WGS celebrates 50 years; students fill introductory sections

October 11, 2022 (Volume 46, Number 4)
Article by Michele Coffill

Sections of the introductory Women, Gender, and Sexuality course are full as the program celebrates its 50th anniversary.

Julia Mason, associate professor and chair of WGS, said multiple factors contributed to a general rise in interest in WGS classes, including recruiting students at campus events and renaming the introductory course from a 200-level to a 100-level class. 

And, of course, women's rights have risen to a prominent level in public discourse. Mason said political activity comes and goes cyclically, and students find WGS classes as places to learn how gender impacts everyday life and learn how to think critically and engage in civil discussions.

"Right now we are in a backlash moment," Mason said. "Most high schools do not offer courses on gender and our program provides a lens for students to think critically about politics and society."

WGS hosted an open house for students on September 29 to celebrate the life of noted feminist author bell hooks, who died in December. 

Caitlin Hays, a junior who is majoring in social studies secondary education, called the WGS courses she has taken a safe space. In her current course, Gender and Pop Culture, students are learning about representation in media and how gender can affect society. 

"Most of our discussions are student-led," Hays said. "It's a safe place to say what you want and talk about the elephant in the room — things that impact your daily life and sometimes you want to say something but feel restricted."

Lilly June is a first-year student who said she appreciates gaining vocabulary in her WGS class to "be able to have a civil discussion about the things I'm passionate about."

WGS 50th anniversary

For 50 years, faculty members have taught women and gender studies courses at Grand Valley, beginning in 1973. Classes were initially housed in what was then the College of Arts and Sciences and in William James College. 

The program, now in the Brooks College of Interdisciplinary Studies, expanded to a major in 2009. Mason said the WGS minor can now be completed online, in addition to in-person.

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This article was last edited on October 11, 2022 at 1:49 p.m.

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