Women's & Gender Studies: Student Testimonials

Minushi Gomes

Majors: Women and Gender Studies
Minors: Psychology and Sociology
 

What factors contributed to you choosing your program(s)?
 
I started by enrolling into a double major in Psychology, and Women and Gender Studies. Since I was in grade three, I told myself - I will be a Psychiatrist. Little did I know that Psychology was not my calling. By second year of University, I was starting to lose my interest in my psychology courses and the second you lose interest is when your grades begin to go down. On the other hand, Women and Gender Studies was a whole new world for me! I didn't know such a program even existed until I selected it to fulfill my OSAP requirements. I fell in love with the course immediately. It was the first time I realized that I came from a patriarchal family, that I had been accepting sexist comments and following gender norms because I thought "that's what I had to do as a girl," and it was the first time I learned that I had the right to fight the oppression that me, my mum, my grandmothers, and every other female relative and friend I knew were experiencing. By the end of second year, I decided that Women and Gender Studies was my path to success. It was like finding a long lost passion. Next thing I knew, I made Women and Gender studies my Major and changed psychology into a minor.
 
Can you describe your program(s)? What is it actually like?
 
When I think of Women and Gender Studies, three words come into my head; power, justice, equity. There are many more words I can use to describe it, but these are the words that I can use to relate on how the Women and Gender Studies program changed my life in many ways from paradigms and perspectives, to behaviors and expressions. Simply saying, it's like learning the terms and history of the inequalities you face because of the gender you grow to perform. Thinking about the context of the program, the work load is very reasonable and most of the courses I took in my undergrad were hands-on which allows you to learn and see how these social, political and economical inequalities shape with different intersections. Most of the courses were seminar based which allowed for a more deep class discussions leading to a greater understanding about the topic. This also gave us students the opportunity to gather in groups and talk or ask questions about the weekly assigned readings. Additionally, many of the key terms and definitions are used throughout the Women and Gender studies courses all throughout your undergrad.
 
What tips/advice can you provide to students just starting or considering this program(s)?
 
In regards to this program:
 1) Do your assigned readings! If you can't finish the reading, at least read the abstract and conclusion so that you aren't lost during class. It will seem like a lot of pages at the start, but read with a purpose. Understand the material more than memorizing points from it. If you lose focus, glance back at the title, or skim the abstract again. I personally think printed notes are more effective to read. You can take little notes on the side, or even highlight and underline with different colors. You'd be surprised how helpful colors and little notes on the side are when revising for exams and term papers.

2) Don't let the annotated bibliography scar you! Most of the first and second year courses of Women and Gender Studies would have an assignment with an annotated bibliography. It will seem long and even unnecessary but, it's not that bad and it is actually your best friend when writing that final term paper. The Writing Center provides a perfect guide on how to write the annotated bibliography and honestly if you follow that, you can’t go wrong. Moreover, if you do the annotated bibliography with a good purpose, you will see how it help you shape up your ideas and contents for the final term paper and it keeps you on track rather than changing from topic to topic. Most students grumble when they see the annotated bibliography listed on the syllabus but it really isn't bad at all if you understand why you are asked to do it.

3) Don't be shy to speak up in class! As I mentioned earlier, most of the Women and Gender Studies courses are seminar structured meaning there is a lot of room for the students to talk. I would 100% recommend you to speak up in class. The professors get to know who you are and it makes the classroom experience more exciting. Likewise, it's okay to get a wrong answer or even ask follow-up questions to what the professor is stating. Being curious is a way to go about analyzing the various topics brought to the class in each of these courses.
 
In General:
1) Your GPA does not define you. University works according to a system. We get so involved with GPA standings and pressure ourselves to be exceptional, which is amazing but, you need to know that it is okay to fail or get a low mark. It doesn't mean you are a failure. You got accepted into University of Toronto for a reason, so don't let that reason disappear because you are worrying about your GPA. There are so many resources on campus to help you out if you just ask. Don't feel ashamed. With failure comes motivation to do even better.
2) It's okay if you don't graduate in 4 years! Since we were kids, we are trained to go through elementary from grade 1-8 in a stretch and then graduate high school by four years. It's not the same concept when it comes to University. It's okay if you need a bit more time to graduate. We all have different learning potentials and study skills. Some of you, like I did, would want to change programs half way through your University Career, or even want to take a break and come back; and that's okay. If you want good results, be in competition with yourself and not with your classmates. It wasn't until my final few semesters that I was ready to carry on five courses per semester. I kept taking three courses at the start because that's what I was able to handle. If you can take on more, then that's great, but it's also great if you can't. Go at the pace you can handle and you will see that your grades will get better and better.
 
