Sell Us Your Major: Gender Studies


This column is devoted to sharing student and faculty input on the various majors offered at Lawrence. The goal is to highlight areas of study that are not well known and to provide undecided students an inside look at things they may want to study.


Going to college is one of the most transformative times in a persons’ life where students continuously shape their identities and uncover the things that make them who they are. At Lawrence, Gender Studies looks at gender as a crucial facet to an individual’s personal identity and examines the social implications these personal identities hold. Within society, gender has a strong relationship with psychological and biological ideas that lead to expose gender as a complex and nuanced part of any person’s identity.

Professor Amy Nottingham-Martin stated, “I think of Gender Studies as how gender as a factor influences and shapes our experiences in life. That sounds like a really big definition, but gender shapes our experience and our existence in the world in all kinds of ways and in ways I don’t think we always realize. Sometimes we do see the ways gender influences us, but there are other ways that aren’t always so obvious. To me, part of what gender studies is doing is trying to look at how that works. And looking at how even gender as an idea comes about and how it works in different ways.”

Gender Studies aims to expose new— and even shocking—perspectives on gender and identity to its students. Freshmen Erin McCammond-Watts stated, “Something that surprised me a lot in Intro to Gender Studies is how deeply we are delving into the thought processes and mentality of the ‘other side.’ We specifically look at the side that most or all of us in the class deem as the ‘wrong’ side, and analyze why they believe what they believe to get a better understanding.”

Nottingham-Martin elaborated on these surprising moments when she stated, “It’s really interesting to watch the different developments that people go through when they take a gender studies class, especially Intro to Gender Studies. Because there’s a pretty broad spectrum of people taking the class. There are people who already know why they’re interested in gender studies, and there are others who take it simply because it covers a diversity requirement and it’s the one they picked. It’s really interesting when people have that lightbulb moment. A lot of the stuff we teach can be kind of hard to wrap your head around at first. It may go against some of what you’ve always thought, or the way you thought things worked.”

These new and complex ideas can sometimes be overwhelming. Nottingham-Martin elaborated on this thought as she stated, “These new ideas can be thought provoking for students, but they can also be kind of world shattering in the way that you’ve actually got to re-weave a lot of what you’ve always thought, but hopefully in a good way. I know a couple students who have had life-altering experiences in gender studies classes, and while that can be scary, there’s also something really valuable about having those moments and it’s a part of why you go to college in the first place. It’s all about positive growth.”

While Gender Studies focuses on specific ideas of identity, the implications of those identities hold influence in a myriad of other areas of studies. Nottingham-Martin elaborated, “I think the nature of gender studies itself is very interdisciplinary. Here at Lawrence we have folks who teach from all different academic backgrounds. There are faculty teaching on ethnic studies, psychology, anthropology, sociology, biology, linguistics and rhetoric. There are lots of different fields involved in gender studies, so part of the challenge is trying to weave all those things together. I certainly think that this is why people can approach gender studies in a lot of different ways.”

Gender Studies is an area of great significance, as gender is something that affects everyone. McCammond-Watts stated, “I think learning about gender is really important because it is something that defines our society. There are so many things that can come as a result from someone’s gender, and this can create a really harmful environment for an individual. But with new generations of people, we can start to work towards creating a more tolerant society for our children who will continue it so on and so forth.”

Nottingham-Martin hopes that students take away the significance of gender studies in whatever career they pursue. Nottingham-Martin stated, “It’s my hope that not only will people who are to go on to become gender studies scholars take these courses, but that people going into whatever they choose do otherwise will take a course in order to become a more carefully informed thinker as far as gender and other aspects of identity. Say you’re the manager at a company. With gender studies you might be able to take a step back and think about how what you’re doing affects people around you and affects their experiences. Gender Studies could help you become a richer musician or a more compassionate doctor. There are all kinds of ways understanding gender and sexuality can be a part of our toolset in any situation.”

The Gender Studies department at Lawrence University works towards giving students the resources and awareness they need to navigate through the complex ideas surrounding gender and sexuality in the world today. Identities shape how humans see each other, and the more focus placed on reading and learning about how different identities play into who gets power and who gets power taken away from them, the more empowerment can be found.