JOHNSON CITY (Aug. 16, 2021) – If Women’s Studies at East Tennessee State University is anything, it is dedicated and resilient, according to Program Director Dr. Phyllis Thompson.
Since its founding, the Women’s Studies Program has seen several milestones. The Women’s Studies (WMST) minor was approved in 1993; the ETSU chapter of Tri Iota, the National Women’s Studies Honor Society, was formed; the Notable Women of ETSU Award was created in 2002; and the Women’s Studies bachelor’s degree was approved in 2007.
“We held a successful external program review in 2015,” Thompson said, “and have continued our efforts to strengthen the curriculum, field testing the exciting new courses we created in response to student surveys that were part of our curriculum revision and review processes, such as ‘Sex, Gender, and the Body’; ‘Men and Masculinities’; ‘Feminist Methods of Teaching and Learning’; ‘Queering the Canon’; and ‘Gender-Based Violence.’ Additionally, we have initiated a monthly lecture series – ‘Women on Wednesdays’ – that attracts hundreds of attendees each year, received a $10,000 national grant to change the narrative of gender-based violence on campus, hosted a landmark Institute on Trauma-Informed Approaches to Teaching and Learning funded by an ETSU Instructional Development Committee grant, and have formed strong working partnerships with ETSU Safe Zone, the ETSU Ballad Health Strong BRAIN Institute, and the Southeastern Women’s Studies Association.”
Following this growth, the program announces that its curriculum revision and name change from Women’s Studies to Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies (WGSS) have been approved for fall 2021.
“The transition to WGSS is an intentional move to embrace gender and sex diversity as a visible part of our curriculum, values and mission as a program, a college and a university,” said Thompson, also an associate professor in the ETSU Department of Literature and Language, which houses the program. “This past fall, 2020, with Interim Dean Joe Bidwell’s support and endorsement, the proposal moved forward in the university system and received the approval of then-Provost Wilsie Bishop and President Brian Noland.
“The name change from Women’s Studies to Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies more accurately reﬂects advances in the field, the academic content of the minor, language used in the discipline, and equity and inclusion trends in higher education and at our university,” she continued. “Moreover, this transition to WGSS will expand the scope of our program to include gender and sexuality studies, which will attract a broader range of students across multiple disciplinary fields and colleges, and thereby promote program growth and increase enrollments in the minor. It makes our students’ degrees more intelligible to graduate programs as well as employers and prepares our students with the academic content and field-related skills to be competitive in graduate school and/or on the job market.”
Thompson points out that workforce trends show a need for training in equity and inclusion, critical thinking and community engagement skills, which employers seek in new hires.
“Our ‘Leadership through Diversity’ focus prepares students to meet these job expectations and highlights our emphasis on applied learning, translatable research, collaboration, and leadership,” she said. “Experiential learning opportunities in WGSS provide minors with field-related internships to build on lessons learned in the classroom, test assumptions, and practice skill-based knowledge. Research funds are available to support student scholarship through professionalization workshops and conference presentations.”
As WMST minor graduate Kayla Dixon said, “I have learned to speak up, ask questions and challenge social injustice that I encounter in my everyday life. I have been able to use what I have learned with my Women’s Studies minor to bring new insight into my public health classes and to challenge systematic social injustice within the public health field.”
Students enrolling in the new WGSS minor can look forward to learning those same skills and applying them in their own fields — from Public Health and beyond — since WGSS pairs well with any program of study, according to Thompson.
“We are making available to students at ETSU a quality program with a strong diversity emphasis, intellectual support, extra-curricular programming and opportunities for collegiality and personal and professional growth,” she said.
The minor in WGSS is official beginning this fall semester, which starts Aug. 23. Students complete 18 credit hours for the minor: nine hours of core WGSS classes and nine hours chosen from an extensive list of elective courses offered from departments across campus that allows students to design a plan of study based on their interests and as a strategic companion to their major.
“WGSS educates students to critically engage issues of gender and sex equity, navigate cutting-edge issues that many population groups face, and create a coherent vision of professional success and a more humane society where all feel they belong,” Thompson said. “WGSS students make a difference.
“We are absolutely delighted to share this news and thrilled that we have campus and community support to honor the legacy of Women’s Studies as we pave the way for new and exciting curricular developments that lay ahead. Just as we celebrated the first Women’s Studies minor graduating in 1994, we look forward to celebrating the first Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies minor in the near future.”
For more information, call the WGSS Program office at 423-439-4125.