What will you do with your degree after graduation?
 
I want to do my masters in Women and Gender Studies. My ultimate goal would be to work a women or youth counselor. I also sometimes picture myself as a Women and Gender Studies Professor, but I haven't tackled that idea in a full context.
 
What has your academic journey during your time been like as you progress toward graduation?
 
My first year was great. I was focused and loved the course material in all the intro classes I was taking. However, as second year started, my family went through a huge financial problem leading me to work in order to support my family. Little did I know that the second year work would require more of my time with readings and assignments, as I spent more time at work. By the time I got home to study, I would sleep once the books were open. It was tough. I watched my marks drop in second year along with my GPA. It was hard and I came to the decision of stopping work and focusing completely on my studies. I also realized that it was only my psychology marks that were taking the negative turn. It was then that I changed my program majors. Third year started and I was ever so motivated. I got higher grades and I was enjoying my classes more since I was up to date with readings and was focused in the classroom. As the final few semesters began, I increased my course load meaning I had more work to do. The trick with a 100% course load is managing your time properly. Make a schedule along with your personal timetable to balance your school work and personal life accordingly. As I have neared the end, I am more than happy for all the challenges I overcame and how strong my educational journey has made me. Moreover, I can strongly say that the Women and Gender Studies program has shaped me to be a whole new human being over these few years! The last thing I will say about my Women and Gender Studies undergraduate journey is about the amazing collection of professors we have for this program. These professors were not only my educators but I looked at them as if they were my own mother. I had gone to their office hours during my times of adversity just to get advice and support. They are open-minded and caring. They are passionate about what they do which allows them to perform their best during class hours. I can, with no doubts, say that the two reasons I love the Women and Gender Studies program at UTSC is due to it's context but mainly because of the professors who bring these contexts to life in the class room for the students to understand in deeper ways.

Katherine Mascarin

Majors: English and Women's and Gender Studies

Majors: English and Women's and Gender Studies
 
What factors contributed to you choosing your program(s)?
                                                        

The factors that contributed to me choosing the program of English are that I have always thoroughly enjoyed reading books from the time I was a little kid to now, as the stories have always interested me greatly. This is a skill that I think would be important for me to have an interest in, as an English student because the amount of books that are required to read in each course can be vast. Also, I have always had the ability to write quickly and effortlessly, which would be beneficial for essay writing and other assignments within the field of English. Some of the factors that contributed to me choosing the program of Women and Gender Studies are that throughout my years of schooling, issues pertaining to these studies including equality for women and other minority groups interested me greatly and were something that I chose to focus on when I was allowed to. Furthermore, I chose to take this program because I had never been allowed to take a program or courses specifically in the past that had to do with Women and Gender Studies.

Can you describe your program(s)? What is it actually like?

Being an English student has taught me to be able to read vast amounts quickly whether it be in the form of books, short stories or any other mediums and be able to pick out what is important and what information I should take from these mediums. Also, being an English student has taught me to write strong, argumentative essays that analyze certain passages and chapters from books in a way that does not simply address the subject material on the surface, but strives to dig deeper. The department of English has many professors that excel in delivering their subject matter and push you to go beyond what is obvious in what you are studying. These professors have no problem taking extra time to help you with anything you need whether it be providing extra help with subject work or talking to you about potential jobs within the field of English. On the other hand, being a Women and Gender Studies student has taught me to value the opinions of others and understand that everyone's story is individual to them and should not be taken as something that is universal to everyone of their race, gender, ethnicity or any other factor that pertains to them. Also, being a Women and Gender Studies student has taught me to be very open in my opinions and to learn to disagree with inequalities that occur and are normalized by the general population. The department of Women and Gender Studies has many professors that are passionate about their fields of study. Also, Women and Gender Studies is a program that overlaps and intersects with many other areas of study and courses connected with this program can be found within the field of English, history, psychology, sociology and anthropology just to name a few. Furthermore, the professors in this department are not afraid to go above and beyond in helping their students and even run events that help to deal with the issues studied in these courses and bring them to the forefront, such as the desire to change the University of Toronto Scarborough's documentation on how they deal with sexual assault and harassment.

