Editorial: New gender studies minor an important step towards inclusion

By The Beacon | October 24, 2013 12:56am


It’s been a good semester for equality at the University of Portland. Last month, the Board of Regents voted to change the Nondiscrimination Policy, adding sexual orientation. On Tuesday, the University made yet another step toward greater diversity when the Academic Senate voted to establish UP’s newest minor, gender and women’s studies.

It’s about time. Gender studies and women’s studies have been standard departments in universities across the nation — even relatively conservative universities like Notre Dame — for decades. It’s good to see UP finally giving students an opportunity to study complex issues surrounding gender.

UP still struggles with gender inequality. Feminism is still a dirty word in some students’ minds. In literature and history classes, students still sigh when feminist theory is mentioned, thinking that feminists are a bunch of angry, man-hating women.

Furthermore, students belonging to gender and sexual minorities still don’t feel welcome on campus. Redefine Purple Pride had two goals in last year’s movement: they wanted to change the Nondiscrimination Policy, but they also stressed that attitudes toward LGBT students on campus have to change.

So we need the gender and women’s studies minor. Unfortunately, the people who need it most are probably those who are least interested in it. Students who already identify as feminists are bound to be the first to enroll in classes within the minor, but it is the students who are not feminists or who have no understanding of feminism who ought to be studying gender.

Senior Danielle Knott, president of the Feminist Discussion Group, noted in an interview with The Beacon that it’s important for students to educate themselves.

“There’s no harm in studying the way another person might identify,” Knott said. “Having that knowledge, that everyone doesn’t feel the same way about themselves and their sexuality, is really important.”

Men who think that feminists are out to get them ought to take gender studies classes, if only to learn that feminism does not have an anti-man agenda. Students who aren’t sure what gender studies is even about should enroll in a class offered by the major. Only by educating ourselves can we make progress.

Furthermore, it’s easy to take a class within the minor because it’s interdisciplinary. There are gender and women’s studies classes in theology, philosophy, sociology and history, so no matter what major you’re in, a gender or women’s studies class can fulfill a requirement. Students have nothing to lose by taking a class on gender.

Even though most students will not choose to minor in gender and women’s studies, all students should consider taking a class on the subject. The existence of the new minor reminds us all that gender is still an important issue that we all must strive to understand.