Laura Hughes: GNDS BAH 2013
Becoming Feminist: My Experience as a Gender Studies Major
Looking back on my Queen’s experience, my immediate memories are not of moving day, football games in tricolour, or of the sunny afternoons spent by Lake Ontario. When I think of my time at Queen’s what I remember most is feeling a sense of acceptance and belonging in my first Gender Studies class.
Starting as a Concurrent Education student and English major, I switched my focus to Gender Studies in my third year of study. Prior to this degree change, I had struggled to keep my average above a 65%, I didn’t feel a sense of belonging at Queen’s, and I hadn’t found an accepting space to openly discuss my Queer identity or develop my feminist politics. Taking a few Women’s Studies classes (as our program was previously named) in my first two years at Queen’s introduced me to a discipline that combined academics with activism, passion with purpose, and took an intersectional approach to discussing axis of identity and oppression. I had found my space; I felt at home.
Being a part of this Gender Studies family introduced me to community work with Sexual Assaulted Centre Kingston and Kingston Interval House, inspired me to join my classmates at Take Back the Night and SlutWalk, and gave me the tools to develop my feminist politics inside and outside of the classroom.
Along with growing as a feminist and activist, my experiences in the Gender Studies classroom and in the Kingston community helped me grow as an individual and find who I am. This program gave me a place to fit in and a place to push boundaries.
As a Gender Studies alumnus, now residing in Toronto and enrolled in the Assaulted Women’s and Children’s Counsellor/Advocate diploma program at George Brown, my feminist work focuses on community education and development for youth. I am currently working on creating a series of workshops educating youth on rape culture and consent. I am so thankful to Gender Studies professors, administrative staff, fellow students, and Kingston community members for creating such a dynamic, safe, and engaging space to grow as a feminist, student, and person.
Kathryn LeBlanc: WMNS/DEVS BAH 2006
After graduating with a Women’s Studies/Development Studies degree from Queen’s I spent time working in remote Northern Cree communities doing mental health/addiction assessments and research. It was during this time I was able to see tangible examples of the too often unchallenged disparities in our society that I was encouraged to explore as a student in Women’s Studies. It was also during this time, that I saw the unrelenting resilience of First Nations women, who are leaders and advocates/agents of change in their communities. In order to continue working with First Nations people in the mental health and addictions field I decided to complete a Masters of Social Work at The University of Toronto. My degree in Women’s Studies provided an invaluable foundation for a career in Social Work.
Currently I’m working at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) in their Aboriginal Services Program. In this position I’m able to do addictions counselling as well as larger social justice initiatives. There are many aspects of my clinical work that are inextricably linked to my Women’s Studies degree. For instance, I often work with clients to acknowledge the effects of inter-generational trauma and explore internalized oppression/colonialism as a factor that perpetuates substance abuse. In this role I’m often called upon to facilitate workshops about Aboriginal issues with other CAMH staff. During these workshops it is my hope that health professionals will challenge assumptions that perpetuate privilege and work to reframe health/wellness in a way that honours First Nations worldviews; it’s in these instances that I most clearly see my Women’s Studies degree shine through. I often think of my time as an undergrad student in Women’s Studies and am deeply thankful. With the support of faculty and my fellow students I was able to find the language and knowledge to challenge inequalities that I so strongly opposed. As a student of Aboriginal decent, I feel as though I had found refuge in the Women’s Studies department where my experiences and contributions were seen as an essential part of the Queen’s community.
Emily Mcgillivray: WMNS BAH 2009, MA GNDS 2011
As I reflect back on my first year as a doctoral student in the American Culture Program at the University of Michigan, I feel confident that my M.A. in Gender Studies was an important step. Gender Studies at Queen’s is a small department, but for me, that size was often a plus. Throughout my M.A., I became acquainted with many of the core faculty and staff, and I knew I could count on the GNDS department for academic support. The flexible course options allowed me to tailor my M.A. to my own interests, which became increasingly important as my project developed, and the category “race” became more and more integral to my Gender Studies project. While I did not choose to pursue a Gender and/or Women’s Studies doctoral degree, I feel that my M.A. in Gender Studies thoroughly prepared me for my doctoral degree in a related, interdisciplinary field. This summer, along with working on my own research projects, I am also working on some archival research for my advisor’s upcoming project on the history of slavery in Detroit in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. I am very excited to partake in this research, as I am fairly new to archival work and it’s a great opportunity. The topics are closely related to my own areas of interest.
Kaleigh Alkenbrack: WMNS BAH 2010, SXGD Certificate; MA GNDS 2012
Although I am now headed in a new direction – medical school at McMaster University – both my MA thesis and my decision to pursue the study of medicine have been inspired and made possible by my education in feminist, anti-racist, and anti-colonial theory and activism. I am truly grateful for my experiences as a member of the welcoming and highly motivating learning community that is Gender Studies at Queen’s. My dedicated professors, brilliant peers, and thoughtful students challenged me to think differently every day and shaped not only my education and resulting research project in beautiful ways, but also encouraged me to think of new and interdisciplinary ways to create and apply knowledge for social justice. I now plan to continue the lines of thinking developed during my politicized education in Gender Studies and am excited to have further opportunities to gain experience doing advocacy work and giving primary care to communities.
We invite Women's/Gender Studies alumni and current students to submit stories and comments for inclusion in our newsletter and on our website. If you would like to share you experiences with the Women's/Gender Studies community, we would love to hear from you. You may send your submissions to Kathy Baer firstname.lastname@example.org or mail to:
Department of Gender Studies
Mackintosh-Corry Hall D504