What tips/advice can you provide to students just starting or considering this program(s)?
 

Do not be afraid to speak up in class and share your opinions with others, even though you may initially be concerned that what your saying is wrong or may not be what others consider to be right because at least then you will be engaging in your work. Get to know other people, whether it be in your program or outside your program. This will give you an opportunity to have people to bounce ideas off of and talk about your programs subject matter with, as well as people who you will be able to talk to for advice when you need it and who know what you are going through as students. Do not be afraid to get to know your professors by speaking up in class, attending their office hours at least once in the semester or simply emailing them. This will allow you to be more engaged in class and later on in university, if you need references, it will be a lot easier for you to find professors who already knows you and will perhaps be willing to give you references.

What will you do with your degree after graduation? (Future plans?)

After graduation I plan to use my degree by applying to post-grad programs at college, so that I can further develop my skills and get more practical work experience before proceeding to enter into the workforce. I have applied to programs in professional writing, human resource management, public relations and technical writing. These respective programs, I believe, will be able to utilize the various skills that I have picked up while attaining my Bachelor’s degree and are the best options, given the work that I have previously done. I will have to know how to write well while sometimes discussing sensitive issues and communicate with others in order to understand what they want and how to address the potential problems they may have.
 
What has your academic journey during your time been like as you progress toward graduation?
 

Within my first year my two respective programs of English and Women's and Gender Studies introduce you to the basics of each of their respective fields. First year English courses are not necessary courses required to finish your degree and are huge classes where you deal with subject matter in a way that does not analyze them to the extent that upper year classes do. Also, these classes place vast amounts of your grade on midterms and finals, something that is not realistic to the other years of English that follow. First year Women and Gender Studies courses teach you about the theories of feminism and provide you with a general introduction to Women's and Gender Studies and these courses ask you to develop ideas and create essays, based on these ideas. Second year English courses start to have classes that are smaller and actually teach you to analyze texts to a higher extent, that is not just on the surface through a skill called close reading where you can potentially write an essay that analyzes only one line of text or one distinct section of a book. Also, second year English has five mandatory courses that are required to complete your degree in the form of Literature, Poetry, Narrative and Charting Literary History II and II, which looks at crucial early works in literature. Other courses in second year English are up to you to pick and choose, based on degree requirements. Second year Women's and Gender Studies courses allow you to branch off from courses that are strictly under the field of Women and Gender Studies and take classes in other departments, while still fulfilling your degree requirements. Second year Women's and Gender Studies only has one mandatory course entitled Intersections of Inequality where you learn about people's individual stories and how they are not universal to everyone. Third year English allows you to pick courses from a vast majority of courses, based on your interests. Some courses that I took included Victorian literature, Gothic literature and Studies in Shakespeare. Third year Women's and Gender Studies like that of second year allows you to branch off from the courses strictly under Women's and Gender Studies, as there are no actual mandatory courses in this year, provided you still take courses that count towards your major. Fourth year English courses are seminar courses that do not often contain exams, look at creating longer essays and giving presentations to the class, while providing you with options of which classes you take. Fourth year Women's and Gender Studies courses are also seminar courses where you develop longer pieces of writing, look more specifically at the subject matter and allow you to present complex topics to a small group of people. This year also allows you to pick which course you will take, based on what is offered. Although this course, unlike that of second and third year, must be within the Women's and Gender Studies department.

Emma Witkowski

Majors: Mental Health Studies
Minors: Women and Gender Studies and Creative Writing

What factors contributed to you choosing your program(s)?
 

