Queer Studies available as a minor

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Queer Studies available as a minor

Kayla Trail

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 Students at Western Illinois University received an email last week in regards to a new Queer Studies minor that would be introduced this semester.

 Merrill Cole, an English professor at Western as well as the advisor and creator of the new minor, said this is a huge step forward in bringing diversity, acceptance and progress to the school. 

 “WIU’s stated commitment to equality, social justice and diversity needed to extend fully to embrace to sexual diversity and diversity of gender identity and expression,” Cole said. “While the university boasts an equal opportunity statement that includes sexual orientation and gender identity and expression, and while the university has been a pioneer in offering benefits to same-sex couples and fostering a supportive campus climate for sex and gender diverse students, faculty, and staff, until now it lagged behind elite state and peer institutions in offering regularly taught academic programming supporting sex and gender diversity.” 

 A brief description of the minor is available on Western’s website to give basic information on the courses and material that will be covered in the minor.

“This undergraduate program encourages students to question the meaning of sexual norms in a wide variety of cultural contexts,” the website says. “It fosters understanding of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and heterosexual sexualities. Courses focus on the ways that sexuality shapes social traditions and identities, as well as how such factors as race, class, and gender intersect with sexuality. These courses also challenge the privileging of certain categories over others, examining how such social hierarchies function.” Rachel Levison, a music major at Western, is in favor of the minor.

 “I think that it is a great idea,” Levison said. “There is (not) much information available about the LGBTQA (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Asexual) community, sometimes even when you’re a part of it. I think that if people knew more about it there would be less hate and discrimination.” 

 Cole hopes that offering this minor and these courses at Western will educate students who are confused, curious or even students who are completely unaware of the diversity that is among them in classrooms. 

 “Rather than offer queer-themed courses on an adhoc basis, or discipline specific advanced courses closed to much of the student body, the trend of the last twenty years has been to establish more readily available interdisciplinary programs, first at elite institutions; then, more recently, at some peer institutions; and now at WIU,” Cole said. “The growth of these programs has paralleled the increasing acceptance of LGBTQA people in American society, and particularly that acceptance among the millennials, who make up the majority of today’s students.”

 The Queer Studies minor will offer courses such as:  QS 100: Introduction to Queer Studies, FL/GER 480: Sexuality in German & Austrian Literature and other courses based on the sociology and psychology of sexual orientation, identities and inequalities. 

 Levison would consider taking courses depending on what they consist of and if it works well with her scheduling, but fears students may not take it seriously. 

 “I think the majority of the student population won’t be interested or (would) have a negative opinion,” Levison said. “I’m mostly concerned that people won’t find it worth taking and won’t take it seriously as a study.”

 Cole says that data collected from Western indicates that faculty and students are intrigued by the program and that there is a growing importance and demand for more knowledge.

 “While programs, majors, and minors centering on other forms of human diversity such as race, gender, religion, nationality, and class have long institutional histories,” Cole said, “the relatively new field of Queer Studies helps to rectify the long-term, institutionalized neglect and marginalization of sex and gender diversity, (while) at the same time opening academic study to engage some of the most pervasive concerns of contemporary society and culture.”

 Cole also welcomes not only LGBTQA students to take courses, but also other students as well.

 “The establishment of a university-wide interdisciplinary minor in Queer Studies will allow WIU to better serve its LGBTQA students, faculty and staff, as well as heterosexual allies and indeed, anyone interested in pursuing sexual and gender diversity as serious subjects of inquiry,” Cole said.