An LGBTQ Studies Program Arrives at UT

During the Women’s Liberation movement of the 1970s, new wave feminists handed out condoms and abortion information pamphlets on the quad, protested at the Tower, and posed nude on the cover of UT’s underground paper The Rag. In 1972, against this backdrop of social upheaval, Patricia Kruppa began teaching classes focusing on women and gender studies, which would eventually evolve into a major. All of this was unprecedented at The University of Texas.

Over the next 40 years, the Center for Women’s and Gender Studies (WGS) continued to push for new initiatives on campus—the most recent being the launch of UT’s LGBTQ Studies Program in the fall of 2017, which appears as a transcript-recognized minor. Program director and English professor Ann Cvetkovich says having this platform on which to study feminist, LGBTQ, and gender histories would not have been possible without the social movements of  the ’60s and ’70s.

Courses for the LGBTQ Studies Program cover subjects like gendered histories, sexuality, and toxic masculinity. They give students the tools they need to approach past and current events through an LGBTQ lens. Program coordinator Grayson Hunt says the urgency for the program emerged in part from student need. “I want students to be able to relate to ideas and theories that are affirming to them, to have new cognitive relations so that they’re not always engaging oppressive, mainstream status quo ways of thinking,” he says.

The LGBTQ Studies Program demonstrates the center’s increasing visibility. It grew out of the LGBTQ/Sexualities Research Cluster created in 2004 after several years of development. According to senior academic program coordinator Jackie Salcedo, the number of students majoring in Women and Gender Studies doubled after the most recent presidential election and continues to increase. People want to learn about gender equity and the patriarchal and homophobic systems in which they live, Salcedo says, even if they are initially unaware of the reasons they are drawn to the major. The education is a difficult, transformative, and often healing experience.

“When [students] come in they may be meek and shy, and they’ve got baggage that they haven’t fully examined or let go of,” Salcedo says. “By the time they get out, they are self-possessed and a lot more confident.”

Cvetkovich says the administration has been supportive and that implementing new programs within the university is often a zero sum game, where it’s difficult to delegate resources to a new project without taking away from another, especially when the university is faced with state legislative politics.

“That’s all the more reason why it’s important that we exist and keep trying to push the envelope at the administrative and political level,” Cvetkovich says. “I feel like universities should be the leaders in creating new cultures and new ideas. We’re a part of that.”

The LGBTQ Studies program exercises its sense of community through partnerships with the Gender and Sexuality Center and other initiatives on campus like the alternative LGBTQ graduation ceremony Lavender Graduation. To kick off the program’s launch, the center hosted a Queer Camaraderie Symposium in January, where faculty invited guest lecturers who spoke about everything from modes of sexuality to being an LGBTQ person of color.

“There’s intragroup success when queer people get to hang around other queer people,” Hunt says. He says there is a chance for community success at events like the symposium. Someone who may have never been to a queer conference before might have a new experience relating to queer people and queer notions of community.

Director of the Center for Women’s and Gender Studies Susan Heinzelman says the center, with its increasing reach, hopes to become a department within the next two years. Departmentalization would increase the amount of resources, classes, and faculty they could provide for students, and would also increase the visibility of women’s and gender studies.

WGS majors have gone on to become lawyers, entrepreneurs, and reproductive health care professionals. Danea Johnson, BA ’13, who graduated with a dual degree in WGS and Middle Eastern studies, currently works for the Women’s Community Center of Central Texas. She says her experience as an undergrad helped her navigate the working world. “[My degree] helped to have some framework, especially when it comes to decentering privilege, whiteness, and understanding the world in different complex ways,” Johnson says.

For now, the faculty behind the LGBTQ Studies Program are celebrating moving into their new offices and getting a sign on the door. It means they are available to students, for both academic and general purposes.

“That has been the source of our strength, these informal relationships that sometimes we’ve had to carve out because we’re not being given formal resources by the university,” Cvetkovich says. “But I do feel like that power is a genuine one. Sometimes it’s the power of love, the power of connection, [the power] to turn things around.”


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