Gender, sexuality and women’s studies joins list of minors

A new gender, sexuality and women’s studies minor will join the registrar’s list this fall that will give students an opportunity to learn more about the history, culture, perspectives and intersectionality of historically marginalized groups. 

The curriculum council unanimously approved the new minor on April 5. Sociology professor Spencier Ciaralli will act as the minor’s coordinator. 

“We’re really just trying to provide students with this interdisciplinary understanding of these interlinking dynamics of the social, the cultural, the historical forces that are shaping these intersectional, gendered and sexual identities,” Ciaralli said. 

Students will have to complete a total of 19-20 credits with a required capstone course and a gender, sex and sexuality course to achieve the minor. The minor will also offer electives in a wide range of academic disciplines. 

“It’s not just sociology courses,” Ciaralli said. “It’s English. It’s philosophy. It’s science. There’s a biology history course that’s looking at life cycles of birth, death and history of medicine.”

According to Ciaralli, the minor also includes courses that are new to Augustana, such as the psychology of gender, as well as various cross-listed courses, like English professor Darcie Rives-East’s women’s literature course. 

“We wanted something that didn’t have to be all from scratch and that would benefit students by allowing someone to pick up a minor pretty easily,” Rives-East, who helped develop the minor, said. 

Ciaralli said the minor will encourage students to apply what they learn to their future careers and communities, and it will not solely focus on the explicitly stated study areas. 

“[The minor is] looking not just at gender and women and sexual orientation, but also looking at race, at class, at disability, immigration status, intersectionality theory,” Ciaralli said. 

A week before the Curriculum Council unanimously approved the new minor, Ciaralli said they already had five students who signed up to take the minor. They currently teach two sections of Sociology 260 — Gender, Sex and Sexuality — and they said they have 22 students in each course, some of whom are taking the course to prepare for the minor. 

“I believe we were hoping for, within the next few years, to have 20 [students] registered, but we lowballed that,” Ciaralli said. “I can easily see that being surpassed.”

Sophomore sociology major Angelica Morales said the minor will help further her interest in studying women outside of the Western perspective. 

“One of the things that kind of gives me hope about what I want to study is [that] Dr. Ciaralli teaches and tries to learn a lot of the same things that I want to,” Morales said. “It’s so cool to see a professor teaching what I want to learn and what I want to pursue.”

This is Augustana’s second approval of a gender studies minor. When Glenda Sehested, the coordinator of the previous gender studies minor, passed away in 2013, leadership of the minor underwent several changes.

“At the time of Dr. Sehested’s death, there was little buy-in from faculty, [departments] or students,” Susan Schrader, a retired Augustana sociology professor, said. “Much of the program on the books remained under sociology. So, as department chair, I tried to keep the minor afloat, knowing it continued to benefit some students.”

Rives-East said the minor remained in sociology before ultimately ending. 

“It wasn’t really a big program,” Rives-East said. “It was sort of just a small thing housed in sociology, and when [Schrader] retired, then it kind of just fell away.”

Schrader said most of the sociology professors at the time were specialists in areas other than gender studies. 

“Professor Susan Bunger had some expertise in gender studies, but the rest of us had different specializations,” Schrader said.

According to a Mirror article from 2017, history professor Margaret Preston was set to act as the program coordinator for the next two years, at which point another faculty member would assume the position. However, the gender studies courses stopped appearing in Augustana’s undergraduate course catalog in the 2021-2022 academic year.

According to Ciaralli, student demand prompted the revamped gender studies minor. 

“We realized after student demand that this was something that the student body wants and they deserve to have access to,” Ciaralli said. 

Rives-East said Joni Krueger, the associate dean of interdisciplinary programs, and Jeffrey Miller, the co-director of interdisciplinary studies, initiated the process of assembling the gender, sex and women’s studies minor by reaching out to faculty across campus with interests in the field. 

“We looked at 17 other institutions that are either kind of comparative in a similar group of students to a similar campus size to Augustana, and we discovered that Augustana was the only institution that had no concentration, no minor, no major in gender studies overall,” Ciaralli said. 

With the new minor soon underway, Augustana plans to catch up — and more than just sociology majors can take advantage of the added minor. 

“Let’s say if someone is going pre-med,” Rives-East said. “Well, if you take a gender studies minor, you’re going to be able to work that into how you perceive your patients, how you perceive medicine. You can make your own field more equitable.”

Ciaralli said the field of gender, sexuality and women’s studies proves pertinent to a variety of career paths. 

“I think this is an integral, critical, important lens or knowledge source to consider in anyone’s career or in anyone’s future vocation, so it’s not necessarily someone who wants to go work in gender and sexuality scholarship” Ciaralli said. 

Sophomore Gabriela Jancikova, who is double-majoring in sociology and environmental studies, said gender studies also helps students learn more about themselves and others as individuals.

For Ciaralli, Morales and Jancikova, taking their first gender studies and sociology courses sparked an interest in the field and a desire to learn more.

Ciaralli began their undergraduate education at Miami University of Ohio as a pre-med student. After taking a women’s studies course, they switched their majors to women, gender and sexuality, as well as social justice.

“I remember I took my first women’s studies course, and it was the first time I ever felt like I belonged in the classroom,” Ciaralli said. “It was the first time I ever felt excited and engaged with the reading material and content.” 

Morales entered her freshman year as a biology major on a pre-veterinary medicine track. After taking Ciaralli’s course on contemporary society, she changed her major to sociology. 

“I feel like I’m actually learning now, and I actually want to learn,” Morales said. “I want to engage with the material.”

Jancikova started her time at Augustana knowing she wanted to major in sociology, but she hadn’t decided on a specific field of study until she took a gender, sex and sexuality course with Ciaralli. 

“I took this class, and it just opened my eyes,” Jancikova said. “I was like, ‘Oh my gosh. This is amazing, and I want to know more and more and more.’”

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