For the first time in over twenty years, Sonoma State’s Women and Gender Studies program is providing two classes created and lead by full-time students.
According to long-time activist and Women and Gender Studies Professor Don Romesburg, “What we’re doing now hasn’t been done in our department for many many years... but we think now is an excellent time to re-introduce student-led teaching to Sonoma State. I think there’s a lot of great student activism right now….there’s a lot of students who are deeply engaged and passionate about particular issues.”
One of these courses, relating to prison abolition and gender, was created and is being lead by senior David Kruz. The other class, “Trans Lives in the New Millennium,” was organized by Carly Solberg, a senior Women and Gender Studies major who identifies as trans & non-binary. Both classes are supervised by the Women and Gender Studies department advisors.
In the 1970s, Sonoma State’s Women and Gender Studies program relied mostly on student-run courses. According to Dr. Romesburg, “it was part of the general philosophy of the program at that time which was, in part, recognizing that it wasn’t just professors who could be experts or authorities who could share knowledge... that’s a very feminist philosophy of teaching.”
According to Dr. Romesberg, goals of the Women and Gender Studies major include looking “at how power relations around gender, sexuality, and race saturate everything from our innermost sense of self to the broadest structures and institutions of society.”
Solberg continues to explain that “[Women and Gender studies] can be applied to pretty much anything that goes on, especially on the news [and] in history… it dissects the way that we are as humans.”
While both Solberg and Kruz’s classes study specific, contemporary Women and Gender Studies topics in-depth, their similarities pretty much end there.
According to Kruz, their class focuses on the “exploration of the prison system through a feminist lens.”
Kruz explains that their goals include looking, “at how the prisons acts on people of different gender... exploring how and why punishment occurs within the context of our entire society... [and] looking at the ways in which sexuality is criminalized be it through the criminalization of AIDS and more broadly homosexuality, cross-dressing, or sex work.”
By the end of their class, Kruz hopes that students will leave the class understanding the effect of prisons and how to institute change.
Students curious about Solberg’s ‘Trans Lives in the New Millenium’ course are also encouraged to attend their public review of Sonoma’s commitment to its transgender student policies. The presentation will be held in the HUB on Nov. 19 from 2 to 2:50 p.m.
Despite the excitement, the future of student-led classes is still unclear. According to Dr. Romesberg, the fact that these courses are only offered this semester, due to the fact that their student leaders will graduate in a semester, is one of the things that make them special.
Some advice that Kruz has for students interested in their class is to look into prison letter writing. “Send a postcard to an inmate,” they said, “or get a penpal. Look up Critical Resistance- they have tons of resources. Black and Pink can get you queer pen pals as well. SWOP -Sex Worker Organizing Project- can get you incarcerated sex worker pen pals.”
Other fascinating courses and resources that Dr. Romesberg recommends includes the Fall Feminist Lecture series and the Spring Queer Lecture series. Both are free to drop-in students and are available to take for a credit. Sonoma State’s Queer Straight Alliance also meets on Fridays from 12 to 1p.m. in the HUB.
“This kind of activism is difficult to engage in,” Kruz stresses, “but
there are ways.”
In addition to being a peer educator, Solberg also facilitates a weekly student-lead Trans and Gender Questioning group. Students interested in joining can reach out to Solberg at firstname.lastname@example.org.