Webster University seniors Andrea Hermann, Molly Waters, Kelsey Deters and Rosie Jones all entered the university in a variety of different majors, from French to Communications, or undeclared. They will leave as graduates of the Women and Gender Studies (WGST) program.
Students and faculty gathered in Sunnen Lounge for the WGST open house. The event was conceived as a way for students to figure out what the WGST program has to offer, as well as interact with both student and professional organizations dealing with gender issues. Hermann, Waters, Deters and Jones participated in a panel talking about their experiences in the program.
Student groups included African-American Women’s Society, Feminist Collective, Women Power and the LGBTQ Alliance.
Professional nonprofit organizations present were the WILLOW Project, ReproAction and the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri.
“They [graduates] want to work in nonprofit organizations that are designed to address social justice issues,” College of Arts and Sciences Associate Dean Danielle McCartney said.
MacCartney said these issues include reproductive rights, voting, LBGTQ and race issues.
A feminist approach
MacCartney said women’s studies has always always been a part of Webster, just not as a formal program, but it was never a formal program. She said the WGST program was an idea that was, in part, meant to show Webster how important the idea of women’s studies have been since the university’s founding. The program was approved during the fall 2012 semester.
Legal Studies Professor Anne Geraghty-Rathert said that while the program has been official for almost four years, MacCartney and Director of Women and Gender Studies Kate Parsons had been fighting for it for a long time.
MacCartney said the program is called “Women and Gender Studies” because it deals with both the position of women in society and the influence of gender ideology. Parsons said the program comes from a feminist approach.
“The development of feminist theory has really moved to the sense that feminism is about the eradication about lots of different forms of oppression,” Parsons said.
Geraghty-Rathert said the theory binds the program together, but the subject matter varies from class to class (women in law, women in literature, etc.).
Beyond “face value”
Kelsey Deters went from a directing major in the Conservatory to Communications before becoming a Women and Gender Studies (WGST) major. She wrote her admittance essay on “the definition of beauty.” Christiana Chekoudijan, academic advisor and WGST professor, encouraged her to take a WGST course after reading her essay. Deters agreed.
“These were the classes that I enjoyed taking,” Deters said.
Deters grew up in a small conservative town, where she said she was taught to accept everything on the surface. She said she does not do that anymore as a WGST major.
Rosie Jones first experienced women and gender studies with a dual-enrollment class in high school her senior year.
“It was so revolutionary in my life,” Jones said. “I would get the assignments and just devour them.”
Jones took Parson’s course on feminist theory, which helped her lean towards the WGST program. She said she was scared to declare WGST as her major because she did not know, initially, what she could do with it after graduation. Now, she said she could not imagine her life without it. Being a WGST major has helped Jones look past issues at “face value.”
Molly Waters got involved came into Webster as a French major, but found it was not entirely clicking for her. She took a standard sociology class that she said completely changed her life.
Waters said she never thought about politics or the way the world was structured before that class. She said she knew she had to further explore those concepts, which led her to the WGST program.
Waters said the WGST program has helped her better understand people in general, which she said will be helpful in the future.
Andrea Hermann said she grew up with a strong mother and did not really think that there were any problems in gender politics. She took an intro to women and gender studies class and everything changed.
“I remember the teacher said ‘this class is going to change your life,’” Hermann said. “It was that moment that I realized that I’m part of the system and that experienced a lot of these things that I thought were normal and realized were not.”
Hermann said she has experienced frustrations with being a woman. Taking the WGST courses helped her be proud of her gender.
“It’s helped me kind of empower my friends and family and also challenge the things I used to just accept,” Hermann said.
All four said the WGST program has helped shape who they are today. They said they have developed valuable critical thinking and people skills which will help them in the future. Waters said the WGST program will continue to help students think beyond the surface and challenge societal views on gender.
“I think it’s a very powerful thing to disrupt the norm and that’s something we’re always learning how to do,” Waters said.