CSUN professors from nine different departments, with specialties ranging from English and philosophy to Asian American studies have come together to form and cultivate a new type of academic curriculum.
Since the induction of the Queer studies minor to the CSUN academic world, the minor has been garnering attention from students all over campus. The first class, Queer studies 301, Perspectives in Queer studies, reached enrollment capacity the moment it opened up for registration.
‘The first class filling up quickly shows the desire of students to take classes that address current issues,’ said Dr. Sheena Malhotra, associate professor of Gender and Women’s Studies and coordinator and adviser for the Queer studies program.
The diversity of the Queer studies program represents the diversity of the faculty that worked together to create, teach, and administer it. The Queer studies advisory committee spent over a year putting together the foundations for the Queer studies minor and deciding what to call it.’ Malhotra believes that the reason the minor has become so popular is because it was designed to be flexible. There are three core classes and the rest of the nine units can be taken in the Asian American studies, English, or sociology fields.
Malhotra received her PhD in communication studies with an emphasis on gender, media, and intercultural communication from the University of New Mexico. In 2000 she began teaching courses in the women’s studies department on women and popular culture. Her gender and women Studies class, Sex, Lies and Media is one of the upper division elective options for the Queer studies minor.
Students who are interested in learning about the Queer studies minor should consider what the program has to offer.As people become more aware of the Queer community and its background, conversing in histories about the Queer community, it is important to know gender and sexuality because having that perspective is an attractive quality to employers who are looking for employees in a diverse workforce, said Malhotra.
She believes there is a correlation between her department and the Queer studies minor. ‘In women’s studies there are issues of gender and sexuality,’ explained Malhotra. ‘We look at how ideas of masculinity and femininity are portrayed by the media. There are many overlaps between the minor and what I teach.’
Gina Masequesmay, who is teaching the very first Queer studies class offered this semester, also feels her background in Asian American studies parallels her work with the Queer studies program. Her research interest is on the intersection of race/ethnicity, class, gender and sexuality, focusing on Asian American varied genders and sexualities.
In Asian American history, there were racial oppressions in terms of laws that barred Asians from doing things such as intermarrying and those same oppressions are appearing today, she said.
‘It’s about rights, for gays not to be treated as second class citizens,’ said Masequesmay. ‘These are human rights issues, and by issues, I mean issues of power. People can no longer make racist jokes, but they’re still making jokes about homosexuals.’
Whether we may or may not agree with marriage, it’s about respecting the diversity of other people.’ Seeing it as a civil rights issue, as a community there should not be laws that discriminate against California citizens, Malhotra said.
Another professor involved with the Queer Studies program is Dr. Ian Barnard. He grew up in Johannesburg, where he earned his Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of the Witwatersrand. He completed his PhD at the University of California, San Diego where he was a founding member of Queer Nation/San Diego.
The professors that served on the committee to create the Queer studies minor worked very hard to make it cutting edge, Barnard said. The concept of studying gender and sexuality can be connected to politics and activism, he added, suggesting, ‘A part of activism is acting up.’
The capstone course, the last of the core classes, provides students the opportunity to develop their own research project. It allows students to work on a project that breaks down the border between the academy and political activism, said Barnard.
In conjunction with the Queer studies minor, CSUN has a student organization called The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Alliance, commonly referred to as LGBTA. The group meets every Thursday to discuss issues relevant to members of the community in addition to planning a variety of events and activities on and off the CSUN campus.
Professors involved with the Queer studies program feel that it is important to support student efforts and encourage academic dialogue between faculty and students.
The official liaison between the Queer studies committee and LGBTA is Dr. Jacob Hale, a professor in the department of philosophy. Dr. Hale received his PhD from the University of North Carolina and started teaching at CSUN in 1991. He specializes in philosophy of mathematics, and metaphysics and his more current research has been in interdisciplinary work in transgender studies.
Hale believes that the purpose of the Queer studies program is to promote interdisciplinary research, create an active learning environment, and further research about sex and gender.
Hale is also the director for the Center for Sex and Gender Research, a faculty research center that puts together colloquiums, panel discussions, and film showings about issues related to Queer Studies.
‘I don’t think one can understand what heterosexual is without understanding what homosexual or bisexual is in terms of relation to each other,’ Hale said.
While Hale teaches within the philosophy department, he can incorporate theories of transgender studies, but he admits that it’s nice to teach in a setting where he can focus on transgender studies in a more theoretical sense, not a philosophical one.
As one of the first universities to offer a Queer studies minor, the professors at CSUN are continuously looking for ways to serve student needs and interests. Other faculty affiliated with the Queer studies include, Elizabeth Adams in liberal studies, Eli Bartle’ from the department of’ social work, Beatriz Cortez in Central American studies, Ramon Garcia from Chicana/o studies Leilani Hall from the English department, Sabina Magliocco in anthropology, and’ Kathryn Sorrells in communication studies.
If Masequesmay could tell any CSUN student one thing about why they should consider becoming involved with the Queer studies minor it would be to get exposed to new ideas because as a college student that is what she feels they should do.
‘Don’t just stick to your values or sit in your comfort zone, go out and explore the world.’