OGDEN — Starting next fall, Weber State University will be the first institution in Utah to offer a program entirely dedicated to studying LGBTQ identities.
While other universities throughout the state offer classes that are within the realm of queer studies, most of those courses fall under gender or sexuality studies. That was previously the case at Weber State, but students will now have the ability to specialize on the topic and earn a queer studies minor.
“In some ways, I can’t hep but wonder what took Utah so long, but I’m excited to see that Weber State is at the forefront of that,” said Theresa Kay, a psychology professor at the school who, with the help of Women & Gender Studies Program Director Melina Alexander and political science professor Richard Price, authored the proposal that the school offer the program.
Their request was approved by the school’s board of trustees on March 16 and the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities, the accrediting body for Weber State, on April 8.
At the March board of trustees meeting, Vice President of Academic Affairs Ravi Krovi said the increasing number of people who openly identify as LGBTQ has increased the need for society to develop an understanding of people with such identities and the issues they face.
"We’re seeing more and more individuals who are self-declaring with LGBTQ status, so the goal is to provide education, build awareness and training so students can better understand what it takes to work in a multicultural workforce," he said.
Students have realized that, too, Kay said. And as more students have developed an interest in queer studies and more courses on the topic popped up, creating a separate minor became necessary.
“The Women & Gender Studies Program is already successful and, as time has gone on, what we were realizing was that women and gender studies was covering an increasing amount of queer studies content,” she said. “But to continue doing queer studies content the justice it deserved, it would start taking away from the feminist, theoretical instruction of gender studies.”
Prior to drafting a proposal that the school launch the minor, Kay said she and some other professors conducted an informal survey to gauge students’ interest in the program. Of those who responded, reported the school’s student newspaper The Signpost, 79 students said they would take at least one queer studies course and 42 students said they would pursue a queer studies minor.
In order to complete the minor, a student must take three core and three elective courses, according to the university’s website. Core courses include introduction to women and gender studies, queer theories and either a class on queer studies research methods or an internship.
Kay, who is on the board of Ogden Pride, said she foresees some of the internships being completed with that nonprofit.
Other courses available to students will be wide ranging as they touch on child and family studies, history, neuroscience, psychology, political science and other subjects.
“Some classes will discuss how those identities come to exist ... but also what are the implications of people who identify as LGBTQ+?” Kay said.
Coming to understand the various identities that fall under the umbrella of LGBTQ+ and how those affect the people who live with them is vital to anyone heading into a career that works with diverse populations, Kay noted.
She added, “In areas in which the LGBTQ+ community is marginalized, and I would say Utah as a whole is one of those geographic areas, I think it’s incredibly important we educate people on individuals who identify in that way.”
In Utah, where approximately 3.7% of adults openly identify as LGBTQ, according to a study conducted by Gallup and the Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles, LGBTQ people are especially vulnerable to feelings of isolation and being misunderstood.
The state collected data on teens’ sexual orientation for the first time in 2019 as part of its biennial SHARP survey. It found that approximately 11.8% of students between 6th and 12th grades identified as gay, lesbian, bisexual, other or they weren’t sure of their sexual orientation.
And of those who identified as lesbian or gay, 48% said they had seriously considered suicide, while 53% of bisexual students said they had thought about it. Among straight students, that number was much lower at 15%.
If students graduate with a queer studies minor, they will be equipped to begin to tackle such issues, as well as create a more inclusive environment on Weber State’s campus. The university’s LGBT Resource Center did not respond to a request for comment on the minor.
“Our top priority would be the increased understanding and ability to work with folks who identify as LGBTQ+,” Kay said. “If we’re successful there, I would say we would be very happy with that.”