The University of La Verne’s gender studies minor attracts a handful of students each year while national interest in women’s and gender studies has been on a steady increase over the past 27 years.
According to a study by the National Center for Education Statistics, the degree in women’s and gender studies saw a 300 percent increase between 1990 and 2015. Given current national discourse, the women’s and gender studies program here may see growth as well.
Cathy Irwin, program chair and adviser to most students who choose this minor, helped sustain the minor over the years. She said that learning how to think critically about gender issues can solve many current social issues.
“We now have faculty from very different disciplines who are offering gender and sexuality courses on a regular basis,” Irwin said.
The professors teaching gender and sexuality courses also teach in law, education, business, philosophy and psychology programs, Irwin said.
The ULV program was originally called women’s gender and sexuality issues, and was developed in the early 2000s by a team of faculty including University chaplain Zandra Wagoner.
During the process, they looked at student interest, cost to sustain the program and how to fit it into the University academic structure.
While pulling together a proposal with recommended courses, the team started to build interest on campus among students.
“We had conferences on campus called Engendering Communities,” Wagoner said. “It had the idea of creating community, while paying attention to gender. We also brought speakers and artists who helped build the conversation around gender and sexuality on campus.”
Wagoner said the team eventually sent the proposal through the academic channel, where it was approved by administration.
“We had something in place, but what we did not yet have was the administrative infrastructure to support it,” Wagoner said. “So we let people know they can major or minor in women’s gender and sexuality studies, but as a build-it-yourself major.”
Gender studies is now available for students to select as a minor or be developed as a major. One of the students who opted for that is Andrea Dukes, junior sociology major with a minor in gender studies.
Dukes said she wants to become an advocate for the LGBTQ community when she graduates next semester. When she saw La Verne offered a gender studies minor, she knew it was something she wanted to pursue.
“There is a whole humanities section I would not have taken if I was not in the gender studies minor,” Dukes said. “This program allows me to take some classes that are not specifically about gender, but still allows me to focus on subjects that interest me.”
Dukes said she recommends students who are considering a gender studies minor to start with one or two classes, before declaring it your minor.
“I did not add the minor until I completed half the classes for it,” Dukes said. “If you find yourself liking the classes, then keep going because it will only help expand your knowledge.”
Irwin said it is important to spread the word to students so they know these classes are available to them.
“We need to look at transgender issues, oppression of women, sex scandals, trafficking of women and children, economics and class issue through a gender perspective,” Irwin said. “All of these issues impact both men and women; these issues are very important for us to unpack critically and look at different sides.”
Beatriz Gonzalez, vice provost and chief diversity officer, helped resuscitate the gender studies program and said it has a different vision than it did in past years. The program now has a greater focus on the intersection within identity.
“You can be a woman, a man, a mother, a child or Haitian, but they are all part of our identity and cannot be sliced apart,” Gonzalez said. “This program will look at how multiple aspects of our identity come together to give us strength and also put us at different places in terms of disadvantage.”
Gonzalez said that women in higher education have held half of all doctorate degrees since 2006. However, in every level of professors, assistant and associate professors, more men are in a tenure track position than a regular faculty position.
“Tenure track translates to higher pay and more respect,” Gonzalez said. “This is where most people are promoted to department chair and dean positions. And in this position one can affect things systematically, make decisions and implement policies.”
Wagoner said that the gender studies minor can be important for students in diverse disciplines.
“Gender studies, Latin American studies, African American studies, are central to what it means to be human,” Wagoner said. “We all work with other humans, so whatever profession one is pursuing, it will help them create equitable and safe environments.”
Wagoner said that every student can benefit from the minor because it can help them create thriving environments where people feel like they belong and are valued.
“Gender is one of those categories that has historically experienced discrimination and oppression,” Wagoner said. “The structures of patriarchy, sexism, misogyny don’t just simply go away and these structures influence all of us.”
“One of the important ways to combat these negative institutions is to be able to have a solid learning on what gender means in our society, in different parts of the world and how it affects people.”
Wagoner said she encourages anyone considering this minor to be inquisitive.
“Let’s be curious about the identities that make us up, especially gender,” Wagoner said. “Discover something you did not know before and it will help expand your understanding of humans, which will contribute to your development not only as a human but also a professional.”
Layla Abbas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.