The women, gender and sexuality studies (WGSS) program is relatively small, with only two full-time faculty members and four joint professors. With the growing relevance of topics such as a woman’s right to choose and the legalization of same-sex marriage in mainstream discourse, the WGSS department hopes to expand as well — from a peripheral program that only offers a minor to a larger department that would include a major and graduate certificate.
Dara Silberstein, program director of WGSS, said she hopes a formal major in WGSS will be available within the next two years.
“We are working on having it approved on campus, through the SUNY system and the state, which can be an extended period of time,” Silberstein said. “I’m very positive, we have [the] support of the administration, its something students wanted and frankly it’s something that faculty affiliated with the program are very enthusiastic about.”
Sean Massey, a research associate professor in the WGSS program, said the department sees this as a vital addition to Binghamton University. He is more ambitious than Silberstein, hoping the SUNY Board will approve it by next year.
“The individualized major committee already approved it, but the SUNY takes longer for [a] formal major,” Massey said. “Students at Binghamton can create own their own individualized major and submit it to individualized major committee to be approved. We’re now just working on getting the formal major.”
The proposal for a new major has to go through Harpur College Counsel, the faculty senate, the provost’s office, SUNY and the New York State Board of Education in Albany, according to Silberstein.
“There’s been some enthusiasm, there’s been some concern about whether we can meet expectations we set for ourselves,” she said. “There’s been discussion about sexuality, students from certain countries would not want sexuality on their transcript.”
Silberstein said there have been long discussions about the concerns people have.
“Those are some significant issues we have in moving forward,” Silberstein said. “However, I am fairly confident that this is going to be very successful. Even right now there’s been a bigger buzz, we’ve had a lot of students come through.”
Although she is trying to expand the department, Silberstein does not think adding a formal major will drastically change the core concepts of the program.
“There will be changes that everybody will see,” Silberstein said. “In other ways it will be seen that we are successful in getting awarded grants from health department that will connect us to organizations that help LGBTQ networks. That will have an enormous impact on our program, from people who are there to people who engage with the program, the kind of programs that we do, and that will be the importance.”
The major will teach students a variety of important academic and professional skills, according to Silberstein.
“Students can get more than just career path outcomes from the major, including critical thinking skills,” she said. “Questions about sexual identity and gender are critiqued and recognized as defining other kinds of value areas.”