Women’s & gender studies promotes inclusive world view

By Rewon Shimray | Reporter

Baylor’s women’s and gender studies minor has existed since 1996, according to Dr. Lisa Shaver, women’s and gender studies director. Since Shaver stepped into the director position in fall 2015, she said the curriculum has been updated to attract more minors. While there were two minors in 2015, there are now more than 20.

“Women’s and gender studies is a rising discipline for a lot of schools,” said Lake Forest, Ill., sophomore Sarah Trammell, a women’s and gender studies minor. “I think people have realized that it’s more than people getting angry about the world and protesting about it … It’s something to study and it’s something to figure out, because there’s a huge psychological and sociological aspect to it.”

According to the women’s and gender studies website, the program studies takes an interdisciplinary approach to emphasize the contributions of women, and “extend this analysis to a broader range of issues, including social and cultural meanings of masculinity, femininity and identity construction.”

The minor requires 18 hours of study, with one introductory course, either Introduction to Gender Studies or Introduction to Women’s and Gender History, and five electives. The 26 elective options go across 12 disciplines.

Shaver said any student can take classes in the women’s and gender studies program, not just minors.

“Sometimes people can’t fit the minor in, but I would still encourage them to take some of these wonderful classes,” Shaver said.

Lilitz, Pa., senior Mackenzie Chakara, a women’s and gender studies minor, declared her minor when she had four semesters left in her undergraduate studies.

“If you are doing something that you feel like isn’t really what you are called to do or isn’t right for you, then I don’t think ever is too late to change that,” Chakara said. “I think it’s really important for us to all recognize our own agency in making sure that we are doing exactly what we want to do.”

Trammell said the minor “is a great chance to be well-rounded” and “to take classes in things you’re interested in.”

“There aren’t going to be a lot of chances for that after college … to take classes with people who know what they’re talking about and talk to people who know and have done research on this kind of stuff and get more than one perspective,” Trammell said.

The Woodlands senior Katherine Barron, another women’s and gender studies minor, said her classes have been filled with students from diverse majors, from psychology and pre-med to social work and business.

“A cool part of these classes is that in a lot of these ones I’ve taken, everyone is different majors, so we’re able to see issues from different perspectives, then able to go back into our field classes and have that perspective,” Barron said. “Once we eventually graduate and go into the jobs we’re going into, we can have that knowledge and recognize and take advantage of that.”

Barron said many of her women’s and gender studies minor classes have been discussion-based, which allows open dialogue about politics or ideas that are usually polarizing in regular day-to-day conversations.

“I absolutely would identify as feminist, but it’s been a process of not really wanting to say that … Initially people have a very negative reaction to just hearing the word,” Chakara said. “Just kind of through my experience of being in school and everything, I’ve been able to think through what that could mean for me.”

Chakara said her definition of a feminist is someone who “wants all people to be equal.” She also said the objective of the women’s and gender studies minor program is to “equip women and men to understand the disparities in ways we don’t necessarily see.”

“In our classes, it’s almost impossible to talk about gender without also mentioning class and race and all sorts of issues. So, I think the biggest thing is developing sensitivity and being able to have empathy for someone in a situation unlike yours. Being able to understand and have that sensitivity is really important,” Shaver said.

Barron said that she thinks “anyone can come in at any different level and start to hear about things they’ve never talked about before.”

“I don’t want to become complacent and just go throughout my daily life as a privileged white woman at Baylor. I want to understand the struggles of women of color and disabled people and trans people and know that they have it a lot harder in life,” Barron said. “[I want] to understand… that I have a position of privilege and to be able to learn as much as I can about their struggles and help them from the place that I am in the world.”

Barron said students who do not have interest or room in their schedule to take a women’s and gender studies class should still “talk to people and have discussions about issues –– in race and class and sexual orientation” and take the initiative to learn more about ongoing social movements from different perspectives.