The gender and women’s studies program at the University of Rhode Island is developing a new interdisciplinary minor to be offered in the Fall of 2018 in the field of queer studies.
Rosaria Pisa, director of the gender and women’s studies department and a leading force in the creating this minor, explained that she became director in the fall of 2015, and she came up with the idea of a minor in queer studies as a way to grow the program at URI.
“There is a gap in the curriculum,” said Pisa. “It doesn’t exist anywhere in the curriculum. There are very few faculty here at URI that could teach those courses and I felt that also with the establishment of the Gender and Sexuality Center… that what was also needed was an academic home and representation of the perspectives and the lives of the LGBTQ individuals and communities.”
Pisa and the rest of the committee for this new minor, consisting of faculty from multiple departments within the university, undergraduate students and graduate students, have found that there is a clear interest on the campus for this minor.
Through an online survey, which is set to end March 31, it has been found that 52 percent of the 384 students who have responded to the survey as of 1 a.m. on March 28 would consider taking a course in the queer studies minor. Of those 384 students, 28 percent would be interested in pursuing this minor. A common reason for not considering the minor is due to time and course scheduling rather than interest level. This data does not incorporate the 500-plus in-class surveys that have not been compiled with the online data.
Beyond the exciting results from the survey, Pisa said that they have received about 100 emails from students who would like to be notified once the minor has been established. “That already tells us we have 50-plus minors once we establish the program… it’s going to be popular, it’s going to be successful.”
Caelan Nardone, a senior writing and rhetoric major and a member of the committee for the creation of the queer studies minor, said that if he had more time at the university he would have loved to minor in Queer Studies.
“Although it is still in the process of being developed, I can say that there are multiple disciplines being covered in the minor, ranging from masculinities, queer theory, psychology, feminism and so forth,” Nardone said. “With that in mind, I really do believe that Queer Studies has a lot to offer all kinds of students, not only those that belong to the queer community.”
Pisa has also stressed that the committee wants to create a program that will be fully integrated and empowering to the students. She emphasized that “the minor is not being developed strictly for LGBTQ students but also for any student who sees themselves as on the margins or in between boundaries and is questioning normative systems… not only sexuality and gender.”
With this in mind, Pisa and the rest of the committee are working towards developing a minor that will be multidisciplinary while “grounded also in interdisciplinary perspectives or approaches.”
“I really feel the way we’re developing the minor and the way it is being envisioned is to cast a wider net so as to make it accessible to all students,” said Pisa. “We want a program that will provide students with as many fully integrated courses as possible in terms of the field of queer studies.”
She hopes that this minor will bring all kinds of students together to talk about the perspectives and ideas of queer studies. “There are so many assumptions, misconceptions that are out there, misunderstandings that could be taken on, addressed [and] resolved if only we can all get along in a room.”
Pisa is working with Stephen Barber, an associate professor in the English department, to develop a grand challenge introductory course to queer studies that will hopefully be offered spring semester of 2018. The hope is that they will be able to pull together other courses for the continuation of the minor. Ideally, the goal is also to be able to secure teaching resources such as a new hire in the field of queer studies who can really contribute to the minor creation.
Nardone believes that the creation of a queer studies minor on campus is a massive step for the school in terms of inclusion for the queer students on the campus. “While we have the wonderful Gender and Sexuality Center, there really isn’t much of an academic home for queer students at URI,” Nardone said.
This was a concern for Pisa as well. Having an academic program and home for queer studies will not only complement the work already been done in the Gender and Sexuality Center, but also help to elevate the conversation, connect students with enthusiastic faculty and “enhance the positive environment on campus around these issues.”
She stresses that this minor is not just important for the students, but also the faculty on campus. “I think that sort of pedagogical approach will be very important to show that there is substantial faculty representation across the disciplines and that this is not restrictive to just GWS… this is about the entire campus community, colleges and departments,” said Pisa.
Pisa hopes that with the creation of this minor that they will be able to engage more departments and increase visibility of the perspectives and representations associated with queer studies.
“Discrimination against queer students occurs on our campus, and the creation of this minor is a powerful message that URI does not tolerate ignorance or violence towards any individual based on facets of their identity,” Nardone said.