As NC State works to create a more inclusive environment for students that are a part of the LGBTQ+ community, the number of classes focused on the community being offered to said students is increasing. These class subjects range from history to literature to film, and are housed primarily in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences.
Elizabeth Nelson, a teaching associate professor with a doctorate in communication studies, teaches WGS 390: Queer Theory. The class examines what it means to be part of the LGBTQ+ community and how various parts of society are impacted by queerness.
“Queer theory is a lot of times something you don't take until graduate school, so it's a combination of that, but also just queer knowledge, queer history, queer creators, things that are happening now,” Nelson said.
Ray Ward, a fourth-year studying sociology and women’s, gender and sexuality studies, took Nelson’s class last year and described their experience as being a positive one.
“It's a fun topic, also a bit complicated if you don't have any reference point because we use the word queer in a couple different ways,” Ward said. “It's used as an identity. It's also used often for activist purposes, but it's also a form of academic theory. A really fun textbook for it was called ‘Queer: A Graphic History.’ It was a textbook, but it's done like a graphic novel, so you get art and things to go with what you're reading. It was really cool.”
Ward emphasized the importance of having a variety of people take the class, as it added to their knowledge of the subject. According to Ward, the students enjoyed the small intersectional community that was formed and looked forward to the discussions the group would have on the readings.
Nelson corroborated this idea of having different perspectives in her class and encourages anyone who is interested to take it.
“I think that the folks there, at least the folks that I've heard from and then I've interacted with, who don't necessarily hold any of the identities that we talked about in the class, are really gratified to be in empathic relation, to be in community, to be in learning,” Nelson said. “And invariably, there's stuff for anyone who does hold those identities to learn about ourselves, to learn about each other, right? It's not a monolith. Everybody's got lots of different experiences.”
John Stadler, a teaching assistant professor of film studies, looked at LGBTQ+ themes through a cinematic lens in his special topics class, ENG 492: Queer Cinema. The class did a deep dive into the idea of queerness in film, starting from early films at the beginning of the 20th century and traveling to the 21st century with films such as 2016’s “Moonlight,” directed by Barry Jenkins.
“I think the project of having these classes should be to constantly question received knowledge and knowledge that has been normalized,” Stadler said. “These classes should remind people that what we are given in a society is not the way things have to be, and that there's always an ‘other.' ... I think these classes should constantly question whatever the normative logic, the normative knowledge structure is.”
Nelson and Stadler expressed joy at having the opportunity to teach classes closely related to their fields of interest, something public history graduate student Matthew Champagne did with his HI 369: Sexuality in U.S. History class last spring. The class focused on the idea of sexuality in the United States from the early 17th century to the present day, and Champagne took from his own experiences and studies of the subject when creating the class.
“The class was something that was very special to me because basically, the way we crafted it was I created sort of the class I wanted to take but couldn't when I was an undergrad, just because a class like that did not exist at my university,” Champagne said. “I also felt the class was really important because, while it helps give a sense of history and place and identity to LGBTQ+ folks, the class was on specifically sexuality in U.S. history. So even though I think the majority of the class were also just allies of LGBTQ+ people, I hope the class even helped normalize some fetishes or sexual expressions for heterosexual cisgender people.”
While existing classes are successful in addressing various aspects of the LGBTQ+ community, both teachers and students identified a need for more classes. Stadler suggested teaching a transgender cinema class similar to the one he taught while obtaining his Ph.D.
“I had, I would say, if not as much as interest in the queer cinema class as in my trans cinema class, if not more, actually,” Stadler said. “I think students today might have an even greater appetite for that kind of a class because I don't think I've ever seen a class advertised at NC State that's actually about trans people. … Under the gender and sexuality studies programs they probably have something, but not in these disciplines that aren't just explicitly about gender.”
Champagne highlighted the need for more LGBTQ+ classes relating to his discipline, as well as similar classes focusing on other historically marginalized people.
“I do think it would be valuable to have an explicit LGBTQ+ history class, as opposed to just a general one on sexuality,” Champagne said. “There's also a bunch of classes I would be interested in seeing focus on that, even in my department in public history. I would love an interpretation of museums, historic sites, that focuses specifically on interpreting LGBTQ+ people.”
Despite the small number of classes currently offered at NC State, there are still options for students to learn about LGBTQ+ themes from teachers who are passionate about the subject and hope to have an impact on our community.
“I derive a lot of pleasure from teaching these kinds of classes, because I'm invested in the topic,” Stadler said. “I think that it is an undertaught topic, and I also like learning. I don't know if teachers talk about this enough, but good teachers are constantly learning alongside you, your teachers are also always students in their own classes. So for me, teaching this class, I've only taught it twice, but hopefully I'll get to teach it more than twice. And each time I teach it, I revise it, I add to it, I subtract, I learned more. … It feels validating.”
Though not all of them are available next semester, students can still learn more about these classes by looking at the Enrollment Wizard in MyPack Portal.