I did not hear of Georgetown University’s women’s and gender studies program until I was well into my freshman year in 2012.
That day, I had stepped away from my study cave on the fifth floor of Lauinger Library to visit a new friend for dinner. As we prepared pastelitos, beef-filled turnovers, in her Village A apartment, I flooded her kitchen with questions: “What groups are you in?” “What’s your major?” The questions spilled from my mouth until her last answer piqued my interest: She was a women’s and gender studies major.
Although I considered myself a die-hard feminist — a mujerista — I understood these labels as identity markers of my personal politics, rather than as a field of study. Yet, soon after she convinced me to take the introductory course, I discovered women’s and gender studies is a way to critically question, challenge and transform my reality.
Before the women’s and gender studies course, I never had to question the roots of my belief in the equality and empowerment of all women, and the measures necessary to seeing the development of such equality. Yet, through the works of philosophers like Simone de Beauvoir, Gloria Anzaldúa, Angela Davis and Jack Halberstam, I began to answer questions I had never thought to ask.
I came to admire these feminists, who rejected the societal gender roles that limited their human experiences, choosing instead to dedicate their lives to helping others achieve the same liberation. These pedagogies helped me understand and establish not only my own feminism, but also a new critical thinking ability in all aspects of my life.
Soon after I switched my major to women’s and gender studies, I started excelling in my classes outside the program as well, solely because my studies gave me the confidence to voice my different perspective, especially when I was routinely the minority opinion in a room.
This newly acquired authority extended beyond my undergraduate career. I knew from my studies that I, as a woman of color, should never expect or accept the bare minimum treatment from an employer; otherwise, I might feed future statistics.
So, when I was rejected for a job offer I believed I was qualified for, I did not think twice before calling the office and demanding answers. My audacity made them reconsider their decision: They offered me the position, which I later felt confident enough to decline. After all, if you gain one thing from a semester unpacking consent in a classroom with Georgetown’s Director of the Women’s Center Laura Kovach and Director of Sexual Assault Response and Prevention Services Jen Schweer, it is the power of saying “no.”
Later on, the women’s and gender studies program contributed greatly to my earning a position at an international law firm. My feminist studies background appealed to my first boss — who was the managing partner of the firm’s D.C. office and female-identifying. My knowledge of the UN and World Bank mechanisms in international law, which I acquired in my “International Women’s Human Rights” and “Gender and Sustainability” classes at Georgetown, also aided my hiring.
As I transitioned to working on women’s reproductive rights, I remembered former interim Democratic National Committee chairperson Donna Brazile’s lectures, in which she emphasized the need for women to break “glass ceilings” wherever we work, including in the nonprofit sector. For this reason, I did not hesitate to negotiate a higher salary or more resources to reach my goals — you shouldn’t either.
To this day, I feel comfortable enough with the relationships I built through the program to stay in contact with my peers and mentors. They have been here to contemplate graduate school options with me and support me when my work becomes difficult in this time of tumultuous politics.
I hope students understand that, in picking a major, they should not strive merely to be intellectually stimulated. At Georgetown, academic rigor is the bare minimum. Students should look to be challenged. They should seek a program — or, hopefully soon, a department — that demands they question their core beliefs, which will not only set them apart in the job market, but also fuel their inner passions. The women’s and gender studies program served me well in all of those ways — and more.
Kimberly Blair graduated from the College in 2015. This viewpoint is the second installment of WGSTea, a three-part miniseries reflecting on the 30th anniversary of the women’s and gender studies program.