Over 50 students are coming together in an effort to reactivate the Gender Studies Student Club that seems to have lost membership over the years due to diminishing student participation.
Director of the Gender Studies Program Johanna Foster said, “Gender shapes every area of social life, often unfairly. This injustice applies not just to women, but to different groups of men and members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community as well.”
Foster reactivated the Gender Studies Student Club approximately 10 years ago, when, according to her, the idea emerged out of a section of an Introduction to Gender Studies course that was offered at the University. She said during the first year of its existence the group was named the “Best New Student Club” by the Student Government Association (SGA).
During the years it had a renewed presence at the University, the group organized and supported events around of range of gender justice issues including gender violence awareness like The Clothesline Project and The Vagina Monologues, Breast Cancer Awareness, transgender rights awareness, support for women ex-offender organizations, and student participation in Women’s History Month programming. “I plan to encourage feminist student engagement and restore the status that it once was in the past,” said Foster.
According to Claude Taylor, co-advisor of the Gender Studies Student Club and member of the faculty in the Department of Communication, the Gender Studies Student Group started to weaken around 2007 and 2008 and then completely diminished from campus around 2010. The group, however, still had a budget up until two years ago.
“This is the chance once again for students to help create a student culture at the University where gender issues are given a strong voice,” added Foster. Interest meetings were held on Friday, Jan. 31 and Wednesday, Feb. 5 in Bey Hall to discuss reactivation and receive the necessary signatures to re-establish the club.
Taylor believes that gender is central to our lives. He said, “[Gender] is a powerful force that people underestimate, and I don’t think people truly understand what it is. Students can really become more whole of a person by understanding how gender functions in their lives and in other people’s lives.”
Foster said, “Even if students don’t necessarily have the flexibility in their schedules to declare a minor in Gender Studies, it doesn’t mean they can’t be involved in gender justice on campus. Part of the mission of Gender Studies is to study gender critically so that we can have the tools to transform gendered relationships and institutions.” She added there are approximately 30 students with a declared minor in Gender Studies, but the student group, if approved by SGA, will be open to all students with different academic focuses.
According to SGA Chief Justice Michael Migliaro, the first step to becoming an active group at the Univeristy is to fill out a preliminary club verification form which asks group members to provide a brief synopsis of the purpose of the club and offer additional details that one believes should be made aware to SGA. Clubs are then asked to meet with the Director of Student Activities and Student Center Operations Amy Bellina to discuss the club’s goals and operations.
“I approve or deny the club based on whether SGA believes that this organization will benefit the campus or not,” said Migliario. In the case of approval, the organization then must create a constitution and a roster.
Nichole Smith, a junior sociology major, plans to increase awareness of the Gender Studies Student Group, if approved, through emails, flyers and social media. She said, “[I hope I] can gather the interest of non-members, so [that] we do not have a repeat of it losing our recognition.”
Jessica Ketch, a junior sociology and psychology major, is actively involved in the strides being made to reactive the Gender Studies Student Group. She said, “I feel like a lot of people don’t realize that we create gender and it is who you want to portray yourself as. Sex and gender are two completely different things, and I hope to make this message more widely spread on campus.” Thus far, both Ketch and Smith have drafted the constitution and updated the roster.
Taylor and Foster are in agreement that the students that have attended the interest meetings are not predominantly female, and it is encouraging to see such gender diversity. Taylor said, “It is encouraging to see more male students getting involved, especially now that masculinity is very high profile right now. There is a lot of controversy surrounding men and how they are trying to define themselves and make sense of what it means to be a man, a real man, in 2014.”
Taylor continued, “We are hoping to have men come to learn how to redefine masculinity for themselves. Men need to give attention to that because it is not enough to just follow the pattern.”
Foster observed more gender diversity within the interest group and also within her very own Gender Studies classes this year more than any other year at the University. “The interest group and area of study is certainly not a group that is completely women, despite the stereotype that some people may hold,” she said.
Smith is currently thinking of activities that may possibly occur in the club’s future, including working in partnership with the sociology club to attend a trip to Seneca Falls, NY which is considered to be the birthplace of the Feminist movement in the US. Smith would also like to fundraise for charities such as victims of domestic abuse.
Taylor plans to incorporate the Gender Studies Student Group into his classes in order to gain a higher visibility, but urges students to be the main driving forces behind the group in pursuit of gaining a campus-wide momentum.
Foster said, “My vision [for the club] is to see a growing number of feminist leaders on campus decide for themselves the issues that are important for them, and to support them in getting their vision out as widely as we can.”