Outing myself as a women’s and gender studies major used to be harder than outing myself as a lesbian. I used to mention it quietly after announcing my government major, so white, middle-aged men I introduced myself to at my father’s retirement ceremony would not ask the inevitable follow-up questions: “So, is that just like learning women’s history? … What can you do with that?”
I used to talk about women’s and gender studies as though it were a supplement to my broader liberal arts education: I would tell job interviewers it put my understanding of government and politics into perspective. I now engage with knowledge critically, politically and personally; I used to obtain knowledge for obligation’s sake, just to say I had it.
I spent the early part of my Georgetown education feeling like academia was something to endure. I thought if I could just get past introductory classes or finish my government major requirements, I would finally be able to take classes that interest me. Yet, I have realized that what has drawn me to women’s and gender studies is not that the courses interest me but that they provoke me.
It is an old feminist trope, but theory became praxis. You cannot study gender, politics and power in a vacuum. Whether learning about rape culture in “Sexual Assault and Relationship Violence” or biopolitics in “Intro to Sexuality Studies,” there was no academic membrane separating the language I learned in my coursework from that which I could use to describe my social location at Georgetown, in the United States or in my own family.
As a queer, indigenous woman, these classes not only opened my eyes to unfamiliar injustices and atrocities but also spoke truth to familiar experiences I had tried to push to the side of my academic pursuits. Power was not simply theoretical; understanding my relationship to it was a practice in pursuing personal and academic truths.
You experience a special amalgamation of disappointment and validation when you think you have the perfect, nuanced thesis proposal for a women’s and gender studies paper. Inevitably, you will discover a feminist scholar already wrote a journal article on it, a gender theorist just published a book about it and an indigenous critical theorist now teaches a graduate course centering it.
Today, the value of a gender studies education is clear to me: It makes academia accessible and relevant while challenging students to push its boundaries and widen its scope. Women’s and gender studies is a participatory, interdisciplinary field rich with the contributions of women of color, queer and trans folks and indigenous people who continue to humble me in my own pursuit of academic enrichment.
At Georgetown, I have the distinct pleasure of sitting in classrooms with women’s and gender studies students who share their empathy, engage critically with differing perspectives and participate in wider campus activism to make this university one we try to be proud of — nearly as proud as we are of the women’s and gender studies program itself.
Women’s and gender studies faculty are integral to our campus community: They are not afraid to host difficult conversations. They help students create liberating spaces for mourning and reflection. My women’s and gender studies professors see my role as a student on this campus and recognize the labor and anxieties that come with that role. Whether in office hours, after class or passing by in Red Square, they offer their time, energy and resources to let students vent and process the privilege and burden of acquiring an education from a predominantly white institution.
Unfortunately, until the women’s and gender studies program becomes a full department, the Georgetown community cannot provide these valuable faculty the resources and tenure-track programs to uplift their contributions. Further, more students should have the opportunity to take introductory women’s and gender studies courses. To continue to engage students with this dynamic discipline, we should offer more higher-level courses, up to the graduate level.
In my third and final year as a women’s and gender studies major, I am still in awe of the people, ideas and transformative spaces the program has introduced me to and allowed me to grow in. In the 30th year of the women’s and gender studies program, I cannot even imagine how many other students, faculty, staff and alumni share this sentiment.
It is time for the university to invest in women’s and gender studies. We are a strong, loud, committed and passionate community, and we will fight tirelessly for the women’s and gender studies program that has empowered our voices and given us a home at Georgetown.
In recognition of all women’s and gender studies has done for me, when I introduce myself today, before offering my pronouns, I proudly state that I am a women’s and gender studies major. I cannot wait for people to ask me questions about it. What can women’s and gender studies do for you?
Annie Mason is a senior in the College. This viewpoint is the final installment of WGSTea, a three-part miniseries reflecting on the 30th anniversary of the women’s and gender studies program.