posted 2011-03-09 13:00:45

When Does Hunter Become a Home?

When Does Hunter Become a Home?

Katherine Cross

Contributing Writer

When does Hunter become a home? That was a question I asked myself not too long after I returned from a hiatus that involved missing three semesters of coursework. Even as I returned to school, I wondered how it was that people developed love and enthusiasm for their university, how they came to see a school as a home away from home. As an aspiring teacher myself, I figured it would behoove me to figure that out. I got my answer in the form of the Women and Gender Studies Program.

It gave a sharp focus to my other academic interests (which it does very well regardless of one’s discipline) and provided me with deeply supportive teachers and colleagues who ably wove together the personal, political and academic. It was here that I quickly gained a sense of purpose, regarding how best to use my Sociology major. I found several role models for the kind of professor I want to be: involved, compassionate, knowledgeable and comfortable around students.

Academically and intellectually, I considered myself informed about issues regarding gender, but since taking these classes, what I already knew has been drawn into sharp relief, and what I did not know proved to be more copious than I had realized. I have learned about studies and statistics regarding all manner of issues that imbricate with gender politics, from spousal violence to issues of sexuality and gender identity to reproductive rights.

I have always said that disciplines like gender studies are a fluid catalogue of both the objective and the subjective; it collects facts as well as subjective experience. The ease with which this duality defines the discipline arises from the fact that understanding the subjective experience of, say, transgender people, gay/queer people, women, people of color or people with disabilities, makes you a better biologist, sociologist, political analyst and so on. It is a critical lens that helps you see your world afresh.

In all the books I now own on the vast corpus of knowledge regarding gender, it never stopped amazing me just how much there is to know about the way people do gender in society. In its pursuit of knowledge and drive to observe, record and catalogue, there is very much a scientific impetus in gender studies. There is also a subjective purpose and meaning to it as well, one that, in my view, makes you a more informed citizen who might more keenly understand why, for example, House Republicans recently tried to redefine rape, or how they are planning to defund Planned Parenthood, or continue to tirelessly oppose the rights of LGBTQ Americans.

These are political issues, yes, and they are not abstract in the slightest. Gender studies elucidate ways of understanding them, the motivations behind those who promulgate such ills and how we might stem the tide. Some might argue that academia should not be so involved. I would argue that it already is, and that knowledge, particularly of this sort, must always have a purpose. If you peruse countless studies about rape and domestic violence — such as one that demonstrates how women’s dependence on their abusive husbands increased after the passage of Welfare Reform — how can one help but apply that to the realities to which the study makes reference?

Again and again in classrooms, I hear students asking, eagerly and sometimes desperately, “Why?” when they hear, for example, that Sweden has generous paid parental leave for both men and women. Gender studies provides the academic framework for giving people complete answers to these questions.

That is the academic promise. But back to the bit about making Hunter a home. In the midst of all of this heady and sometimes disconcerting learning, I came to develop a comity with my colleagues in the WGS Program, a friendship with the professors and, above all, a safe space where LGBT women like myself can leisurely relax in peace, be out and not fear any awkwardness, stilled voices or hate. I go to the WGS Resource Room to tutor my friends, eat my lunch, do work, relax and read some of the many fine books that its capacious library has to offer. It pains me to know that keeping that room’s door open is a barely affordable expense and that the whole program might be a few firings away from shrinking into nothingness.

It offers far too much to let it end like this, and as the foregoing events should make abundantly clear, a school like Hunter College that speaks to a lot of young people trying to make their way in the world must have a proper academic home for all of this. Let’s come together and make the WGS Program a full department.