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The Scarlet & Black

Grinnell College Celebrates 20 years of GWSS

This weekend’s Drag show won’t be the only event shining a light on gender issues. This week the College celebrates 20 years of Gender, Women’s and Sexuality Studies as an interdisciplinary concentration and, as of last year, a major. The program is hosting a symposium in honor of the date, showcasing student work in the field and inviting alums for whom the concentration was influential to present and discuss the history of the concentration at Grinnell.

“[GWSS has] been one of the most popular concentrations at the College in terms of numbers of students doing it, and then in the last few years we’ve had a number of new hires and a real intense interest by students to make it a major,” said Associate Professor of Gender and Women’s Studies Astrid Henry, referring to the 29 declared GWSS majors and concentrators.

In the fall of 2006, the GWS program was on unstable footing—the number of students in the concentration, as well as the number of students taking intro courses, was in decline, according to Associate Dean of Students, Kathleen Skerrett. To strengthen the program, two new faculty members, Henry and Lakesia Johnson, English, were hired to teach GWS courses. Also, sexuality studies was added to the core program, and the new GWSS was offered as a major, two changes for which students had been petitioning for many years.
“I’m really excited, because, say, four years ago we were talking about, ‘Oh, the 20th anniversary is coming up, and that’s a really big deal.’ But at the time we only had somebody who was 50 percent, who was in GWSS, and now we have two faculty who are 100 percent in GWSS. So that’s a huge improvement, that we have a much stronger, deeper program,” said Karla Erickson, Sociology, who teaches Human Sexuality as part of GWSS.

The 20th anniversary symposium begins Friday at 4:15 in the Forum South Lounge with a keynote address by Gayle Salamon ’94, an assistant professor of Gender and Women’s Studies at Princeton and author of “Assuming a Body: Transgender and Rhetorics of Materiality.”

On Saturday, also in the Forum South Lounge, the GWSS program will host four panels on issues related to gender, women’s and sexuality studies, beginning at 9:30 a.m. with Film and Media Studies, moderated by Lakesia Johnson, English. At 11:00 a.m. there will be a panel on Social Movements and Global Feminism, moderated by Henry, and at 2:00 will be Sexuality Studies and Queer Theory, moderated by Erickson. Students will present essays they wrote discussing GWSS issues related to the topic of the panel.

“We received over 20 submissions from students across campus and various majors who have written about gender, or sexuality or women’s issues in their class. And then our committee met and selected maybe half of those students,” Johnson said.

The last panel will be about the history of GWSS at Grinnell, with guests Roberta Atwell, Education, one of the founders of the program, as well as alumni who had taken the concentration and Erica Hougland ’10, the first GWSS major to graduate from Grinnell.
At 8:00 p.m. in BCA 152, the celebration will conclude with the showing, organized by Teri Geller, English, of award-winning comedy “Dear Lemon Lima,” which was directed by Iranian American Suzi Yoonessi. The movie is based on her short film of the same name, first shown in 2007, which received enough attention to be adapted into a feature-length movie.

“It’s different from other majors, because other majors are about certain disciplines, and they have histories,” said Elliot Karl ’12, who is presenting an essay on the limitations of queer representation in Maupin’s “Tales of the City.” “It’s like this spider and it touches everything.”

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