Women’s Studies department rebranded as Women, Ethnicity, and Intersectional Studies department


Thy Vo

The Plaza of Heroines located in the center of campus on Nov. 18, 2021. The plaza was contructed with bricks and pavement that record the names of women honored as heroines.

After many years and name changes, the Women’s Studies department will be called the Women, Ethnicity, and Intersectional Studies department this fall.

“The overlapping of experiences in people’s lives is very important when you are studying women, or when you engage in women’s studies or ethnic studies,” Chinyere Okafor, former head of the department and current professor, said. “It’s very important for all of them to go together.”

The rebranded program was designed to allow students to focus on what they want, whether that be women’s studies, ethnicity or intersectional studies. 

“We actually made it easier for students to be able to design what they want, and faculty will work with it,” Okafor said. 

In 2014, the department was called Women’s Studies and Religion, but those in the department wanted to include diversity into the program as it relates to women. 

“We reviewed all the courses that we teach and began to focus on some of the things that we do in the classes,” Okafor said. “I saw that the common thread in all our courses … was the issue of diversity,” 

At the time, the only campus organizations that focused on diversity were a multicultural center and the Office of Diversity and Inclusion. Despite the subject being taught, Wichita State lacked an academic department that’s mission statement was diversity. 

“We hadn’t changed the name of the department, but every course that we’re teaching was focused on diversity and diversity in terms of women, gender, race, and sometimes on disability,” Okafor said.

By 2018, the department had a new issue: deciding what school to place the ‘ethnic studies’ major, which at the time resided in the School of Criminal Justice. 

She said that ethnic studies had been moving from one department into the other but that it was big in the School of Criminal Justice. 

“It wasn’t a good idea to lump ethnic studies and criminology,” Okafor said. 

Okafur said that it was a good idea to include ethnic studies in the department because it would work well with the courses that were already being offered.“It was a good idea because we were at that time looking at for diversity, anything to do with diversity,” Okafor said. “Even people who think that they don’t have ethnicity; We all have ethnicity,” Okafor said.

Soon after moving ethnic studies, the department shrank due to the retirement of religion and internal issues. The department began a college-wide committee to rethink the program.

“It was actually to look at a program and see how we can expand it, you know, to get more students, to be more effective,” Okafor said. 

During the rebrand, the department kept the women’s center, which helps to facilitate issues about women and the studies of women because the department was founded in a partnership between Wichita women and Wichita State. 

“This department … was the second oldest women’s studies department in the United States, in that it was founded in 1971,” Okafor said. 

More information about the programs within the Department of Women, Ethnicity, and Intersectional Studies can be found here