For the first time this fall, Beloit students had the option of declaring a major in critical identity studies. The designation reflects a name change from what was formerly the women’s and gender studies interdisciplinary program.
If anyone understands the power and potency of a name, it’s Professor of Critical Identity Studies Catherine Orr, a scholar on the topic of identity who has chaired the program through two such changes. The first came in the early 2000s, when it evolved from women’s studies to women’s and gender studies. Orr says women’s studies major Christina Gorczynski’02 played a huge role in getting the word out the first time around, organizing events and panel discussions. At the time, “There was a different context, and a lot of anxiety about the displacement of women,” Orr explains.
“I think we’re in a different moment here, and I think the discipline is at a different moment,” Orr says. “‘Women’ is one aspect of identity. If we’re really going to be intersectional, no one is ever just a woman, no one is ever just African-American, no one is ever just working class or upper class; we’re all those things simultaneously. Well then, why are we privileging gender?”
A small faculty committee was formed to explore the topic, and the name was put to a student vote last spring.
Other changes include a more streamlined approach to introductory-level courses in the program.
“The curriculum is getting more streamlined, in some sense, and now we have room for upper-level classes that do different things,” Orr says. Ultimately, the goal of the name change is in line with other conversations happening at the college, she says, that are helping the community think about identity in a more sophisticated way.