Gender studies at WT: A collaborative experience

The Gender Studies Program at West Texas A&M University allows students of any major to attain a professional certificate in Gender Studies. The certificate has only been a part of WT’s curriculum since 2015. The creation of this program was sparked by student interest and brought to fruition by the collaboration of faculty on campus.

Even before the creation of this program, there was an interest among students to learn about the often-untold history of the U.S.

Dr. Jean Stuntz, Regents Professor of history, began teaching a U.S. women’s history course soon after coming to WT. This was the first course offered at the university pertaining specifically to women’s history.

“I remember the first time I started teaching women’s history, like 2004-2005,” Stuntz said. “People were astonished that there were all these other things going on that they’d never learned in U.S. history. It became a very popular class and always filled.”

Dr. Kristina Drumheller, professor of communication studies and head of the Department of Communication, also played a key role in bringing the Gender Studies Program to life. However, she also expressed the role that student interest played in the program’s founding.

“Dr. Anand Commissiong, who was in political science at the time, he’s no longer at WT, had taught LGBTQIA politics for two semesters, and to a full class,” Drumheller said. “That kind of signaled to us that maybe this was the time a gender studies certificate would work.”

Dr. Kristina Drumheller, from left, Dr. Jean Stuntz, Dr. Alice MillerMacPhee and Dr. Anand Commissiong at a Southwest Popular/American Culture Association conference in 2018. Photo provided by Dr. Kristina Drumheller.

Dr. Alice MillerMacPhee, who attended WT for her master’s in psychology and graduated in 2014, was integral to the formation of both Buff Allies and the Gender Studies Program. The university she attended for her undergraduate work offered a women and gender studies certificate, which she completed along with her bachelor’s degree. After experiencing the value that such a program brought to her educational experience, she expressed the desire to see a similar program at WT.

“I think an erroneous assumption that a lot of people have had in the past is that gender studies is for women, or nonbinary folk or trans folks, it’s not for men,” MillerMacPhee said. “Really, what you learn from a gender studies program is how all of the assumptions related to gender shape all our experiences.”

When the program at WT was formed, Stuntz created the syllabus and taught the first Introduction to Gender Studies course. The way the certificate program works is that students must take an Introduction to Gender Studies course and complete a capstone, along with nine credit hours of gender or sexuality related courses from any discipline.

It was discovered, during the process of structuring of the program, that many faculty on campus already offered courses relating to gender that could serve students in the Gender Studies Program.

“We didn’t realize this until we started putting together the courses, but a lot of us have had gender-type training,” Stuntz said. “In just about every college, there’s at least one or two faculty who do gender, so we were able to put together a big group of potential faculty members who could mentor students.”

The way the Gender Studies Program is supported by a network of faculty from many disciplines gives it a unique connective ability on campus. Even for students who are not majoring in the liberal arts, gender studies brings perspective and understanding that can be applied to any discipline. 

“I wish everyone knew more about gender because it helps us understand more about how we live,” Stuntz said. “We, as a society, why do we do the things we do? Gender studies really helps you understand that.”

For more information about the WT Gender Studies Program, visit the program website.