This fall, the program known previously as “Women’s and Gender Studies” has started the semester with a new face, having consolidated core requirements and added “sexuality” to its title.
Though most classes offered by the program will remain the same as last year, professors in the program said the moves signify a greater recognition of the program’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer track.
Yale’s Women’s Studies Program was created in 1979, a decade after the University admitted its first female students and launched a program in African American Studies, which became a department in 2000. The Women’s Studies Program changed its name to Women’s and Gender Studies in 1998 and began offering three tracks of study: women’s studies, LGBT studies and gender studies.
Beginning this school year, the renamed Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies Program offers two consolidated tracks: women’s and gender studies and LGBTQ studies. In a change from past years, majors will now be required to take one introductory class in each track, no matter which of the two they ultimately choose to follow.
Jennifer Bair, the WGSS director of undergraduate studies, said the program’s name-change came primarily out of the expanding field of sexuality studies.
“Exciting ideas in the field, like queer theory, have been coming out of the reading,” she said. “We’re not solely about women anymore, but are including issues of men and of sexuality.”
Though Bair said some students might be wary of applying for a major with “sexuality” in the title, she said issues examined by the program, especially those dealing with homosexuality, are relevant to current political disputes and should be discussed in an academic setting.
Bair cited the national debate over banning same-sex marriage as one example of a contemporary issue involving sexuality.
“Scholarship is always in dialogue with reality,” she said.
The success of the Larry Kramer Initiative for Lesbian and Gay Studies at Yale also spurred the program’s name change, Bair said. Since its founding in 2002 as a five-year queer studies pilot program, LKI has given institutional support to Yale’s gay and lesbian community and brought lecturers to the WGSS program.
LKI Coordinator Jonathan D. Katz said because the Women’s and Gender Studies Program at Yale previously included a track in sexuality, the change this fall is mostly nominal.
“The new name largely reflects what already exists,” Katz said. “It shows the gradual move of lesbian and gay studies from a tangential position to a constitutive one. Sexuality is completely interwoven with women’s and gender studies.”
The WGSS program’s renaming had “little to do with contemporary issues,” but rather reflects an evolution of the field, Katz said.
Katz said he hopes Yale will grant department status to the WGSS program, which would allow it to hire its own faculty, in the near future, as it did for the former African American Studies Program.
Almost all professors and lecturers in the WGSS program hold joint appointments in other departments.
WGSS major Sally Wagner Partin ’05, who plans to work in women’s health care policy after graduation, said she thinks including sexuality in the program’s name will benefit students.
“At a place like Yale, with a rather political campus and active queer voice, it’s important that the University acknowledge the different perspectives of students on campus,” Wagner Partin said.
Yale has no official graduate or doctorate-level program in women’s, gender or sexuality studies, though women’s studies doctoral programs do exist at a small number of American universities, including Emory, UCLA and Clark University.