Women's & Gender Studies
LETTER FROM THE WGS DIRECTOR
Dear Prospective WGS Major:
You probably have questions: “What is Women’s and Gender Studies? What can it offer me intellectually and personally? ?”
The short answer to all of those questions is this: not understanding how gender shapes your world is like stumbling around in a dark, unfamiliar room, tripping over the furniture someone else has arranged. Understanding gender gets you to the light switch. It can then give you the ability to arrange the furniture.
The intellectual mission of WGS grows out of the ecognition that gender— cultural ideas about what it means to be masculine or feminine or other—profoundly impacts our lives. Our WGS courses engage students in work that illuminates the history and effects of gender and, importantly, how it intersects other identity categories such as race, class, ethnicity, and sexuality. These are the categories that define who has social privilege and who doesn't. They underwrite both opportunities and obstacles.
WGS is an interdisciplinary program. This means that, as a major, you will be able to draw upon faculty expertise and courses from across the Humanities and Social Sciences, from Anthropology to International Studies to Philosophy and Religion. The applied nature of many of our courses amplifies this interdisciplinary approach. WGS courses routinely involve service learning where students organize campus events, develop their leadership skills, and apply their academic interests to local, regional, and global issues—like food “deserts” in Wake County, domestic violence prevention, or how international sex trafficking operates right here in N.C.
Our required internship, WGS 310, also offers a semester-long experience working within a community or campus agency that focuses on issues of gender and/or social justice.
Finally, our close relationship with the NC State Women’s Center can give you another venue for learning and applying leadership and social justice strategies.
However, the influence of WGS is not restricted to the Humanities or Social Sciences. WGS faculty are at the center of the Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) initiative at NC State. One of our required courses, WGS 210 – Women and Gender in Science and Technology, grew out of WISE work. Like WGS 200 -- Introduction to Women’s Studies, it draws students from across the campus. This incredibly varied population gives our majors and minors the opportunity to collaborate with those from the sciences and technological fields. Such student-level interaction, we believe, matters as much as course content in building the intellectual bridges that define true interdisciplinary learning.
Like all university curricula, we also provide our students with the tools for critical thinking. But that doesn’t mean that we just hand out theories about how the world is or how it “really works.” It is true that students will be introduced to a wide range of perspectives and methodologies inspired by feminist and womanist scholarship. For example, “Men and Masculinities,” being offered for the first time in Spring 2013, poses the same kinds of questions about “what it means to be a man” that gender studies have been asking about female identity for decades. Courses like these routinely provoke questions about facets of our lives that we have often accepted as “just the way thing are,” especially in terms of gender, race, sexuality, and class.
However, an essential component of critical thinking is recognizing the limits of any theory proposing to explain how and why the world is like it is. WGS encourages its students to test those theories against “real life” (one’s own and others’), to assess whether and how they illuminate those experiences or not. The point of critical thinking in WGS is to identify tools that extend the reach of social justice, not to convert students to some narrowly pre-conceived version of feminism. Indeed, you will find radically differing viewpoints among the many theories you will encounter, along with perspectives that challenge gender-specific frames as a helpful approach at all.
How does this interdisciplinary, socially engaged, and personally relevant curriculum prepare you for the job market?National data as well as our graduates’ career paths show that a WGS major prepares students for productive work in the following fields:
- The Non-Profit Sector (administration, policy development, communication)
- Public Policy (domestic and international)
- International Health Policy and Research
- Family Law
- Advertising and Market Research
- Communication and Media
- Business Management
- Social Work
- Secondary and Post-Secondary Education (administration, teaching, research)
For example, here are some of the positions that WGS graduates currently occupy:
- Cary Pope, Senior Associate, Advocacy Communications, Ipas; Former Executive Director of NARAL for Wake County. (‘99)
- Ashley Simons-Rudolph, Director, NC State Women’s Center (‘99)
- Jenna Wadsworth continues to serve as the youngest elected official in NC, as Supervisor of the Wake Soil and Water Conservation District (‘11)
- Keryn Murphy, Research Associate, Research Triangle Institute (‘12)
- Samone Ashley, Law and MBA student, Wake Forest University (‘11)
Gender has always mattered, and now, with the increasingly global character of our lives, it matters more than ever. Understanding gender and how it intersects with race, ethnicity, class, and sexuality can help us make sense of this new configuration of conflicts and opportunities. We believe that a WGS major is one of the best ways you can prepare yourself to live, work, and lead in this new, diverse, transnational world. Our major can prepare you to shape that world in intelligent and ethical ways.
Check out the light switch. Come talk with me or one of our WGS faculty.