Progress made toward gender and queer studies major at Puget Sound

Kelly Johnson, the leading voice in creating a GQS major — photo courtesy of Kelly Johnson

Students tracking the development of a gender and queer studies major at Puget Sound may be excited to hear of a new development: the creation of a gender and queer Studies special interdisciplinary major (GQS SIM).

Special interdisciplinary majors allow students to work with a three-member faculty committee, which includes an advisor from a related department, to create a track of study which may not fit into a traditional major or department. The interdisciplinary major includes courses from more than two departments and concludes with a final senior thesis or project.

While there is currently a gender and queer studies minor, the SIM model allows students to create an individual major focusing on the subject. Working with their faculty committee, a student can submit a SIM proposal to the Curriculum Committee for approval.

Kelly Johnson ‘19 has been the leading voice in creating a gender and queer studies major at Puget Sound.

“The significance of having a GQS major is multifaceted,” Johnson said. “It provides individuals with the opportunity to educate themselves on the systems of oppressions that permeate all aspects of our society and it establishes these intersectional and identity-based discussions as important and legitimate in academia and in the workforce.”

Johnson’s conviction in the importance of having a course of study focusing on gender and queer studies, along with hearing other students discuss the possibility of a major, led them to take action. They began by approaching the director of the gender and queer studies department, Greta Austin.

“That discussion basically lead me to create a petition that circulated last year which was intended to show the amount of student interest that did exist,” Johnson said. “Ultimately student interest wasn’t the problem but rather the institutional commitment (or lack thereof) from the school.”

Johnson’s petition proved successful, garnering over 1,000 signatures from current Puget Sound students and alumni. While the GQS SIM is a step in the right direction, Johnson said there is still progress to be made — ultimately the creation of an official major focusing on gender and queer studies.

“Like I said, the issue really is with the lack of institutional commitment, in that the entire department is being held together by visiting professors and professors from other disciplines and departments,” Johnson said. “What that means is until we have long-term commitment from the school in the form of tenure-lined professors, the major can’t be sustained.”

However, Johnson explained that the GQS department does not receive enough funding to hire more permanent professors since it only remains a minor. They hope that is where the SIM will help.

“If there are students majoring in a GQS-oriented discipline, hopefully the school will respond by hiring more professors and providing more tenure lined positions for professors with that focus,” Johnson said.

Johnson hopes that the momentum for creating a major at Puget Sound will not end when they graduate in 2019, in addition to some GQS professors’ contracts ending. They shared a few ways concerned students can get involved: attending LGBTQ+ community meetings on Thursdays from 5-6 p.m. in the Rendezvous Room, contacting the Student Concerns Committee and participating in ASUPS elections.

“Students have the capacity to create change on this campus and sometimes that means making the change yourself,” Johnson said. “Like Angela Davis said, ‘I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change, I am changing the things I cannot accept.’ That is the mindset we need from our student body.”