Augustana University Offering Gender, Sexuality & Women’s Studies Minor

By Keeley Meier '20 | October 06, 2023
Gender Studies

Augustana University has added a gender, sexuality & women’s studies (GSWS) minor as of Aug. 30. The minor is another offering within the university’s list of interdisciplinary academic programs developed as part of Augustana’s strategic plan Viking Bold: The Journey to 2030.

The minor, housed within the Center for Interdisciplinary Studies (CIS), allows students to analyze gender as both a social construction and category, as well as how it shapes personal identities and experiences.

Gender Studies Minor Partners With LEAD South Dakota

“The minor is very interdisciplinary in nature, which I love because I think gender, sexuality and women's studies are inherently interdisciplinary,” said Dr. Spencier Ciaralli, assistant professor of sociology and coordinator of the GSWS program. “This is not just housed in sociology; we're bringing in scholars from English and even biology, so I'm really excited about that.”

The GSWS minor consists mainly of elective courses in English, history, media studies, religion, sociology and Spanish. Students are also required to take a gateway course — Gender, Sex & Sexuality — as well as a capstone course. To complete the minor, students are encouraged to complete an internship or individual honors project.

“If (students) want to apply what they're learning into our communities or align it with other majors or minors — for example, if someone is pre-med, and they want to go work at Sanford Health within the gynecology division — we would be happy to accommodate that,” Ciaralli said. 

Ciaralli has been reaching out to organizations across the state to create additional connections and opportunities for AU students. One of these connections led to an internship for Jose Serna ‘24, a government & international affairs and sociology double major. This fall, he’s interning with LEAD South Dakota — a grassroots organization that exists to “empower and encourage women to be actively involved in all stages of the political process in order to effect positive change for women and families in South Dakota.”

“I felt that this internship would give me a different perspective of advocacy work than what I am accustomed to,” said Serna. “Interning with LEAD has allowed me to see the different perspectives of individuals within South Dakota and how they vote. I have learned the importance of elections, especially at the local level.”

Gender Studies Minor Partners With LEAD South Dakota

Serna is taking this new knowledge and connecting it back to what he learned in the classroom. While not a GSWS minor, he has taken many of the required and elective courses for the minor through his sociology major, including Gender, Sex & Sexuality, Social Inequality and Race & Gender in Medicine & Health.

“As someone who wants to eventually go into health care policy, these courses have shown me how one's zip code can impact one's life so drastically, as well as the barriers that marginalized individuals face when receiving or trying to access health care,” Serna said.

This is the second time Augustana has introduced a minor in gender studies — the first time in the 1991-92 academic year. Due to varying faculty specializations, the minor dissolved around 2017, although gender studies courses were still available. 

Ciaralli and members of the CIS conducted research and analysis to see if bringing the minor back would be beneficial to AU. Overwhelmingly, the answer was yes. Ciaralli and the CIS examined the curricula of 17 other institutions that are comparable to Augustana or that the university aspires to align with, and found that all 17 had a major, minor or concentration in gender studies.

Ciaralli also discovered student interest in the minor early on in her time at Augustana.

“I remember my very first semester here. I taught Contemporary Society, which is like an intro to sociology course,” Ciaralli said. “I noted to my students that I have a passion for and background in gender studies and gender & sexuality research. I had a few students come up to me afterward and say, ‘I see that there used to be a gender minor. What are the chances of that ever happening again?’

“So, I think it was definitely this perfect storm of student demand, alongside trying to ensure that we're providing this competitive curriculum.”

Ciaralli said she’s most looking forward to the interdisciplinary nature and countless possibilities the GSWS minor offers.

“It could be applicable to someone who’s interested in nursing, anthropology, data science, government — the list is endless,” said Ciaralli. “The ideas in these courses are certainly something that I think a lot of students find powerful and take a lot away from, and are useful in how they choose to apply that to their future vocation or navigate other disciplines.”

To learn more about Augustana’s major and minor offerings, visit

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