Why I Chose Gender Studies
By Tallyn Owens ‘16
My first foray into Gender Studies at Rhodes was a bit of a headfirst dive. My Open Rhodes advisor, Jasmine Gilstrap ‘13, was the secretary of Rhodes’ chapter of VOX, Voices for Planned Parenthood, an advocacy group that coordinates volunteer work with Planned Parenthood and other reproductive rights organizations throughout Memphis. Interested in the politics of reproductive health as a high school student, I immediately knew VOX was first on my list of student organizations to join come September.
Obviously, this was just the beginning. From my very first meetings with VOX, I started meeting people and having the most interesting conversations about reproductive rights, sexism, queer rights. You name it. I even met my big in Alpha Omicron Pi, one of my best friends in the world, through VOX.
However, the extracurricular aspect of the Gender Studies community at Rhodes is only part of the experience. During my first year, I was able to take my mandatory Search classes from Prof. Rhiannon Graybill in Religious Studies, who has a research focus on gender and sexuality in the Hebrew Bible as well as queer and feminist theory. This allowed me to explore gendered readings of classic texts that could have otherwise been boring. With Prof. Graybill’s help, I was eventually able to present one of my papers for her class, about misogyny in Lucretius at the 2013 Gender and Sexuality Studies Symposium alongside several other talented thinkers at Rhodes.
The strongest aspect of the gender studies program, by far, is our outstanding faculty. This could be said for any department at Rhodes, but since Gender Studies is interdisciplinary, this makes it all the more impressive. With professors from the English department such as Department Chair Leslie Petty and Queer Theory professor Mark Behr or Religious Studies professors such as Graybill, the faculty who teach the department’s wide array of courses have an interesting and engaging way of both teaching the fundamentals of gender and feminist theory while simultaneously using them to flip pre-existing notions of academia on their heads.
Even outside of Rhodes, my involvement in the gender studies community has already allowed me amazing opportunities. Over the summer, I was able to attend Planned Parenthood’s Youth Organizing and Policy conference. There I met an astounding number of amazing activists from all over the country, lobbied on Capitol Hill with Memphis Representative Steve Cohen, and was also able to help lead a panel session about organizing for reproductive justice in conservative areas.
The Gender Studies program has allowed me to create a challenging academic environment in a rewarding and supportive social community that I could not imagine my Rhodes experience thus far without. It’s a bit of a hidden gem here at Rhodes and I truly believe that I am a better and more engaged person because I was lucky enough to find and embrace it.