WGS major to become a department

GVL/Kevin Sielaff
Kathleen Underwood (left) and Ashley Rapp)

GVL/Kevin Sielaff Kathleen Underwood (left) and Ashley Rapp)

Fifty students at Grand Valley State University were enrolled as women and gender studies majors at the start of the fall semester, an increase from the original 18 students when the major was created five years ago. Next semester, the program will become an official department at GVSU.

Kathleen Underwood, director of the WGS program, said the program came about because of student interest. Underwood said that without the students, there would be no program.

“We started with the minor because we wanted to show student interest,” Underwood said. “The students helped create the major. We predicted we’d have 35 majors after five years, but we had 35 majors after two years.”

Women and gender studies is an interdisciplinary program that includes the recently created LGBTQ minor. To recognize this, Underwood said the program is changing its name to women, gender and sexuality studies.

“It really captures where our field is going,” she said. “It puts us on track with our field as more and more departments are changing their names to add sexuality.”

Although the WGS program has functioned as a department since 2009, Underwood is excited for the formal transition because she believes it will make students even more interested in taking those courses.

“It gives us stability because programs can come and go, but departments are seen as the bedrock of the college,” she said. “It shows Grand Valley’s commitment to the study of women, gender and sexuality and to interdisciplinary teaching and research.”

Katelyn McKeague, a GVSU senior, is pursuing a major in film and video with a WGS minor. McKeague said she has always been interested in gender and sexuality, so she began her freshman year with the class “Understanding the Gay Life Cycle.”

“It took off from there,” she said. “WGS is interdisciplinary, so there are a ton of focuses you can take. You can either get a very broad or specific image of how gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity and class operate within our culture.”

McKeague now works in the WGS office on campus, and thinks both the name change and the move to a department are a good idea.

“I feel like it would allow students more opportunities, and the organization of the different programs would be much more clear,” McKeague said. “I feel like I have been able to improve myself as a result of taking classes within the WGS program. It opens your eyes to real things that are happening all over the world that are not talked about much because of social stigma.”

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