 1867, and earned her Master’s degree in 1871; Theophania Maria Haines Huntington graduated in 1872; and Phoebe Ellen (Eva) Haines McKeen graduated in 1883, and earned a Master’s degree in 1887. Generations of Haines descendants followed these women in graduating from Kansas State University.

Mr. Haines says that he wanted to name the fund after his great-aunts “because of their foresight in obtaining an education and other rights at a time when women were denied these rights. Emma in particular, in her address given at the Semi-Centennial Address of the College (in October 1913) talked about getting Lucy Stone, Susan B. Anthony, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton to talk at Kansas State University. I admired them!” The decision to benefit the department of Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies was based on the Haines’ conviction that the department “is at the forefront of educating people about things that are important. It is a great place to invest in the future.”  Dick Haines says, “I was interested to learn there are men in women’s studies. The department doesn’t have a sex. “

Dick Haines graduated from K-State in Journalism in 1958, and was editor of the K-Stater Magazine, and Director of University Publications from 1967-1978. Sandra Smerchek Haines graduated in 1958 with a B.S. in music and went on to earn master’s degrees in music, and psychology and guidance.

Our department is deeply appreciative of this gift. Because it is unrestricted, it allows the department to direct funds where there is greatest need. Particularly in the context of university and departmental budgets cut over the past four years, gifts like this one that support student and faculty needs are an amazing boon.  The Haines are endowing the fund over five years, and income will soon be available for departmental use.


First awards made from newly endowed Kathleen C. Goetsch Scholarship

Dean of Libraries Lori Goetsch

A generous gift from Lori Goetsch, Dean of the K-State Libraries, in memory of her mother Kathleen C. Goetsch, who passed away in 2018, is endowing a new scholarship for students in the department of Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies. Lori’s mother, known as Kay, was born in 1919 on a farm near Walcott, Iowa. Dean Goetsch says, “My mom only had an education through ninth grade, and had to go to secretarial school to help support her family during the depression. She was one of the smartest people I know. She raised three strong daughters and always wondered how we turned out so stubborn. I thought, just look in the mirror! She was an inspiration to me when I was growing up and as an adult. My sisters and I thought it was a good use of memorial funds to honor her with this scholarship.”

Kathleen C. Goetsch

Kathleen Goetsch’s obituary says that she will be remembered as a devoted wife, a wonderful mother, a talented needleworker, sewer and quilter, and an avid golfer and bridge player. Our department is very grateful to be part of honoring her life.

Dean Goetsch is especially interested in supporting students with financial need, and the department was able to award the initial scholarships in the fall of 2018 to two advanced GWSS students to help them in their final semesters at K-State. Kasey Garzillo graduated in December 2018 with her major in GWSS and a minor in American Ethnic Studies. Kasey worked throughout her college career scooping ice cream at Baskin Robbins and then at Big Lakes Developmental Center with clients with developmental disabilities. She plans to go on to earn a master’s in social work and to advocate for those who are socially marginalized. Samantha Rose plans to graduate in May 2019 with a major in GWSS and a minor in Leadership Studies. She too, worked throughout college delivering pizza and in a science lab. She hopes to go on to work in trans* justice organizations.

Celebrating Our Faculty and Students

by T. Dickinson

In May 2016, we celebrated the success of the 2015-2016 graduating students. Graduate Certificates were earned by Chrischelle Borhani, Patricia Butler, Lyla P. Brooks, Kynsey Creel, Allen Mallory, Maria Ruiz, and Adena Weiser. A number of students completed majors in Women’s Studies, including Claire Tolentino, Emily Bond, Lisette Corbeille, Meaghan Kuzmich, Amanda Mosteller, Lexi Scoville, Allison Sowle and Hannah Atchison (fall 2016). Students with minors in Women’s Studies included Brady Armstrong, Roela Boci, Jasmine Davis, Jennifer Fox, Kathleen Lococo, McKenna Kelly, Paige Porter, Jennifer Smithies, Brianna S. Carrillo, Marcus Dominguez, Shaun A. Dowdell, Natasha Freeman, Lindsey N. Ford, Jacquelyn Forester (along with a minor in Queer Studies), Hannah Gray, Michelle Gralow, Richard Habeeb, America Martinez-Serrano, Mekahla Z. Peterson, LaTasha H. Pittmon, Lauren Pino, Mercedes T. Santiago, Toni A. Stock, Loren Taylor, Tyrone A.L. Tatum, Darrah Tinkler, Maya Tilmon, Sophia Tolentino, Carmen Tucker, Denisse Bernie Zambrini, Jacquelyn Zenger, and Haley Williams (fall 2016).

We also celebrated writing award winners and scholarship awardees. Riley Katz received the undergraduate writing award with the paper “Educational Outreach, Social Reform and Political Activism: Building a Transgender Movement.” Maria Ruiz received the graduate writing award with “Bargaining with Kyriarchy: Women in Religion Negotiate Feminism and Catholicism.” The Clarina Howard Nichols Scholarship winner was Laura Gunderson, and the Founders’ Scholarship in Academic Excellence in Women’s Studies was Lucia Duarte. We also showed our appreciation for the Undergraduate Ambassadors, the Advisory Council, and the faculty, including retiring faculty member, Torry Dickinson. Continue reading “Celebrating Our Faculty and Students”