Women’s studies department now offers queer studies minor program

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The final approval was recently granted to have a queer studies program at K-State. Housed within the women’s studies department, the minor will place emphasis on the intersectionalities between sexuality, gender identities, race, national origins and histories told.

“These are the histories of people of K-State or Kansas or beyond,” Caroline Tushabe, assistant professor of women’s studies, said. “This is the piece that’s missing. Our students, faculty and staff need to be exposed to these histories. Knowing one’s own history is important – it acknowledges your presence.”

Tushabe said the world is changing by appreciating more differences between people, including sexual orientations and gender identities. While people are just beginning to understand these differences, she said, if students aren’t prepared and knowledgable about these changes, professors are not doing their students justice.

Lisa Tatonetti, associate professor of English, said queer studies is a broad discipline that helps understand larger issues. She said while sexual orientation is mentioned, it also teaches about policies through theoretical lenses to better understand history.

“This minor is not just about queer identities,” Shireen Roshanravan, assistant professor of women’s studies, said. “It’s also about understanding how institutionalized heterosexuality has effected many other groups of people. The minor provides a lens that highlights this dimension of oppression, while enhancing American ethnic studies and women’s studies courses.”

What to expect
Although approval for this 15-credit hour minor was just passed, there have been classes emphasizing discussions around sexual orientation and gender identity at K-State for the past decade.

“There is support from students,” Tushabe said. “We have taught 300-level and 700-level courses (about these issues), and students were disappointed we didn’t have a minor. They are hungry for this kind of knowledge.”

Queer studies brings a new lens to the table of academic learning at K-State.

“There are two things at work with this minor,” Tatonetti said. “First, queer studies is one of the most theoretically rigorous disciplines and to bring this theoretical rigor to K-State is important. Secondly, there is a presence of LGBT people at K-State and in Kansas. This provides a space to come together to discuss queer topics.”

The queer studies minor will aim to address many different areas that affect political structures, history that is taught and learned, as well as many other interdisciplinary topics.

“What’s critical to know is that queer studies challenges normalizing power structures that can even manifest in resistance,” Roshanravan said. “This program doesn’t let students settle.”

Tushabe said the minor helps explain the living justice all people should be a part of. She said one has to constantly question language, critique identities and resistant identities. It’s about not being comfortable with the status quo.

The name
There was discussion surrounding what to actually name the minor. While other majors and minors are more cut and dry with what they should be called, this one in particular faced a few challenges.

“There was a lot of fear and push back with the name,” Roshanravan said. “Some thought it was an offensive term. Some don’t think of queer as being a reclaimed term and rather see it as a derogatory identity.”

A few other alternatives were thrown in the discussion for the name. Calling it LGBT studies was a suggestion, but those deciding on the name didn’t find it all inclusive for those who have identities outside of the representation of those four letters. Sexualities studies was brought up as another option, but was also declined. Those teaching courses in the minor didn’t want confusion between queer studies and human sexuality and the content areas covered within the minor.

“Queer theory is a practice of politics, not only an identity,” Tushabe said. “It is a way of thinking, living and being. It’s a way to understand history to be more inclusive to anyone who wants to gain knowledge.”

Open Forum
As a part of the queer studies kick-off week, professors of the women’s studies department will be hosting multiple events for the campus and community to gain more knowledge about the minor April 28 through May 2.

One of the events is the queer studies public forum on May 1 in room 227 of the K-State Student Union at 4 p.m. Internationally-renowned scholars Ernesto Martinez, associate professor of ethnic studies at the University of Oregon; Michael Hames-Garcia, professor of ethnic studies at the University of Oregon; and Qwo-Li Driskill, assistant professor of women, gender and sexualities studies at Oregon State University, will be aiding in discussion to help explain what queer studies is, what it offers to college campuses and how students can benefit from it.

“There are some people who already know about queer studies, but we will really have to educate others to get the momentum going,” Roshanravan said. “This forum will have three well-known queer studies scholars who are coming and giving perspective about what this field is.”

The public forum is free and open anyone who wants to know more about queer studies.

“This forum provides many benefits,” Tushabe said. “It has been beyond just us to get this program – there have been others involved. Come with questions, whether you are in favor of this program, you don’t understand this program or you don’t like this program. Come to learn more about it.”

The queer studies kickoff continues May 2 with a presentation from Jane Ward, associate professor of women’s studies at the University of California Riverside, in Leasure Hall 13 at 3:30 p.m. Ward will doing a presentation titled “Not gay: whiteness, masculinity and the remaking of homosexual sex.”

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