Answering the demands of students and faculty members, the College of Humanities has been offering CSUN students the opportunity to explore gender and sexuality through the queer studies minor. The program started in Fall 2008.
Sheena Malhorta, an associate professor for the gender & women studies major, is the coordinator for the queer studies program. She said an interdisciplinary committee — established by the dean of the College of Humanities — worked for a couple years to design the new minor but noted that for decades, “there have been students asking for something like this.”
Gina Masequesmay, associate professor of Asian American Studies, was asked if she would like to be part of the committee. After a few meetings, she was named as its chair.
Masequesmay said the proposal for the program took around a year to draft.
“We worked on it together,” Masequesmay said. “We submitted the proposal and then that took about a semester to become available. It went through EPC, Educational Policy Committee.”
Queer studies was made known to students last year. Malhorta went to a few LGBTA meetings to announce the available classes but no official advertisements were put out.
Martel Okonji, president of the CSUN chapter of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Alliance (LGBTA), found out about the classes through Jacob Hale, and presentations were soon made in the LGBTA meetings. As the LGBTA president, Okonji feels an enormous responsibility to spread the word about queer studies.
“It makes me feel like I have a great responsibility because not only do the (LGBTA) community on campus need to know they have a support group, but I feel like we need to be sure to push that out there,” he said.
Malhorta said she was glad the program found a home in the College of Humanities and to have had a dean who was excited to work on the project.
“We realize we want them (students) to have a good grounding in the theory of queer studies, a good grounding in the community and active aspects of the study,” Malhorta said. “But then we want them to have the freedom to orientate because queer studies are interdisciplinary.”
In order to receive a minor in queer studies, students must take 18 units, or a total of six classes.
Queer studies minors must take two introductory classes: Perspectives in Queer Studies and L.A. in Transit: Communities Organizations. However, Malhorta said the program was designed to be flexible
Masequesmay said that queer studies is intended for students to question everything that has been taught to them by society, as well as bring about sensitivity toward gay students.
“The research in it will shed a lot of light, break down prejudice, help people understand better the issues and concerns of gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transgender (and) intersexual,” Masequesmay said.
The hope is that students in the new minor have the freedom to ask questions that go against norms, questions that sometimes students might feel embarrassed to talk. These questions might cause uneasiness, but are more safely asked in an academic environment.
For example, the term queer can cause problems with some people. Masequesmay explained the department was named with that adjective because it’s short, normal and straight to the point.
During the ‘90s (according to Masequesmay), the word queer was used by heterosexuals as a derogatory term for homosexuals. But in recent years, members of the gay community have claimed the word for themselves, in a form of empowerment — to explain to the world that homosexual people are not second-class citizens, and they have the same rights as heterosexual people.
Malhorta thinks the new department has a lot of potential.
“I think for sure, it would bring sensitivity to diversity issues as well as an awareness of ideas around gender and sexuality,” Malhorta said. “And I want to (say that) queer studies are not only for queer students but … for their allies and everyone that is interested in (them).”
Okonji, the LGBTA president and a third-year business student, feels the same way.
“It will let them know that gay is OK and everyone can get along and there’s equality across campus,” Okonji said.
This semester queer studies is offering two courses: Queer Film & Video and Perspectives in Queer Studies.
Malhorta hopes in the future queer studies will become a major.