LGBTQ Studies Minor Moves Towards Final Approval

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“It’s about time, are the three words that Director of Women and Gender Studies Theresa Earenfight hears most often when telling Seattle University students about the possibility of an LGBTQ Studies minor joining the university curriculum.

Having overcome the two biggest hurdles of the approval process, this minor would be a compilation of popular courses already offered at Seattle U pertaining to gender and sexuality.

The coursework was approved unanimously this past winter by the College of Arts & Sciences curriculum Committee, which examined the minor according to its intellectual capabilities. It was then approved by the Executive Committee in the College of Arts & Sciences. Soon it will be reviewed by the College of Arts & Sciences Faculty Staff Senate for approval. Pending their approval, the proposal would then go to the Academic Assembly, the Board of Trustees and the university President for final approval.

Though the minor must travel the long and arduous route through Seattle U’s bureaucratic system, Professor Earenfight is encouraged by the progress thus far and expects unanimous or near unanimous votes in the Faculty Senate and Academic Assembly

Despite the timing of this approval closely followed Seattle U President Fr. Stephen Sundborg’s divisive comments regarding the recent drag show held on campus, it has been in the works for much longer.

“We knew, we knew that there was a demand for it and there was a demand before Fr. Sundborg’s comments, long before that,” Earenfight said.

A group consisting of many faculty in various departments across campus, including Gary Atkins in Women and Gender Studies, Connie Anthony in Political Science, Maria Bullon-Fernandez in English and Jodi O’Brien in Sociology,have been teaching coursework surrounding LGBTQ topics for decades.

Additionally, Women and Gender Studies Program Executive Committee member Joseph DeFilippis designed the introductory course created for the minor. The group began creating the proposal this past fall and then brought it to Women and Gender Studies, where the minor will ultimately be housed, to work with the department through the proposal process.

The minor will consist of three required courses—Introduction to LGBTQ Studies—Queer Theories and a research methodology course – and 15 additional required credits which can be fulfilled with approved LGBTQ related courses within a variety of disciplines from history to religious studies. The curriculum will focus largely on social movements, emphasizing the history and power of social movements through the lens of LGBTQ topics.

Considering the array of faculty on campus with knowledge on the subject, O’Brien is looking forward to the ways the minor will enrich the intellectual thought of Seattle U students. She said that LGBTQ Studies has the unique power to teach students how to look beyond the binary as they interact with the rest of the world.

O’Brien said studying sexuality is a powerful lens through which one can connect seemingly disparate areas of the world such as religion, economics and family structures.

“There’s a lot that you can learn about social history just through this one topic. And so students tend to be really excited about that,” O’Brien said.

Dozens of universities across the country have similar minors, including Chapman University, University of Nebraska-Lincoln and the largest Catholic university in the United States, DePaul University.

If approved by all necessary parties, the minor would likely be offered by January 2019.

Earenfight anticipates the popularity of LGBTQ minors across college campuses to continue to increase in the coming years. She’s predicting 10 to 12 students at Seattle U to enter the minor in its first year.

Third year Women and Gender Studies and History major Ann Marie Zocchi will be minoring in LGBTQ Studies and hopes that this minor can be a start in addressing the lack of understanding that fuels hurtful and insensitive comments.

“I’m hoping that this can be an advocate for students to not just within the LGBTQ minor but for queer classes to be extended throughout majors across campus,” Zocchi said. “There should be classes regarding LGBTQ studies in nursing, in communication, in business, because it’s not just about, it doesn’t just affect the women and gender studies department.

O’Brien highlighted the power of an emerging approach to academia within LGBTQ studies where by students learn about a given matter through the subjects immersed in that specific experience. An example of this would be current texts on transgender studies which are written by and for transgender people. This is a staunch difference from the traditional style of academia that uses outsiders to teach about a group to which they have no connection.

“It’s exciting because it means it forces us as academics to think about how we produce knowledge and who we’re producing it for. Sometimes we can be sort of imperialistic about that and so things like queer studies and transgender studies remind us to pay attention to the people that we actually think we’re studying,” O’Brien said. “Which means that it really doesn’t matter what your interests are; you can learn a lot from that material.”

For many at Seattle U, the possibility of an LGBTQ Studies minor is a welcome and long-awaited addition to campus.

“Having been a gay faculty member at SU for 40 years,” Atkins said, “I definitely consider the establishment of an academic program specifically targeting LGBTQ Studies to be long overdue at SU and of extraordinary importance.”

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