UTD’s gender studies minor gives students the opportunity to study and discuss how topics such as the gender pay gap, abortion and non-binary identities impact young people.
The gender studies program enables students to apply the content that they’ve learned and interacted with in their own lives and the world around them. According to Professor of American Studies Erin Smith, a person’s gender influences how they perceive information. One example of how this information was applied is the impact of gender in the workplace.
“I’ve noticed that you learn all these terms in gender studies,” Sophomore psychology major Emma Lambert said. “I’m like, ‘wow, I can actually apply this to my real life.’ There’s this thing called the glass ceiling. It’s basically like in corporate America, it’s harder for women to move up because of a glass ceiling. It’s like you get to this point and you can’t go any further … You just immediately realize how much of a disadvantage you’re at when you are perceived as a woman. It’s been interesting to see and apply those terms to my actual life.”
Smith said that the gender studies minor provides the opportunity to engage in discussions on important contemporary issues. In past semesters, Smith’s Intro to Gender Studies class has integrated personal anecdotes and current events into relevant units. Topics related to gender, equity, race and other elements of diversity are not topics that receive attention in K-12 education, so those taking gender studies at UTD may be exploring these issues in an academic setting for the first time.
“This course makes you look at the world and look at the media in a completely different way,” Smith said. “If you’re a professor, you don’t always see what a difference your class makes. And this is a class that really seems to make a difference in people’s lives.”
Lambert was inspired to pursue the minor after an interest sparked in their Introduction to Gender Studies class in freshman year.
“A lot of the time when we are talking about psychology, gender is a pivotal part about the way you are perceived by other people,” Lambert said. “We talk about social psychology and gender disparities that exist in Western societies.”
Lambert said they reflected introspectively about their identity after learning more about the theories and principles around gender and sex in gender studies courses. One of the main focuses of the minor is how women and female-presenting individuals face oppression in a patriarchal society – and it’s a focus Lambert took to heart.
“Prior to taking gender studies, I’ve always identified as she/her,” Lambert said. “I never really thought about going deeper into my gender identity. Being perceived as a woman puts me at a disadvantage. About a year ago, I decided to mainly go by they/them pronouns. But now my pronouns are they/she. I kept the ‘she’ part because I still want to be able to represent femininity and womanhood. Growing up as a girl, you face all those struggles, so I wanted to be able to represent and understand that part of myself.”
In June 2022, U.S. Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade, which guaranteed the right to abortion, was overturned, the implications of which Lambert and her peers discussed extensively.
“In my Psychology of Prejudice course, we actually talked about sexism and how Roe v. Wade affects all women and any individual with a uterus,” Lambert said. “I have not been able to study that in a gender studies setting, which I’d really like to. I’ve been able to see how little the American government views women.”
There has been conflict between the Evangelical Christian church and drag queens in regard to children attending their performances. Lambert said the opportunity to discuss this topic allowed them to conceptualize it as a form of oppression.
“We’ve talked about … how they’re perceived as harmful to children,” Lambert said. “It’s like, why are you associating someone that is presenting femininely, [who] may or may not be male by birth, as someone that is harmful to children? Women [are] always seen as domestic workers and caretakers. It’s really disheartening to see and even in the 21st century we still see this.”
Psychology junior Chase Mueller chose to minor in gender studies because courses like Psychology of Gender and Psychology of Adolescence relate to his career goal of counseling, especially for LGBT individuals.
“It was a very discussion-heavy class, which opened up lots of interesting points,” Mueller said. “There was someone who was in the military during the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ legislation. That definitely does help connect to certain topics because there’s a lot of things that end up kind of repeating themselves from current events to what’s in the curriculum.”
As the President of PRIDE at UTD, Mueller said gender studies classes have had an impact both on his personal life and the club.
“I keep on top of [current events], just because a lot of it is both interesting and then important to keep track of a lot of the anti-trans, anti-drag legislation,” Meuller said. “It’s always interesting to know what’s going on and what activism looks like, and how to best serve the LGBTQ+ community, because we also talk with people at the Gender Center pretty often.”
Meuller said that adding a gender studies minor to his major has helped him gain a broader view on past and modern-day issues along with assisting him in his future career.
“Having a lot of the more psychology focused courses that also focus on gender and LGBTQ issues have been valuable in my journey,” Meuller said. “And then also just having it on a day-to-day basis and processing current events through the kind of lens of having more information on how these things start and how they continue has been beneficial.”