New Social Transformation Studies department a place for students to make a difference

American Ethnic Studies and Gender, Women and Sexuality Studies combine to become the Social Transformation Studies department. (Dylan Connell | Collegian Media Group)

The merger of Gender, Women and Sexuality Studies and American Ethnic Studies departments allows students to learn numerous aspects of combatting social justice issues. In the Jan. 28 edition of K-State Today, the Kansas Board of Regents’ Council of Chief Academic Officers announced that the merger was finalized on Jan. 25, 2022, establishing the Social Transformation Studies department.

Christie Launius, interim head of the newly established department, said a growing body of research shows Gen Z students are committed to tackling social problems and inequalities as a part of their career aspirations.

“More and more of Gen Z wants to have what we call meaningful work, a career where they can make a difference,” Launius said. “So, we see this new department as being designed as a place where we can meet the desires of those students.”

According to the Social Transformation Studies department webpage, “The department offers students knowledge and skills that enable them to launch and sustain careers devoted to tackling some of the most pressing social issues.”

“Students so clearly are seeing that when you talk about race and racism, you also need to talk about gender, femininity and masculinity and vice versa,” Launius said. “So, it almost doesn’t make sense for these departments to be separate.”

Lanius said many professions could have a social justice angle.

“You can go into whatever field you want and also have a social justice angle on your work,” Launius said. “We have a ton of students who major or minor in gender, women and sexuality studies or American ethnic studies, and then combine it with another major.”

She also said students could use knowledge from both areas as a strategic move for a future workspace, as a way to exhibit inclusivity and understanding.

Cheyanne Brunner, senior in psychology and GWSS, said she is double majoring for her career as a therapist later.

“This department is amazing because it applies to a large variety of fields, I personally am going into therapy, but you can go into law, engineering or go into non-profit organizations,” Brunner said. “These are such easy majors to have on top of another major in order to make your other major better for a future work environment.”

As a senior, Brunner said she is sad she won’t experience the department as a student but is excited to see how younger students take advantage of the two departments merging.

Courage Wortman, junior in GWSS, said they are eager to join the new department next semester.

“I am so excited to have more options for classes I can take,” Wortman said. “I wanted to take more American ethnics classes anyway because I work with marginalized students, so this will help me get a better idea of how to work with them and how to combat issues.”

Launius said students report they like the sense of community and connection between GWSS and American ethnic studies courses.

“Our courses are ones that offer student-led discussions and provide a welcoming space for everyone,” Launius said. “And as a department, we work really hard to create space for students to hang out and feel safe throughout the day.”

Launius said combining the departments will hopefully create a bigger version of these already comforting and safe communities.

“Both departments are all about justice and creating a better world,” Brunner said. “So, as we get more people and spread the word about social transformation studies, it will become a bigger community, and then we can make a movement towards a better world.”