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Merging Identities, Creating Conflict

Updated: Oct 28, 2021

By: Christina Semeraro

Created by Kayla Rondinelli

Conversation this past year has centered around three key concepts that extend into countless areas: diversity, equity and inclusion.

These discussions have led us to reflect upon how we interact with one another and how these interactions can affect each other's lives. Most importantly, this trend has inspired progress in the form of social and policy changes

In the midst of this cultural shift, OWU decided to combine two programs central to identity studies into a single department: Women's and Gender Studies and Black World Studies. Unsurprisingly, this provoked a mixed reaction from students, with most leaning towards an unsupportive standpoint.

Students took to social media to voice their concerns and passed around a petition in an attempt to reverse this decision. Many were worried that this would diminish the importance of the two fields of study, and the identities therein, by consolidating them into one department.

The administration saw the petition, held a town hall and released another statement. This time, the statement came directly from the heads of each program rather than the provost, which the initial statement came from.

The letter written by professors in BWS and WGS stated, “By working together, we hope to be a department that helps to educate the broader campus community on these issues and to empower students to make change.”

Further in the letter they added, “This new department will preserve the best aspects of the two programs as well as allow us to add needed curricular elements with a new hire.”

This updated statement in response to students' concerns ultimately communicated that there was no reversing this decision. Administrators only considered students' input on the naming of the department and have since determined that it will be the Africana, Gender, and Identity Studies Department.

Black World Studies major, Jeremiah Anderson ‘23, was concerned about the classroom changes that could occur from combining the two programs and the unease some students might feel in difficult topics being discussed with students not in the given major or identity group being discussed.

On the initial announcement of the merge, Anderson commented, “I was really confused, I just didn't understand where it came from, where it came about, especially during a time where these two groups are at the forefront of a lot of conversations we are having in this country, right? We need these conversations that are happening and to then take away their own separate identity is, in a way, erasure of the groups.”

Although Anderson has since come to accept the joining of the programs into one department, he is hesitant as to how this will impact the OWU community in the future once AGIS serves as a space for Black World Studies and Women and Gender Studies.

Similarly, Emma McCarty ‘21, a Women's and Gender Studies major, was disappointed in this decision and felt OWU should have prioritized the resources needed for these programs to remain successful as separate entities.

“To fully understand the vast history and information these majors need to be singular in their teaching. I feel as if this goes against all that OWU claims to be,” said McCarty. “Ohio Wesleyan University prides itself in its diversity of majors, students, and nationalities. I feel as if combining such two crucial majors allows for vital information to fall through the cracks.”

In the letter to the students, the department faculty mentioned the merger allowing for a new hire, therefore advancing the classes offered and topics covered each semester. Chosen to fill this position is Dr. Antron Mahoney, who will offer new classes such as Black Masculine Identity, Black Queer South, and Leadership in the Era of #BLM. The complete curriculum for the Africana, Gender, and Identity Studies Department has not yet been determined and will be implemented starting in the Fall of 2021.

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