Updated: Mar 22, 2021
For years, students such as Sissy Rosso, Derek Sherlock, and Madeleine Dulude (pictured above) have considered queer studies a topic they would like to learn more about in college. Last spring, Leslie Schuster, who heads Rhode Island College’s (RIC) Gender and Women’s Studies program, worked with Dr. Andrea Dottolo, an Associate Professor of Psychology, to run a “trial” class called Introduction to Queer Studies.
Sherlock, majoring in English and Gender and Women’s Studies, was one of the first people to sign up for this class. An executive board member of the RIC Pride Alliance, Sherlock encouraged more students to enroll.
While many classes at RIC are taught in a traditional lecture style, Dr. Dottolo worked with the students to apply what they had read or watched ahead of time to classroom lessons and real world situations. Student Sissie Rosso said, “While the professor usually sets the tone for the class, I found that the students really made this class. People were a lot more open-minded and willing to learn without negativity.”
About half way through the fall semester, a group of students urged Dr. Dottolo to elevate queer studies to its own field of study. Dottolo encouraged the students to share their views with Director Schuster, who sat in on a class and then met with students to discuss the possibility. The students and their friends and peers wrote letters to RIC’s administration, sharing their experience and passion for queer studies, as they requested that it become a minor.
“As a student, we don’t get to see the administrative part of it, and it was really interesting to learn about,” said Rosso. The large group of students coming together in one class voicing their interest made their wish a reality.
“I wasn’t expecting this to happen so soon. I was expecting it to take years,” said student Madeleine Dulude. Dr. Dottolo remarked, “It was a real inspiration for any student group to organize in this way. I feel really strongly about being at RIC because it does serve the working class and people who have many other outside obligations…. The fact that we can offer this, and that these students organized and articulated this, is really inspiring to watch.” said Dottolo.
These students from different backgrounds and majors shared the belief that everyone should have a safe learning space where they can challenge what they think they know, feel a little uncomfortable, and take what they have learned to teach others. Students are surprised to find what they don’t know about pioneers like Marsha P. Johnson, Harvey Milk, and Adrienne Rich. Queer Studies will ensure students truly understand what happened during the Stonewall Uprising and the AIDS epidemic. It will explore the glitz and glamour alongside the challenges, many of which continue to this today.
Interim Provost/Vice President for Academic Affairs Dr. Sue Pearlmutter said, “This new minor reinforces our commitment to teaching our students to explore the world with a critical lens…. The students who advocated for the creation of this program... are intent on specializing in work with the LGBTQ+ community and expressed their need and desire for focused training.”
This is the first time Queer Studies will be offered as a minor at a state funded school. Final approvals are expected in March, making it effective for the fall 2020 semester.
Abigail Nilsson is a senior at Rhode Island College studying journalism with extensive background in health and wellness.