DeKALB — The Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies degree program is in the final stages of its approval.
The degree proposal describes the Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies program as “an interdisciplinary program which emphasizes the application of feminist and queer research and theory to find solutions to social conflict, systemic oppression and marginalization, and promotes the necessity for diversity and inclusion in American and global communities.”
Kate Cady, acting director of the Center for the Study of Women, Gender and Sexuality, said there are many benefits to adopting the Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies degree, including widening students’ worldview.
“The major is designed to help people learn a lot about intersectionality, about social justice, diversity and how to make positive changes in those ways in your world, in your work life, in your civic life as a citizen and in your personal life,” Cady said.
A Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies major could open up opportunities for students interested in a range of studies, but trying to get the degree proposal passed has been a long, drawn-out process, Cady said.
A few years ago, NIU began program prioritization, a way in which the university evaluates its programs and decides which ones need more or less funding and staffing. The Center for the Study of Women, Gender and Sexuality was marked for enhanced resources. Cady said it was suggested the Center for the Study of Women, Gender and Sexuality turn its minor degree programs into major degree programs.
The staff at the center began gathering ideas to write the degree proposal in 2017. Cady said the proposal is based on university trends and the degree programs of other institutions.
Amanda Littauer, associate professor of history and Center for the Study of Women, Gender and Sexuality co-chair, said a range of students enrolled in Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies courses were surveyed regarding the proposal, and the program was modeled after the University of Illinois at Chicago’s gender and women’s studies program.
Cady said the proposal was first submitted to the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Curriculum Committee, where committee members deliberated on it for a long time with the proposal bouncing back and forth between the committee and the Center for the Study of Women, Gender and Sexuality for modifications.
When the proposal was approved by the initial committee, it was sent to the provost’s office for approval, Cady said. That’s when the Center hit a wall.
It wasn’t until Provost Beth Ingram came along. Littauer said when Ingram became provost one of the first things she did was allow the Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies degree proposal to move forward. With new vigor, the Center for the Study of Women, Gender and Sexuality submitted its proposal to the Baccalaureate Council.
Cady said the Baccalaureate Council, which reviews all curricular changes, approved the proposal in October. It was then sent to and approved by the Academic Planning Council, another council that reviews academic affairs on campus. After being sent to the University Assessment Panel, the proposal was approved.
A subcommittee of the Board of Trustees saw the proposal Nov. 14 and approved it.
Then the Board approved the proposal to be sent to the Illinois Board of Higher Education during its Dec. 5 meeting.
Melissa Hahn, public information officer for the IBHE, said the IBHE received the proposal Jan. 10 and will make its decision by June or July.
Littauer said she’s hopeful the major will be available to students as early as fall 2020.
“It’s such a great complement to so many other majors, but not many students know about the minor program early enough,” Littauer said. “Lots of people face pressure not to take [a Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies minor] because parents say it won’t lead to a job, but statistics show otherwise.”
Littauer said graduates with Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies minors have been hired as lawyers, counselors, social workers, medical professionals and as government employees because they are critical, interdisciplinary thinkers trained in diversity issues and power struggles.
Sophomore English major Maggie Vestal takes Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies courses and said she would strongly consider adding the Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies major if it passes. Vestal dreams of becoming a high school English teacher and said adding a Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies major could round out her education in ways no other program could, especially because of her small-town background.
“Coming to NIU, I had no idea how the real world functioned, and I had strange opinions about certain things because I had no understanding of diversity,” Vestal said.
Cady said the passing of the Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies major wouldn’t just be a victory for prospective students; it would also be a victory for campus diversity and equity.
Cady said NIU prides itself on how it approaches the equity and diversity of people of all backgrounds and conditions. In fact, according to Campus Pride, a nonprofit organization that ranks college campuses on their institutional commitment to LGBTQ+ inclusivity, NIU has an index of four out of five.
“I think it is another sign of our commitment to issues of diversity, equity and inclusion on campus,” Cady said. “One of the places in which we could do better is curricular offerings, and a major will enhance our already positive and friendly relationship with LGBTQ students.”
But perhaps the most important way in which a Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies major could enhance students’ educational experience is in their character — in how they view and treat other people. Vestal said the Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies courses she’s taken have already had a major impact on how she lives her life.
“Taking Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies courses helps me understand that every person has their own unique identity, their own unique story and every person is different,” Vestal said. “It helps me view people individually because their own oppression and story is what makes them who they are; and it’s important to understand that.”