Introduction to Gender, Women’s, and Sexuality Studies

April 21, 2022

by Will Donaldson ’22

I never intended to major in gender, women’s, and sexuality studies (GWSS) until my Introduction to GWSS (GWS 111) course with Professor Leah Allen. The course attracts students from seemingly every community on campus — from STEM majors to athletes to queer people — all hoping to learn more about the constantly evolving study of gender, sexuality, and marginalized identities.

Professor Allen attended to our diverse experiences by inviting us to bring those experiences to the forefront of our rich class discussions. Echoing the rallying cry of the student movement and second-wave feminism, Professor Allen constantly reminded us that “the personal is political,” and by combining our experiences with liberating texts from the likes of bell hooks — Gayle Rubin, Judith Butler, and others — we could adopt new understandings of ourselves and our identities.

One of the many tidbits from the intro course that sticks with me is the idea that our identities are constantly in conversation with others. Gender, sexuality, and many other identities are negotiated through social contexts and others’ perceptions of ourselves. This idea is truly transformative — I now see each interaction on campus through the lens of collective identity and how we learn to perceive each other.

Intro to GWSS opened so many academic and personal doors for me to walk through to continue my growth. I became a GWSS major directly after completing the course and quickly added droves of GWSS courses to my four-year plan. My scholarship felt grounded in real, relevant issues that I could explore using my own voice — something that’s taboo in many other disciplines, although not at Grinnell.

GWSS led me to my first summer research opportunity in 2021 when I worked with Assistant Professor Asimina (Mina) Nikolopoulou on a Mentored Advanced Project (MAP) surrounding fat studies, an emerging area of academic inquiry. My research sought to make visible the moral undercurrents tethering fatness, race, gender, and sexuality together since the inception of race and racial capitalism. The interdisciplinarity of GWSS means that you can pursue a wide variety of interests all through the techniques that GWSS scholars have used for the past four decades.

What’s so beautiful about Introduction to GWSS is that you learn about more than just scholarship. GWSS is heavily invested in cultural objects: literature, poetry, visual arts, music, and digital media. GWSS inquiry brings these objects to life through the study of each object’s symbolism, meaning, and influence as a cultural artifact. Introduction to GWSS will allow you to partake in an epic combination of academics, personal experience, and popular culture. This is precisely why the course is a must-take for everyone at Grinnell!

Learn more about gender, women's, and sexuality studies

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