Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Student Testimonies
It’s mile eleven point something. It’s mid-April. It’s hot. I am exhausted. I hear a tiny voice behind me, “It’s not lady-like to spit.” I turn back, shocked and confused. “What?” I ask, and he repeats himself. I am running a half marathon, the last thing I am concerned about is, “being a lady”… whatever that even means. It was at this very moment that my background as a Women and Gender studies minor kicked in full force for the first time. I gave that man a piece of my mind, spitting on the ground once again… this time for spite. I have gained a lot as a Women and Gender Studies student. I have learned to speak up when I hear an eighth grade female student in period four declare, “I can’t be an engineer, I am a girl.” I have realized that my male students feel uncomfortable showing their emotions in class. I have noticed how my female students get undermined in athletics and I have taken note of how my male students get mocked for being in drama and chorus. I have discovered that talking to my students about these issues is not only important, but a necessary step in shaping their futures. I have discovered that because of my long hair, nail polish, and mascara that I will be treated differently in the workforce; that because I am a small, female teacher, some of my students wrongfully think I am weak. Most importantly, I have realized that things do not have to be this way- and I have the agency to make a change. I became and Women and Gender studies student my junior year at Kutztown University when I took a class called Women Writers Around the World. Dr. Clemens talked to our class about the opportunity to add the minor and because I loved the class so much, I ran with it. Being a WGS student has impacted more then just my education, it has changed my entire life; it has transformed me. The shy, quiet girl from freshman and sophomore years has blossomed into a woman who asks questions, starts conversations, and looks in depth about the world around her. I have learned to ask the uncomfortable questions, to start the conversations that others shy away from, and to encourage others. As a future teacher I have learned to lead by example. I will continue to teach my female students that they are strong and capable, all the while encouraging my male students to follow their hearts and passions no matter how masculine they are perceived to be. I have the opportunity to be an advocate for all of my students, but I have a responsibility to teach them to be an advocate for themselves. Outside of school, I have found a new comfort in my body as a runner, learning that any body is a runner’s body. Most importantly, I’ve come to discover that running isn’t about being “lady-like,” it’s about being a badass. My strength, my determination, my confidence, and my drive to succeed have strengthened as a WGS minor. I have developed the agency that I need to advocate for myself and for others. I will carry these skills with me for the rest of my life, I will teach these skills to my future students, coworkers, and even my own children one day. Being a WGS minor is more than just books, research, and essays, it’s about learning how to be a better person, and most importantly, it’s about learning to advocate and give voices to those who need them the most.
When I was a sophomore at Kutztown University, I was still craving the kind of academic connection I had imagined when I decided to go to college. I was still seeking a challenging education, the kind of education that would make attending college worth the time, the money, and the stress. When I took Women Writers Around The World with Dr. Clemens, my search came to a halt. Observing her passion, honesty and knowledge, I finally understood the direction my education was meant to head in. I was no longer meant to simply skim my way through college, collecting only the information necessary to complete my degree. While reading about the experiences of women from Iran, Haiti, Nigeria and India, I knew my education was meant for more. I was meant to seek culture, to seek an understanding of the worldly, womanly experiences that my previous education did not allow for. So, when Dr. Clemens mentioned the Women’s and Gender Studies minor in class, I knew I had discovered the connection that would fulfill all of my expectations of a valuable college education. Without my WGS minor, I can’t imagine that I would have ever felt at home at Kutztown University. I think I would have always been searching for something more. Being a part of this program has shaped my education into what I always envisioned for myself: in depth conversations about social issues, critical analyses of cultures (including my own), and a greater understanding of the world I am living in. My WGS minor knocked down all of the walls that had been built from a slightly sheltered upbringing and an average, public education. Without the WGS program, I surely would have had a less important and impactful experience the last three years. The knowledge, discussions, and relationships that my WGS minor has bore will always be a part of me now. The intersectional feminist seed that was first planted my sophomore year will only continue to root, grow, and bloom into a self identity I can be proud of. It will also allow me to make connections, professional and personal, that will positively influence the career, additional education and lifestyle I pursue in the future. This minor is more than just a completed check sheet. It is the reason I am graduating from Kutztown University as a woman who is more critical AND kinder, more aware AND more outraged, more inclusive and incredibly more inspired.
