Upon hearing director of the Gender Studies Program Cindy LaCom would be retiring, one of my first concerns was whether another instructor would be comfortable teaching a porn class to college students (a bigger task than most would understand).
I did not think that I would be debating the value of my degree with the university I received it from.
I graduated from Slippery Rock University in 2020 with a Bachelor’s of Arts in political science and philosophy and a Bachelor’s of Science in gender and diversity studies.
Questions about the value of humanities degrees, at this point, are boring to me. For all of you capitalists who feel that degrees only have value based on their marketability, I have indeed gotten not one but two jobs with my gender studies degree.
Gender and diversity studies lend themselves as uniquely useful, especially on a campus, which has struggled with incidents of racism, homophobia, suicide and sexual violence.
Feminism, Lesbian Feminism, Women’s Studies, Gay and Lesbian Studies, and Queer Theory seem to have reached a point in university discourse in the United States in which they are the heated, exciting, and often conflicting topics of classroom, essay and conference debate.
At stake are issues of recognizing and theorizing difference, acquiring resources, visibility, representation, and ultimately institutional power: a power not to be taken lightly. These issues are not unique to Slippery Rock University.
However, their prominence combined with an increasingly divisive political climate demands a department dedicated to challenging hierarchical structures that prevent marginalized students from receiving equal access to education.
At a time when critical race theory has come under fire, abortion is banned in 12 states and restricted in 22 others, teachers are being fired for being openly queer, transgender children are being denied affirming lifesaving medical care, Black women die at three times the rate of white women in childbirth, and one in four college-age women will be sexually assaulted during their time in college, not hiring a replacement for Cindy is a disservice to the Slippery Rock community.
The campus as a whole, not just gender majors and minors, will deeply suffer without a qualified individual in this position.
The two biggest issues I see with leaving a department without a head are a lack of oversight and loss of a huge resource for students. Students majoring in gender and diversity studies will have no academic advisor focused on their major, and minors will have to seek advice from their primary advisors who may have little idea about gender studies.
Gender studies, being widely intersectional, needs a figurehead in order to ensure the curriculum goals of the program are being met and to determine what classes meet the criteria to satisfy degree requirements.
Every semester, Cindy created a detailed list of every class offered in a semester that outlined options in various departments. They also held meetings for faculty teaching gender studies courses that centered student voices and experiences.
It is disgraceful to suggest that removing a chair from a department will not result in its demise. Without a replacement, there will be no one to recruit majors, no one to guide them, and no one to oversee a curriculum in an ever-changing and increasingly growing field.
Marginalized students lose a huge resource without a department that is dedicated to educating campus about understanding unjust systems and advocating for change within the institution.
The department held various programs and workshops centered around enhancing understanding of gender within an intersectional context and awareness of current and relevant issues.
Cindy was dedicated to making every student, regardless of their race, gender identity, sexuality, disability, body size, religion, etc. feel like they were welcome at Slippery Rock. They deserved to be there just as much as anyone else.
Not only that, but they gave students the space to share their experiences and be heard. It is vital someone else takes this responsibility upon Cindy’s departure.
Since graduating from SRU, I have had the opportunity to work with a variety of vulnerable populations. My education in gender studies has increased my empathy by giving me the ability to question the why behind people’s actions and the lack of care that may have led them to make those choices.
I have a deep understanding of differences of gender, sexuality, race, culture, and social class and the way this can limit someone’s choices.
My knowledge has made me a great fit as a counselor and although challenging, direct care is a rewarding field that I do not believe I would have found myself in without gender studies.
I am able to show up to my job, walk past protestors screaming in my face, and help people with empathy and grace because of the knowledge that this program gave me.
I cannot imagine Slippery Rock University without a gender studies department, and I strongly urge the administration to reconsider its decision.