Historically, women have been cast aside and conveyed as less important but the gender, sexuality and women’s studies (GSWS) program at Montclair State University strives to empower its students and bring to light all aspects of life.
Starting March 1, 2022, the state of Wyoming passed a bill that predominantly stopped all funding to any women’s studies program, courses and extracurricular activities in universities with hopes of stopping the flow of information. While other universities’ women’s studies programs continue to dwindle, Montclair State’s program thrives.
You never know how quickly your rights can be taken away until they are, which is a sentiment Dr. Monica Taylor, the director of the GSWS program at Montclair State, instills in all her students.
“It’s our responsibility as a university to be talking about these things, especially because of legislation like [in] Wyoming,” Taylor said.
Under the last president of the United States, Donald Trump, the country has been reminded how important it is to focus on marginalized populations, like women, but also from an intersectional lens, including women of color, low-income women and members of the LGBTQ+ community.
The GSWS program at Montclair State makes an effort to educate its students and have them be well versed in different points of view that relate to oppression, minorities, race, language, class, etc.
“It’s never been a more important time than now to be fighting for gender and sexuality,” Taylor said.
Claudia Martillo, a sophomore journalism major, is minoring in GSWS. Martillo started defining themselves as a feminist when she was in middle school. This was around the time Trump had been running for office.
Martillo knew what was happening wasn’t right, she just didn’t know why. So, when she had the opportunity to learn more about it at Montclair State, Martillo jumped at the chance.
“I am a woman; a person of color; queer,” Martillo said. “All these identities combined make the subject matters of the GSWS program an essential thing to my life.”
Martillo recalled a memory about one of their first GSWS courses, titled “Introduction to Women’s Studies.” Their professor had them call out gender roles they noticed in everyday life. One that resonated with them the most was one she didn’t even realize was happening.
“Being a woman, when you walk in public, men won’t move for you,” Martillo said. “It seems very minuscule, but they expect the women to move out of the way.”
She describes it as a power trip for men and how women are subconsciously taught to cater to them.
Taylor is always learning from her students in moments like the one Martillo experienced. She strives to create a more democratic environment in the classroom, piggybacking off those feminist ideals.
“I’ve thought a lot about what it means to be a feminist educator,” Taylor said. “That means breaking down the hierarchy and working to collaborate and co-construct with my students.”
Heteronormativity and sexism are two big forces that work off of each other. LQBTQ+ rights also rely on women’s rights, and there’s a lot of intersection there. The wide range of courses offered at Montclair State examines the relationship between gender and sexuality in every aspect of the world including economic, political, historical and cultural ideologies.
Bailey Dunn, a junior GSWS major, appreciates how interdisciplinary the program is.
“Everything is tailored to my interests,” Dunn said.
Taylor, Martillo and Dunn collectively agreed that every student attending university should take at least one course related to GSWS. At one point or another, either yourself or someone you know will have to tackle injustice, oppression, misogyny, the patriarchy, heteronormativity and so much more.
In taking a course within the GSWS program, students are taught why these matters happen and the importance of knowing how to stand up against them.
“A goal I have is to help students who take our courses see the connection it has to the real world,” Taylor said. “See how they can apply what they are learning on the ground.”
There are a little over 80 courses available for the GSWS program at Montclair State, including subject matters regarding English, political science, sociology, anthropology, humanities, health and significantly more.
If you are interested in learning more about the GSWS program at Montclair State, the program is hosting a Zine Project celebration and showcase of “Color Theory (VOL.2)” on April 29, 2022.