New Major in Women's, Gender and Sexuality Studies Will Focus on Intersectionality

By Danica Fisher ’05, June 23, 2021
Growing in popularity and interdisciplinary field of study will meet student demand.

Ithaca College will be adding a new interdisciplinary major this coming fall, Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies (WGSS) that will offer students a flexible curriculum to explore different areas of interest. The major will help students to understand the world around them as well as their own unique identity. Claire Gleitman, professor and coordinator of Women’s and Gender Studies says that she believes this major will empower students to be deeply self-reflective and engaged, critically alert citizens of the world. 

While the idea for the major had been under discussion for quite some time, things really took off when two joint tenure-track positions were hired for the Women’s and Gender Studies program: Kasia Bartoszynska, assistant professor in the Department of English, and Natasha Bharj, assistant professor in the Department of Psychology. 

“It’s such a vital and growing interdisciplinary area of study and with its intersectional focus, is totally relevant to the world we live in,” said Carla Golden, professor emerita. “The desire to have a WGSS major has been around for a long while, but we needed to have the critical parts in place, namely faculty who were devoted to the program.” 

exist to resist

Paloma Barhaugh-Bordas, assistant professor of Art created Exist to Resist an un-editioned print project developed for wide distribution in conjunction with the 2017 Women’s March on Washington. While the project is ongoing, the first run of prints numbered approximately 200.

Gleitman said that Women’s and Gender Studies is currently the third highest enrolled interdisciplinary minor at IC and that over time they began to hear more and more students expressing a desire to put their minor coursework at the center of their education. That paired with IC being consistently ranked as one of the most LGBTQ-friendly colleges in the nation—and the faculty’s expertise in gender and sexuality studies increasing in recent years— was reason enough to pursue the major. 

“In comparison to other schools of similar size, our affiliated faculty are deep and diverse, with offerings from many departments across the college, so that adds to the strength and vibrancy of the major,” said Golden. 

The new major will be 33 credits, fully interdisciplinary with courses being taught by faculty from across IC and flexible enough to allow students to double major. 

“We quite deliberately designed it to be very flexible so that students are granted significant free rein in shaping their own education and determining where they wish to lay their focus,” said Gleitman. “Students can opt to explore psychology, sociology, biology, politics, history, literature and art, among many other disciplines, through the lens of feminist, critical race and queer studies. In other words, the major allows students to gravitate toward those areas that are of greatest interest to them.” 

Lucy Calderon ’23, a journalism major, has already been approved to be in the major in the fall. 

“I have always been an advocate for women’s reproductive rights,” said Calderon. “Growing up in conservative Kentucky, I have witnessed firsthand the plight of women and gender minorities. This seems like the natural progression in my efforts to become an agent of change with regard to this important topic.” 

Golden, who retired in the spring of 2020, and Gleitman worked together to shape the new major. Once they received the go ahead for the major it took about eight months for it to be completely approved. 

“It has been really exciting to be involved in the major's creation from its inception, and it was gratifying to see how much enthusiasm it elicited around campus,” said Gleitman. 

Golden also said that students have reported finding the coursework for the Women’s and Gender Studies minor to be stimulating, personally relevant and deeply meaningful and she expects the same of the new WGSS major. 

“The WGSS major will surely impact how students understand the world they live in and themselves, and to think critically about all aspects of women, gender and sexuality in societies past, present and future,” said Golden. “Feminist studies give life to the claim that the personal is political, and we expect the major will have a similar impact on students who pursue it.” 

Gleitman said they are looking forward to organizing numerous events next year to inaugurate the major.  

“I want the major to help students reflect both inwards and outwards, so that they come to know themselves and the complexity of their own identities better, and also leave IC equipped to think critically and ethically about their world and the social institutions in which they participate,” said Gleitman. “While they're here, I want the major to provide them with meaningful, transformative classroom experiences, a welcoming and intellectually vibrant community, and exciting research and internship opportunities.”