Students who have been pursuing Women's and Gender Studies as a minor say its evolution to a major — Women's, Gender and Sexuality Studies (WGSS)— is a testament to Franklin & Marshall College's commitment to intellectual rigor and inclusiveness.
"This major both facilitates an atmosphere of tolerance and equips students with the tools needed to promote activism and equality in other communities," said senior Mikayla Bean, who is looking toward a career in advocacy.
Creating this new major shows F&M believes in the fight for the rights of women and the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex and Asexual (LGBTQIA) communities, Bean said.
"I chose this major because I wanted to further my understanding of identities and experiences that are not my own," she said.
The 10-course program launched this semester. Faculty and students have spent years evolving the one-time minor into an even richer and more challenging major, said Alison Kibler, professor of American studies and women's, gender and sexuality studies.
"The growth from a minor to a major and the expansion to include sexuality studies represent our faculty's increased interest in these exciting areas of research and teaching over the past decade — from histories of masculinity, to gender and Islam, to queer poetry, to name just a few," Kibler said.
Professor of Spanish Carmen Tisnado, an associate dean who was co-chair of the Education Policy Committee when the College decided to promote gender and sexuality to the status of major, said student demand and the increasingly interdisciplinary nature of the program were keys to the change.
"The study of how society views gender relations is of extreme importance, because the perception of gender relations has affected men and women throughout history," she said. "Exploring this issue from different disciplines provides a well-rounded and grounded understanding of the human experience."
Increasingly, students have been selecting women's and gender studies as a minor, which spurred a need to add faculty. The growth of women's studies, as well as greater attention to sexuality studies at liberal arts colleges in general, also were factors.
"This major establishes gender and sexuality as fundamental categories of social, cultural, political and historical analysis," Kibler said. "And it examines how gender and sexuality intersect with class, race, ethnicity and nationality."
Crossing many disciplines, faculty research related to WGSS includes the global barometer of gay rights; women's cinema in Italy; neoclassical fashionable dress in London, Paris and Naples in the late 18th century; and pregnancy outcomes among Amish and other American women, Kibler said.
"We recently put out a call for faculty research topics related to gender and sexuality and received a long list — much longer than we had anticipated," she said.
Students such as senior Tiana Quattrucci, among the first students to declare WGSS as her major, see career and academic opportunities in the fast-growing program.
"I hope to continue my education in WGSS, a field that is constantly changing and developing," Quattrucci said. "I also hope to end up back in the classroom sparking for generations the same passion in students that I found at Franklin and Marshall."
He, She or Self-Identify (Fill in the Blank): Gender Identity on Campus
At Franklin & Marshall College, gender identification and biological sex are no longer interchangeable.
In fall 2014, for example, the College Houses and residence halls added gender-neutral bathrooms after an inclusive group of students — gay, straight and transgender — appealed to the administration on several gender issues.
"Society is finally starting to grasp that biological sex and gender are two different things," said senior Tiana Quattrucci, one of the students who took the issue to President Daniel R. Porterfield and Dean of the College Margaret Hazlett.
Another sign of change: beginning this semester, SPOT (Student Perceptions Of Teaching) surveys include a new field: which pronoun students prefer professors use to address them. The choices are Male, Female and Self-Identify, with a blank space for the preferred pronoun.
Respecting a student who prefers a pronoun outside the gender binary is important to the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex and Asexual (LGBTQIA) communities, said Bill Hamersly, who prefers they/them.
"There can be painful psychological effects" to gender-based descriptors, Hamersly said. "They feel they are not being seen as they see themselves."
Expanding on an atmosphere of inclusion, some students, faculty and administrators use their email signatures to indicate the gender pronoun they prefer. Hazlett's email includes her preference for she/her.
"If that makes one student comfortable, it's worth it," Hazlett said. "This is a little action that has a huge impact on making students feel welcome in our community."
Pronoun preferences are not a College policy, but like gender-neutral bathrooms and the new SPOT surveys, are part of a larger conversation about gender, tolerance and inclusiveness, said senior Jason Mitchell-Boyask.
"It's a lot of conversation about a lot of things, and the pronouns are a big part of it," he said.