Every semester at registration, the “Introduction to Gender Studies,” one of the Women’s and Gender Studies (WAGS) core courses, is waitlisted. Although the class is capped at 20 students, there is always a need for more room and even more sections. Consistent student demand for the introductory courses on gender studies, women’s studies, and queer studies testifies to the vibrancy and necessity of the WAGS program in our current moment. In celebration of WAGS’ existence on Trinity’s campus and in conjunction with Women’s History Month, I would like to offer some insight into the roots and richness of the program as well as my own experience teaching “Intro. to Gender Studies” this semester.
In 1986, a group of Trinity students began to push for a Women’s Studies Program on campus. Students spearheaded the effort to research peer institutions’ programs and organize students, faculty, and the guiding principles for the ideal program. By the 1989-1990 academic year, a Women’s Studies Program and minor entered the Trinity curriculum, with support from faculty in the Departments of Sociology and Anthropology, Art History, Biology, English, History, Mathematics, Philosophy, Psychology, Spanish, and Religion. By Fall 1995, 45 courses across 13 departments were listed as part of the Women’s Studies Program at Trinity. The courses stressed gender as a category of analysis. In the 2000s, the program widened its scope to include the broader category of gender studies as well.
Trinity students who enroll in WAGS courses today have the same spirit of enthusiasm and commitment to social justice as their predecessors who created the Women’s Studies Program. In my “Intro. to Gender Studies” class, students from majors across campus come together to discuss developments in the history of gender and sexuality in the United States. They bring their own experiences to the table, support one another, and ask thoughtful questions. They challenge the inequalities found in white feminism and the patriarchy, embracing intersectional approaches and applauding fresh perspectives. I have found myself inspired by and learning from them each week.
The “Intro. to Gender Studies” students also take on the responsibility to educate the broader public about issues related to gender and sexuality. They sign up to curate content on the WAGS social media accounts on Instagram and Twitter (@TrinityWAGS), choosing an image and writing accompanying text for publication every week. This semester, the class has done a fantastic job, from posting about essential terminology to drawing attention to the conditions of incarcerated women in Texas.
Indeed, WAGS is more than just a minor: It’s a community. WAGS provides a space, both literal and abstract, for exploration, celebration, and education on campus. The program frequently hosts activities and events outside of classrooms, such as an evening with Yvonne Swan, Martha Cotera, and Frances Beal last March. In addition to bringing lecturers to campus, WAGS regularly hosts film screenings and a book club, promoting conversations between faculty, staff, and students. The program also helps maintain the Women’s Resource Center, a part of Coates Library dedicated to gender discussion, and regularly works with and supports student organizations, such as PRIDE, the Coalition for Sexual Justice, and the Black Student Union.
Today the program offers courses from more than 12 disciplines, including Spanish, sociology, English, communication, and sport management. Although gender studies offers opportunities for change and movement, it is not inherently radical or extreme. Indeed, we all live and experience gender daily. These classes are for everyone and useful in any career, grad or law school, or just life.
Upon returning to Trinity in Fall 2021, I became involved in WAGS after befriending Dr. Gina Tam. She invited me to help hand out snacks at a WAGS table, and that small event was so fun that I wanted to engage more with the WAGS program and its members. I’m extremely grateful for the generosity and support of my colleagues, especially Dr. Kathryn Vomero Santos and Dr. Sarah Erickson, who provided their own “Intro. to Gender Studies” syllabi when I was creating mine. This type of collaborative, encouraging environment is indicative of WAGS’ community overall.
Since WAGS is not housed in one specific department, it relies on funding from Academic Affairs to operate its courses and events. The support of the University and higher administration is crucial for WAGS, which provides a vibrant, welcoming space on campus for all students, faculty, and staff. The demand for WAGS classes is a testament to the influence that the program has on campus, in both student learning and life. I’m so excited to be part of WAGS and cannot wait to see what we accomplish in the future.