The new major, Ethnic, Gender and Identity Studies, was created as a result of work from the 25-year-old Ethnic and Gender Studies program. Though it was originally introduced in the Spring of 2020, it wasn’t at the forefront of student and faculty minds with the growing pandemic.

“There has been so much change and loss and stress because of COVID-19,” said Mallory Koci, Director of Ethnic and Gender Studies. “The program is something so near and dear to my heart, it really felt like it was disrespectful to be so thrilled or to even be able to muster up the energy to be super excited about a program in the midst of a global pandemic.”

With some classes being back in session, and the possibility of in-person classes in the fall, Koci is hopeful the new major will get the recognition and popularity it deserves. 

“I'm certainly hoping that as we are easing out of COVID-19 in the restrictions, that people gain some kind of sense of self again that they're able to increase the bandwidth and their energy, and will have more excitement around the major,” Koci said.

Skye Dunnaway, junior Ethnic, Gender and Identity Studies major, said they quickly changed their route after being involved in the program and is excited for what’s in store. 

“I got my associate's degree in science because I was going to be a nurse,” Dunnaway said. “Then I realized that the way that I wanted to help people wasn't going to be expressed through nursing, and then I decided to make change.”

Not only is the major a result of a program that has been growing for 25 years, it also was of little to no cost to the university—no new faculty needed to be hired, and the majority of classes were the result of several classes from other departments across campus.

“Being able to demonstrate that we could make the program work based off of the model that we've already created and has a long success rate, which was the minor program that we could expand that out...the classes that our students get to take the majority of them actually come from different departments and disciplines across campus.”

Classes taught from several different departments is one of the components that make the major and minor applicable in more career fields, said Karen Smith, one of the contributors to the program when it was first developing. 

“In order to be, for example, even a good doctor you're going to have to understand issues having to do with gender and not just the biology of gender, but the way people feel about their gender or somebody else's gender,” Smith said. “So even if you went on to medical school, you still need that background and the same would certainly be true for law school because so many issues--think of how many of these cases have to do with divorce or violence for some kind that is gender-based or race based so I do think it's a great Universal major.”

Ellen Hansen, professor of social sciences, said she believes even outside of the career field, the lessons and ideas emphasized in the major and minor are so important because they are what shape our experiences. 

“This is kind of what shapes our society and everybody has ethnicity, everybody has gender, everybody has identity and we need to know more about that and we need to understand how that shapes our lives,” Hansen said. 

The major and the minor aim to give students more options because it offers an entire program as a whole rather than a specific field of study, making Emporia State a more viable option for some students while allowing a greater group of students to be represented in the material.

“For students of color, it was a way for them to see themselves in their own education,” said Lelsie Lewis, the creator of the program at ESU. “If you know if there was an African American student who wanted to focus on African American history and literature, she would be able to do that through the program. If there was a student who was interested in the sociological aspects of indigenous and Native American cultures, he could do that and same with gender. It was a place to to do feminist studies. That women could understand the history of empowerment.”

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