SIU’s WGSS program is revitalized for fall

By Kallie Cox, News Editor

The university’s Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies program is undergoing a revitalization for the fall semester by hiring a new director and restarting its registered student organization.

Dr. Kristin Barber has been hired as the new director of the program, after the position was left vacant. Barber was unavailable for comment. Barber is also an associate professor of sociology and joined the SIU faculty in 2011. 

Shelby Swafford, a graduate doctoral student in communication studies who teaches WGSS classes at the university, said she hopes the reanimation of the program will attract more students. 

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“I hope that this sort of revitalization will definitely help with exposure to our undergraduate population so more of them know that this exists,” Swafford said. 

Swafford said WGSS is an interdisciplinary program on SIU’s campus at the undergraduate and graduate level. It is dedicated to studying matters regarding women, gender and sexuality. 

Swafford said the program is relevant to all majors and fields of study. 

“What we do really well is showing people how to live in the world in a way that is empathetic, reflexive and sensitive to all of the different layers of our culture,” she said. “Those sort of skills are just a part of life, and are part of any career that anyone goes into.”

WGSS’s classes are cross-listed with courses from other departments, including Africana Studies. Some of the classes in its catalog include the Sociology of Sexuality, Gender Culture and Language, Masculinity in the U.S. and Women and Religion. 

Emily Vajjala, president of the WGSS RSO and a fourth year doctoral student, said she hopes the RSO will get more students interested in the program.

Vajjala said they were working towards rebooting the RSO over the last couple of years and recently gained enough momentum to do so.

“We are working on doing things that are beneficial for the WGSS program, […] trying to support women and people of various gender identities who have various sexualities, across the university and see how we can either draw attention to issues, or see how we can support people who may not feel supported otherwise,” she said. 

The RSO officially came back to campus last semester and mainly focused on the organization of the annual WGSS conference. 

“We spent a lot of time planning that conference, putting together programs, posters and just drawing attention to say ‘hey, we are doing this conference and this is something that graduate students, undergraduate students or even faculty can get involved with and submit their research,’” Vajjala said.

Vajjala said there is currently not as much support for the program on campus as there should be. 

“As much as I really appreciate the support that we do have, we need more,” she said.

Vajjala said anyone can join the RSO, even if they are not part of the program.

 “As long as you care about women, gender and sexuality studies and equality, you are welcome to hang out with us,” Vajjala said.

Swafford said in addition to attracting more students, she hopes the revitalization will show the administration that the program matters, people are showing up for it and people care about it.

“These programs are doing a service for our community and campus,” Swafford said.  “I know Dr. Barber has big plans, and she wants this program to succeed just like those of us who have taught these classes, are involved in the RSO and are students of those classes. I think all of us want it to succeed.” 

Swafford said if those who see the program as pointless would sit in a WGSS class for one day, they would see the value of it.

“They would see how what we teach affects every aspect of our lives, and is useful for any sort of career that people want to go into,” Swafford said. “Because at the end of the day, we are teaching people critical skills and empathy that are applicable to any sort of field that you want to go into.” 

Swafford said from her perspective, the lack of support for WGSS on campus doesn’t come from the lack of demand from students.

“We’ve lost a lot of resources over the past few years but it’s not, from my perspective, from a lack of demand from the students,” Swafford said. “It’s from a lack of support from the administration and getting those lines filled again.”

Swafford said she encourages students to support both WGSS and Africana Studies.

“If you look at what these programs offer, and what they can offer if we were really given the resources to thrive, people would see the value in how we serve our campus and community,” Swafford said.

News Editor Kallie Cox can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @KallieECox.

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