From my illiterate grandmother to my widowed mother and my emotionally crippled father and maternal uncle, I realized, while growing up in an orthodox patriarchal Indian family, how sexist patriarchal ideologies compel people to blindly adhere to distinctly defined unnatural gender roles and restrain them from achieving self-actualization and embracing individualism. Since then, I have developed an inexhaustible commitment to consistently challenge sexist oppression by adapting new ways of thinking, seeing and being in this world. Hence, my zealous desire to eradicate abysmal and inhumane prejudices related to gender norms motivated me to minor in women and gender studies. My background in feminist and gender theory has significantly helped me to discern the right suited academic and professional choices in life. As a WGS minor, I read feminist literature from formerly colonized nations of Asia, Africa, and South-America and gained an in-depth understanding of women’s role and status in African history. After taking these two courses, I realized that we can’t understand complex gender issues from a simplistic first-world feminist perspective because varying levels of socio-political, economic, and mythological forces either undermine or reinforce seclusion and ill-treatment of women across five continents. Therefore, for the final paper of my English senior seminar class, through the feminist readings of Mahasweta Devi’s “Draupadi” (India) and J.M. Coetzee’s Disgrace (South Africa), I highlighted how we need a comprehensive understanding of the historical and cultural legacy of the sexist ideologies in order to understand the experiences, treatment, and sufferings of the women in so-called third world nations. Also, last February, I shared my research on postcolonial feminism with other presenters at the LVAIC Women and Gender Studies Conference and was also given the honorable mention award for the best academic paper. In my last semester, I concluded that even today women belonging to non-western countries lack agency and their condition continues to degrade while they are helplessly and unjustly misrepresented in patriarchal, neo-colonial, and first-world feminist discourses. Therefore, though initially I intended to become a teacher, I realized that as an academician I wouldn’t be able to reach the larger population, especially the illiterate and impoverished people of rural India.Thus, I decided that working in the nonprofit sector and focusing on human rights activism will be a better suited professional goal for me. In future, I also intend to advocate for the inclusion of non-western feminist literature and theory in the mainstream curriculum, instead of just women and gender studies classes, of schools and colleges across the western hemisphere. I hope to eventually find employment in either international organizations like Women’s Refugee Commission, Amnesty International and UN Women or national organizations like Sarvajal, Women on Wings, and SayFty that advocate for women’s empowerment by supporting education and employment opportunities while fighting against physical, mental, and sexual violence against women.
Like many first year students, I wasn’t the most aware of the opportunities that my university provided. I knew I didn’t want to simply obtain a Psychology degree with some random general education credits – I wanted to learn about topics that interested me and would help me enjoy my educational experience here at Kutztown. I enrolled in a Women in the Arts class with Dr. Wunder, and quickly realized that I was a hardcore feminist. Unlike so many other classes I have taken, I enjoyed doing the homework, and I looked forward to sitting in class for the next lesson. I realized this is what my experience should be like, and thankfully Dr. Wunder suggested I declare a minor in Women and Gender Studies. Once I declared my minor, I was excited to finally take courses that meant more to me than a typically gen. ed. course. The more classes I took for the minor, the more I could feel my feminism growing and becoming what it is today. I saw myself as more aware of not only women’s struggles, but the struggles of other groups such as people of color, Muslims, and the differently abled. I focused my Psychology research on the perception of women, and was fortunate enough to present that research at the LVAIC conference last year. The WGS minor gave more meaning to my education here at KU, and it made me proud to be the student that I am. I always suggest to others to declare a minor because it truly make the educational experience here more meaningful. Focusing a large part of my education on women and gender studies has inspired me currently, and it has impacted my anticipated future plans as well. I made the decision to work in the field of Substance Abuse during my Freshman year at KU, and as passionate I am about working in that field, I gained an interest in working with survivors of domestic and sexual abuse/violence. I completed an advocacy training program through Safe Berks last year, and the education I received through this program has changed where I see my career going tremendously. I give some credit to the minor for encouraging me to complete the program, be it from what I learned in lecture, the support from Dr. Clemens and Dr. Van Ens, and the whole idea of learning about social issues I may not directly be affected by. My learning experiences from my WGS classes definitely taught me outside of the classroom as well as inside of it, and that is a priceless experience I hope the rest of my peers have had as well.