The Kenyon Women’s and Gender Studies (WGS) program has proposed changing its name to Gender and Sexuality Studies in order to better reflect the evolving landscape of cultural understandings of sexuality and gender. The new program name is intended to more accurately embody the scope of its curriculum and represent how the program has grown to encompass not only Women’s and Gender but also queer, sexuality and trans studies.
The WGS program at Kenyon, which began in 2001, was influenced by the Women’s Studies major, which first developed across the country in the 1970s and expanded with the development of feminist and queer theory. The department is currently classified as interdisciplinary, since it draws from both the social sciences and the humanities. According to Professor of Spanish Marta Sierra, the chair of the department, the change will likely be approved in the coming weeks with the meeting of the Curricular Policy Committee.
Beyond simply changing the name, professors are planning to extend the program’s course offerings as a whole. Queer Studies and Women’s Studies, two of the introductory courses, which are required for the major, are both fully enrolled this semester. Consequently, the department will offer another section of the course next semester to meet the demand on campus. “[The discussion around] rights and gender is the absolute central discussion our society is having now,” Sierra said.
According to Sierra, the WGS program at Kenyon already reflects Gender and Sexuality studies in its curriculum, but not in name. Sierra believes that the name change will more accurately depict the courses already offered, such as Intro to Queer Studies, in addition to advancements in the field. “It also reflects shifts in the broader field of Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies across the country, I think, since its inception in the 1970s,” Visiting Assistant Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies Lauren Herold said.
Fundamentally, the transformative nature of the field is about asking questions, including the meaning of womanhood, gender and sexuality. “So much of feminist theory and queer theory and trans studies ask[s] those questions, which is fascinating,” Herold said. She added that if progress is to be made, those are the topics that require investigation.
Although WGS is currently an interdisciplinary department at Kenyon, Sierra is hoping to gain more acknowledgement for the major. “It has been difficult to gain recognition within the fields of humanities [and] social sciences, but it’s not just in our college. It’s a disciplinary issue as a field,” Sierra said. The major currently only has one tenure-track professor, but the department is hoping to gain a second in light of growing demand for WGS studies, both at Kenyon and throughout the country.
As other colleges redesign their WGS majors, Kenyon is following suit. “I think we’re trying to match what our colleagues are doing across the country — maybe across the world —to show that we are in alignment — that this is the direction in the field, that we look broadly at gender and sexuality through lots of different lenses in this field. And I think that womanhood is a part of that, but it’s not the whole of it,” Herold said.