Most Southern Oregon University students would agree that people are people, regardless of race, class, sex, gender, or sexual orientation. Because so many students hold this ideal in common, and have shown an interest in studying these differences, SOU is offering its first four-credit transgender studies class.
Transgender Studies, listed in the Winter 2012 course catalog as GSWS 399, is being offered during the 2012 winter term. The class, taught by Carissa Jean Sojka, a first-year professor in the Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies Department, will explore transgender studies and theories, with a focus on transgender identities.
The focus of the course is to study transgender issues, including the initial development of the category, contemporary conceptions, the experience of transgender individuals, and cisgendered privilege. However, Sojka also expects that the class will result in a higher level of understanding and acceptance.
Sojka explains that when transgender issues are considered in society, they are often either invisible or misinterpreted.
“As people learn about what it really is, we begin to grow,” she said. “Learning about something, forming a deeper understanding, can lead to tolerance and acceptance.”
She continues that gender issues affect all people, not just transgendered or “other” gendered groups, for example gender-restrictive bathrooms.
“A lot of people never consider the issue, but many are affected, including men who require changing tables that are often only provided in women’s facilities, families with small children, and disabled persons requiring an attendant who may be of the opposite sex,” she said.
The class is offered under the interdisciplinary program, Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies. The program was initially started with the offering of a Women’s Studies minor in the 1970s and later developed into a major. In the fall of 2010 the program became Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies in order to more accurately represent the courses and materials taught under the major, many of which contained studies on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer issues.
If the winter offering is successful, the school will continue to offer it as a permanent course. Additionally, the Queer Studies course (GSWS 341) will continue to be offered, and with enough interest, the program could expand to offer a Queer Communities course in the future.
Sojka said she is not aware of any anger or disapproval from the student body in reaction to the course.
“Faculty, staff, and students at SOU tend to be fairly accepting, and people have been really supportive,” she said. “It makes me really excited to be teaching this course here at SOU.”