Department of Women’s, Ethnicity, and Intersectional Studies reflects complexities of gender, sexuality, ethnicity and race

Students highly engaged in sociopolitical issues affecting the U.S., and who want to see themselves as agents of change for good may want to major in or take courses offered through the Department of Women’s, Ethnicity, and Intersectional Studies. The former women’s studies department has reorganized and expanded its curriculum to reflect growing nationwide interest in gender issues and ethnicity.

We are excited about the new name and the programmatic changes it brings in placing women, gender, and ethnicity at the center of studies, especially in their intersection with race, class, sexuality, disability, and other hierarchies of power and relations of power,” Chinyere Okafor, professor and chair of women’s, ethnicity, and intersectional studies, said.

Chinyere Okafor
Chinyere Okafor

Robin Henry, an associate professor of history and chair of the transition steering committee, said the department’s name reflects the academic, pedagogical and programmatic changes that have transformed women’s studies since 1971, when the women’s studies department was founded.

“It highlights the lived experiences of students and members of the campus community who realize that gender is never experienced in a vacuum, but in intersections with class, race, ethnicity, sexuality, age, work and regional identities,” Henry said.

“This is a repositioning and realignment to better speak to a new generation of students,” Andrew Hippisley, dean of Fairmount College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, said. “The wider scope adds, explicitly, consideration of gender, and more broadly, sexuality, ethnicity and race.”

Students majoring in WEIS will develop four competencies.

  • Decenter gender as a primary form of analysis;
  • Investigate how ethnicity and race intersects with multiple forms of identity including, but not limited to, gender, social class, sexuality and age;
  • Analyze the ways in which societal institutions and power structures impact the material realities of people’s lives;
  • Recognize the long tradition of women’s participation and engagement in government, politics and societal advancement in Kansas.

“The focus on intersectionality will empower students with multidimensional lenses that create awareness and understanding of practices, policies, and structures that are central in people’s identities and experiences,” Okafor said.

As the degree content has become more multidisciplinary, the changes also create opportunities for allied and affiliated faculty and departments across Fairmount College, such as sociology, history and social work. Affiliate faculty maintain their position in their home department, but through an affiliation with WEIS, their interdisciplinary teaching and research become formally recognized.

“The realignment of the department allows us to use the expertise we have in many other departments, making it explicitly interdisciplinary, inclusive and exciting,” Hippisley said.