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The Quinnipiac Chronicle

The Student News Site of Quinnipiac University

The Quinnipiac Chronicle

Student proposes inclusive name change for Quinnipiac’s women’s and gender studies minor

One political science major believes the name of the minor is exclusionary. Now she’s looking to get it changed.
Peyton McKenzie
Looking to eliminate the binary word “women” from the women’s and gender studies minor, Francesca Kama, a senior political science major is proposing a renamed gender and sexuality studies minor.

The department of gender, sexuality and intersectional studies at Connecticut College. Cornell University’s feminist, sexuality and gender studies program. Gender and sexuality studies at Brown University. As colleges and universities move toward more inclusive language to describe their gender curricula, why does a similar program at Quinnipiac University still carry the binary term “women”? 

This is the question that a Quinnipiac women’s and gender studies minor asked herself, and what inspired her to petition the university to change the program’s name to gender and sexuality studies. 

Francesca Kama, a senior political science major, first took notice of her minor’s exclusive language last spring when talking to another college student at her internship in the QU in D.C. program. 

“We were both talking about our minors, and I said, ‘Oh, I have a minor in women’s and gender studies, and she said, ‘Oh, I also have a minor in gender studies, but it’s so weird that the term ‘women’ is part of it,’” Kama said. “And that was the first time that I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, that’s true’ because whenever I explain to someone … what this minor entails, the term ‘women’ kind of has a pejorative sense to it.” 

Then in the fall 2024 semester, Kama took a role as an intern for the WGS program — where she brought up the idea of changing the name altogether to something that more accurately reflected the topics covered in the minor’s classes. 

“People that are nonbinary, people that are a member of the LGBTQ+ community don’t affiliate with that word (women) necessarily, so it kind of creates exclusion, specifically (for) trans people on our campus,” Kama said. 

Kim O’Neill, associate professor of English and women’s and gender studies and the director of WGS, agreed that this conversation was worth having. 

“Putting ‘women’ at the beginning of women’s and gender studies, seems to inadvertently send a signal to people who don’t identify as women that this isn’t for them, and that is not its intention,” O’Neill said. 

With O’Neill’s help, Kama created a proposal outlining the reasons that “women’s and gender studies” should become “gender and sexuality studies.” Among these, she pointed out the program’s already existing emphasis on intersectionality and wrote that the proposed switch would put Quinnipiac more in line with similar institutions and attract more diversity to the university. 

“It’s not only a change in terminology, it’s also a pledge to create an environment that respects and studies the vast diversity within our society,” Kama said, echoing her proposal. 

The next step was to encourage members of the Quinnipiac community to sign the petition supporting the change. The petition had just more than 50 signatures as of March 22, but Kama hopes to see that number reach at least 75 by the time she presents her findings to a steering committee in April. 

But this is not the first time the program has gone through a name change process. Half a decade ago, the Quinnipiac “women’s studies” minor adopted an “and gender” distinction. 

WGS at Quinnipiac exists under the umbrella of the interdisciplinary studies department. There is no department, and therefore no dedicated faculty, of women’s and gender studies, though faculty members from across the university teach WGS courses. The program offers a minor, but not a major. 

O’Neill — who themself identifies as nonbinary — said they see this petition as an opportunity for students and faculty to answer the question of if they feel like the name should be changed. 

“As the director of the program, I don’t want to put my thumb too hard on the scale, I’m always trying to assess what would be best for students, rather than what I personally would prefer,” O’Neill said. 

The “question,” O’Neill said, has to consider and balance affirming those who identify as women and their marginalization while also making room for those that don’t fit under the term — including cisgender men. 

“In WGS courses, cisgender, heterosexual men are really, really underrepresented, and I would argue that they are some of the people who most need to take the (courses), who get the fewest opportunities to talk about norms … and problems around gender and sexuality,” O’Neill said. 

If approved by the steering committee, the program and the Registrar’s Office will have to work on changing the course distinctions in registration programs like Self Service and Stellic. But for now, Kama and O’Neill are hoping to start a conversation about inclusion — and it all comes down to the words we use. 

“People think that we only focus on ‘women issues,’ but it’s so much deeper than that,” Kama said. “It’s really like (the) intersectionality of race, gender, sex, sexuality, gender, social class and it’s all of it together.”

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About the Contributors
Katie Langley
Katie Langley, Editor-in-Chief
Peyton McKenzie
Peyton McKenzie, Creative Director

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    AmyMar 27, 2024 at 4:19 pm

    Is there an online petition to sign, or just a physical in-person one? I think this is a great idea and would love to support it!