Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies officially a major
UH Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies program was introduced in 1991 as a minor. In 2006, WGSS added a minor in LGBT Studies. This year marks a momentous milestone, as the program is now also a major in the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences.
Director of the WGSS program and english professor Elizabeth Gregory laid out the timeline in which women’s issues were finally recognized in academia.
“The program’s 25th anniversary is coming up next year, and one of the dynamics about UH is that a lot of students are transfers with experience and wanted to continue their studies,” Gregory said. “People are so aware of gender in their lives, the demand for those classes was there.”
The WGSS program is supported with help from Friends of Women’s Studies, a community that funds identity-based academic programs, often left underfunded by the government.
“For some reason, programs across the country do not get enough funding from the state, so a bunch of Friends of Women’s Studies groups popped up across the country, and we are one of them [in Houston],” said Program Director of Friends of Women’s Studies at UH, Ayanna McCloud. “We help sustain it by providing scholarship and research funds.”
The studies program can help students see things from a “gender based lens,” as McCloud put it. WGSS is a part of the identity-based programs including African-American Studies, Mexican Studies and many more that help empower and give voices to marginalized people through higher education.
“Identity based programs are created because of inequalities,” said McCloud. “Gender and sexuality studies are needed. There is is still a lot of ignorance surrounding it.”
Ignorance towards gender issues can be stomped out through interdisciplinary studies in WGSS. Gregory said that is it worth taking the time to learn about gender and its intersections with race, class, age and disability.
“Gender roles shift quickly in all professions and realms of private and public life,” Gregory said on the WGSS website. “The contributions of women and people of diverse sexualities are increasingly recognized and valued. A major that prepares graduates to ably negotiate these changes, providing an important groundwork for success, for both students and the community.”
Gregory encourages students who are curious to take an intro class to see if it is their cup of tea.
“They are also CORE classes, and they can be taken for that credit, so it is not too much of a commitment,” Gregory said. “If you find it of interest, we will be happy to talk to you. As with any major, if you can start earlier, you will be more likely to get the courses you want.”
The newly introduced major provides a degree-completion option for students enrolled in the WGSS program with minors in Women’s Studies and LGBT Studies. Student Cecillia Turchetti took this route and will be one of the first students to graduate with this degree this December.
“After declaring my minor…I talked with Dr. Gregory and other professors in the department and found out the degree was going to become available,” Turchetti said. “I asked if I took the classes that were provided by the department, if they would count towards the major once it became available, and I went from there.”
Turchetti has been working an internship with the Houston Area Women’s Center, answering their hotline for domestic violence and sexual assault victims and survivors. WGSS has equipped her with the tools she said were as “immensely useful” in understanding the struggle.
“There are people who feel unsafe using the restroom, walking down the street, going to a bar with their friends,” she said. “[They] are then blamed for the things which other people choose to do to them. Women’s Studies gives those topics and issues a voice in an interdisciplinary setting. It shows how immersed women’s issues, LGBTQ issues and minority race issues really are, not just in America but in the world.”