by: Katie Weiss
In one of my first classes in college, a 100 level course in LGBTQ studies, a professor posed a reading on the LGBTQ community that discussed ways to be a strong gay activist. I remember, more clearly than anything else from this course, becoming enraged at one of the points. “Be wary of straight people bearing gifts” it succinctly said. After leaving class that day, I was a changed person albeit, unknowingly.
I am not going to pretend that I knew what that quote meant or that I figured it out quickly. Instead of looking behind the words, I stomped around my dorm room. Fussed about it. Wrote about it in my notebook and then thought about it some more.
This quote, meaning be careful of people who can walk away from your struggle unscathed, sat with me, ate at me, and danced on repeat in my brain. With that quote serving as a diving board, I cannon-balled into women’s and gender studies and LGBTQ studies. I signed up for more LGBTQ courses and found myself slowly recognizing the change that had been spurred by seven ultimately inconsequential words.
LGBTQ studies, coupled with Women’s and Gender studies, has absolutely, without a doubt, changed my life. What could have simply been a track to a job, like so many other majors, WGS and LGBTQ studies has instead become a passion, a hobby and an interest fueled by an insatiable curiosity instilled in me by these two programs.
The people who are in or have gone through the women’s and gender studies and LGBTQ studies programs are amazing. These people are dedicated to change and are working, non-stop, to make the community, society, DePaul, Chicago, better, safer and more inclusive places. To hear the phenomenal ways in which these brilliant men and women are thinking and being in their everyday lives is inspiring. These people are a part of visceral change. When you get to feel the shift that they are creating occurring all around you, you want to join in – you want to be a part.
Another human bonus is that both of these programs are so tightly tied around other studies based in social justice. Because of this, you get to network with a broad range of individuals whose dreams can so beautifully mingle with yours. To connect and share ideas with others opens up an array of opportunities to reach across borders and help one another. It challenges you to think beyond your own world-view and outside of your privilege and engage, on a basic human level, with people who want to see a difference in the world like you. Women’s and gender studies and LGBTQ studies help to create a diverse community of movers, shakers, thinkers and do-ers that has profoundly shaped the person I am today.
Women’s and gender studies and LGBTQ studies are also the tip of the awareness iceberg. These programs helped me to engage with religion, racism, sexism, homophobia, able-ism and classism in a way that continually pushes me to acknowledge inequity and discrimination all around me, all the time. To be able to more clearly see the consequences of inequality, has helped me to become a more compassionate person, has driven me to want to be a better person.
I have also learned about myself. I am able to critically examine the effect my privilege has (as a white, Christian, middle-class woman) on the social issues I am more heavily involved in and the ways in which I engage in activism. I am becoming more conscious of the choices I make in my every day life even after I have graduated because of the residual effects of a major that encouraged thinking critically about the world all around me. This means that I am more curious. I strongly believe that women’s and gender studies and LGBTQ studies was what pushed me to become more involved. I believe it encouraged me to explore communities, engage with people and entertain conversations that I would have easily closed myself off from before.
When people pointedly ask me “What are you going to do with that?” when they hear what I studied in school, I’m frustrated that I have to explain. I’m perturbed that people see women’s and gender studies and LGBTQ studies (as well as their brethren in the colleges of arts and sciences) as just “useless liberal arts degrees” when they are far from useless.
Women’s and gender studies and LGBTQ studies have changed me. They have looked at that question that I was once afraid to answer – “what are you going to do with that?” – and have turned it on its head. “What am I not going to do?” is my question.
I am going to think critically every day about the conversations that I have. I am going to engage with my community so that the problems of the past will not continue to be the issues of the future. I am going to speak with passion on problems of inequality and work with compassion to end homophobia, racism and sexism. I am going to never give up when faced with adversity. I am going to be proud of what my peers and I have accomplished and I am going to be inspired every day by the people around me. I am going to be thoughtful, critical, and hard working. I am never going to shy away from a challenge. I am going to build connections by reaching out to those surrounding me.
Women’s and Gender studies was a lucky hole-in-one for me with LGBTQ studies being the proverbial cherry on top. What started out as a frustrated plea for an explanation of a quote has turned into what I hope will be a lifetime of social justice work. I’d like to assert that women’s and gender studies and LGBTQ studies did not just change my life, but rocked my world. I can’t imagine living any other way.
Katie Weiss is a recent graduate of DePaul University who loves Hershey’s with almonds, her teapot collection and hoop earrings. She spends her time as a hard-working admin at National Louis University, an all-out bro at Mad River and a nerd-loving Merlin on Netflix. She is consistently inspired by her amazing peers and thinks everyone is cute.