The proposed Race, Ethnicity, Gender, and Sexuality Studies department was granted approval by the Board of Regents at their May meeting. The department will house the pre-existing Race and Ethnic Studies (RACE) and Women’s and Gender Studies (WMGST) programs.
The women’s and gender studies major and concentration will be renamed gender and sexuality studies effective in the fall of 2021.
Associate Professor of English and Director of Race and Ethnic Studies, Jennifer Kwon Dobbs, described the formation of the department as “a watershed moment in both programs’ histories signalling their enduring significance at St. Olaf College” in an email sent to students in affected programs on May 11.
WMGST and RACE will remain as separate entities despite their umbrella department, and qualifications for majors or concentrations in either arena will stay the same. The departmental status for the programs brings a number of benefits: greater funding and resources, a dedicated office on campus and, perhaps most notably, the ability to hire and promote faculty.
While designated as programs, any faculty who taught WMGST and RACE courses must have been hired by a department and thus also teach courses in another subject. Now, the Race, Ethnicity, Gender, and Sexuality Studies department can hire and promote dedicated faculty to instruct within the discipline.
The status as a department will also inherently grant the disciplines a more secure place in the College going forward — while the school has clear steps they must take to terminate a department, there is not a clear procedure that must be followed to terminate a program. This makes programs more vulnerable to being defunded more easily.
There will be an informational and celebratory event for the new department on Buntrock Plaza on Thursday, May 13 at 4 p.m. featuring an open mic for students.