By Belle Vang, COSS Communications Student Assistant

As one of the oldest of its kind, the Women’s Studies (WS) program at Fresno State has been changing student lives since 1971 by igniting activist spirits through interdisciplinary studies.

The faculty devotes endless efforts in supporting their students to engage with professional activist organizations.  Dr. Kathryn Forbes has taught Women’s Studies at Fresno State since 2000 and has been serving as the WS coordinator for the last three years.  She emphasizes the importance of addressing the myths and misconceptions of integrated gender and race curriculum by sharing the ways WS tackles social issues with research-based solutions.  

“We don’t have WS courses within K-12, and GE courses in college may be the only place students may talk about gender, sexuality, and race issues as well as the intersection of them,” Forbes highlights.  “Our program compliments a lot of other majors because of its interdisciplinary nature of our classes and program.”

Chavez (second from right) with her graduating WS colleagues

Collaborating with other departments including Chicano & Latin American Studies, Anthropology, and Political Science, the WS program and its faculty have continued to build bridges for students to maximize their college experience and build “real world” skills.

Elizabeth Chavez, WS and Social Work alumna, encountered difficulties transitioning from high school to college due to the lack of awareness for on-campus resources.  

“Coming to a university was just a big culture shock.  Your parents don’t know these resources, so you have to find them on your own,” Chavez shared.  “As a first-generation Mexican, female student, it was helpful to hear the voices of other students and realize that I’m not alone in my experiences.”  

Through transformative practices of engaging students in research and collaborative advocacy skills, WS continues to commit to the professional and personal growth and development of their students.

“I wasn’t interested in a master’s degree or a Ph.D., but the faculty definitely encourages you,” Chavez said.  “They just open doors for you that you never even thought were possible.”

Dr. Fobear (far left), Chavez (second from left) and WS students at the National Women’s Studies Association (NWSA)

WS faculty like Professor Dr. Loretta Kensinger continuously builds their scholars by providing hands-on experience to highlight their student-centered knowledge and potential.  The program organized the first CSU-wide Gender, Race, and Sexuality (GRS) Undergraduate Conference with Associate Professor Dr. Katherine Fobear, and the inaugural Native American Women’s Leadership Summit (NAWLS) with Associate Professor Dr. Leece Lee-Oliver in Spring 2019, offering community-changing growth to their students’ professional futures.

Dr. Lee-Oliver hosting Native American Women’s Leadership Summit (NAWLS), Spring 2019

Critically engaging in intersectional practices, WS faculty endlessly motivate their students to pursue goals deemed as unreachable, such as graduate school.  

WS and Sociology Alumna Aleks Rodas found her passion for education through the WS program.  She shared that Associate Professor Dr. Larissa Mercado-López encouraged her to pursue a double major in WS and Sociology.

“I love all the professors; they’re all very amazing women,” Rodas said.  “After taking their courses, it made me realize the ways I can help the community and actually be more involved by not just listening, not just hearing them out, but actually knowing of ways to be involved.”

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Aleks in class

As WS students graduate by a dozen each year, many of them implement their knowledge of intersectionality with their professional fields in social work, local politics, activist organizations, and more.  More than half of the WS students continue their education by pursuing a master’s degree or Ph.D., like Rodas.

“I try not to, but every graduation ceremony, I cry.  Both because I’ll miss them, and also because it feels like a passing of a torch,” Forbes said.  “It feels like they’re becoming new people out there who are going to change the world, and we’ve had a little part of that.”

Click here to find out more about the Women’s Studies faculty and program.

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Women’s Studies faculty (right to left): Dr. Kensinger, Dr. Mercado-López, Dr. Forbes, Dr. Lee-Oliver, Dr. Fobear