As campus tours and College of Charleston students walk around us – intermingling and conversing about homework, weekend plans and sports games – Rafael Martin Navas and I talk in the middle of the Cistern about a topic that is rarely discussed, brought into conversation or even known about by the students around us – Women’s and Gender Studies.
Wearing a button-down shirt and jeans with square rimmed glasses, Rafael stood with his hands in his pockets and a cool and content ease about him. Rafael, a transfer student from Trident Tech and a senior at the College, is a Women’s and Gender Studies major (Yes, you read that correctly). His first WGST class was Introduction to Women’s and Gender Studies which he decided to take because he knew the director of the WGST department at the time, Alison Piepmeier. It didn’t hurt, however, that he was already interested in political science and history – major aspects of Women’s and Gender Studies courses. After taking this introductory course he chose to change his major from Elementary Education to Women’s and Gender Studies.
Since changing majors, he has taken WGST classes at the College related to gender-race environment, history of American women, women and war, sociology of peace and more. Though he doesn’t have set plans for after college yet, he hopes to work at a nonprofit organization because he believes his first language of Spanish will help in this field.
When asked about his participation in the WGST classes he replied that he actively participates. He stated, “I can’t help myself” even though “I have some problems with pronunciation sometimes, it doesn’t stop me” You may be asking – doesn’t he feel uncomfortable speaking up in a class about women, that is dominated by women, when he is not a woman? His answer is no. He feels comfortable in these classes because the department is like a community. He expresses that “[in the education department] I had very nice teachers and I felt very well… But, especially in the Women’s and Gender Studies department, you know everybody and everybody knows you – it’s very good. It’s a lot closer relationship with professors.”
His feeling of comfort may also be due to the fact that he is used to being one of the only males in class. Before WGST, Rafael was studying elementary education which is another program that is dominated by mostly females – unless, as Rafael states, “ [it is the concentration of] physical education [which is] sports and physical activity… [or] studying to become a professor in high school [rather than] elementary education” where there are a few more male students. This distinct observation, of the lack of men studying education (and Women’s and Gender Studies), is explained perfectly by Rafael who states, “still we have big problem about gender roles. If you are a male you’re supposed to go to business or IT studies or technology, and if you are a female student you should go to the roles we put on ourselves and others – like [women] should go to study nursing, education, history [or] English. I think it’s another reason why people should study WGST – to learn about [these roles] and to break the roles that we put on people because, really, women and men can do the same jobs. Men can teach or they can cook and women can do the same – work in business or be an engineer or they can do anything.”
Rafael makes a point as to why Women’s and Gender Studies classes are important for everyone. He explains how the WGST courses and major “can apply to all [kinds] of different things [including] languages or biology or if you’re in business.” But also, he states that “I would recommend it to everybody cause I think you get [a] very different perspective about the root of all the problems that we face in society – individually and collectively.” He goes on to say, “I think it’s very important. I think it’s good for everybody but I miss that there is only a few men in the major – very few. For our society, it could be very good to have more men studying Women’s and Gender Studies because it’s a major that can change your perspective and if you are interested in activism, and you want to change society… it’s a way to start.”
Coming to the close of my chat with Rafael, I wanted to know what he would say to his peers at the College, in relation to the Women’s and Gender Studies Department, if he could say anything he wanted. This is the unedited transcript of his thoughts on the Department and subject: “First off… The professors are very nice, all the faculty is very nice. The classes are very interesting… people don’t need to major in Women’s and Gender Studies, but it should be very interesting if they give a chance to the courses and they take one or two courses like the Introduction to WGST is very very good, and it works as a general class for most of the majors. Um I would… I think I would ask them – that they should try it. Because the staff is nice, the classes are very interesting. I think a lot of people have a negative misconception about feminism and it’s the first thing that they will change – the idea of what is feminism.”