Initially, I was directly accepted to UTSC's Co-op Specialist Mental Health Studies program from high school. I always learned best through application and so co-op felt like a necessary part of post-secondary education for me at the time and I had felt like I knew "exactly" what I wanted to do after University...but I changed my mind! I'm grateful for the two years I was in the Specialist Co-op program. I had the opportunity to network with current professionals in the Mental Health field and learn more about it, and through it I learned that I wasn't exactly sure what I wanted to do anymore. So I took a two year break from school. I went to work co-founding a dog walking business and thinking a lot about who I was and what I wanted my future to look like. I knew coming back to finish my degree was the right thing to do. Still very interested in the course material and perhaps pursuing it after school, I kept Mental Health Studies on as my major, but I expanded my fields of study to Women and Gender Studies and Creative Writing - two of my life long passions. The University of Toronto presents opportunities for networking and professional development in whichever field you choose. Now that I'm back, I understand I don't have to sacrifice the rest of my passions to pursue just one. Having a more balanced program choice contributes to my success in a BIG way - I am more interested and involved in my own education, and find it much easier to engage in course material.
 
Can you describe your program(s)? What is it actually like?
 

Mental Health Studies are my biggest lectures by far. I have no science background so that presents a challenge for some of the more “sciencey" based courses. There's typically one textbook per course and it's very much independently motivated. The professor won't track you down personally to tell you to hand something in. Women and Gender Studies have small (around 20) to medium sized (100-200) lectures. Participation is THE KEY. All my professors and teaching assistants will learn names. There are discussions every class that centre around readings and course material, but also personal anecdotes. Creative Writing involves....a lot of writing. Surprise! Well, I actually was surprised at the amount of material I'm expected to produce for each course. They are small classes (under 20) with students of all ages and academic backgrounds. I haven't yet encountered a multiple choice question and I work very closely with my peers in these classes. Opportunities for extracurricular activities seem to be more easily accessible than my other programs - example, poetry readings! Publishing events! Student groups!
 
What tips/advice can you provide to students just starting or considering this program(s)?  
 

1) Take advantage of office hours, tutorials, and help centres on campus. They exist to assist in learning and are well worth the time invested to actually go.
2) Build relationships. This goes for anyone you encounter - professors, students, peers, other University employees, alumni, community partners, etc. It will help in areas you didn't even know you needed help in.
3) Take care of yourself. This is a controversial statement but....nothing is worth an all-nighter. Get your sleep. Eat properly. Exercise. Drink water. It will make life easier and your grades will almost definitely thank you for it as well.
 
What will you do with your degree after graduation?
 

I'm not totally sure, but here are a few options: 1) Apply to midwifery programs 2) Write for a feminist-y blog (ie, Shedoesthecity) 3) Work in communications, perhaps for a non-profit that focuses on mental health initiatives 4)Apply for a Masters 5)ALL OF THE ABOVE?
 
What has your academic journey during your time been like as you progress toward graduation?
 

First year, I took a wide range of courses despite being in a Specialist Program - Intro to International Development, Psychology, Studio Art, Intro to World Religions, etc. This year was really about getting the study, listening, note taking, and critical reading skills needed to succeed while also determining interest. I also met loads of new friends this year. I didn't focus on extracurricular and/or community involvement until second year. I worked as a Residence Advisor on campus, attended more events, volunteered off-campus, and took courses more specific to my program. This was also where I decided I wanted to change things up a little. Third year I changed my program and did some academic catch-up for my new Double Minors, so it was a little bit like first year all over again. However, it was invaluable - I got some sweet practice improving those basic academic skills I learned in first year. Now I feel ready to tackle whatever is coming.

Camille Galindez

Major: Political Science
Minors: Public Law and Women's & Gender Studies

What factors contributed to you choosing your program(s)?
 
When I first came to UTSC, I thought I was going to specialize in Political Science. I was interested in becoming an immigration lawyer and thought that this was the best way for me to build a strong foundation of skills and knowledge. This plan changed as UTSC taught me the strengths that came from bringing an inter-disciplinary approach to learning. When I took classes in women's and gender studies as an elective, I began seeing areas and themes that were discussed in my political science classes. This included themes such as equal rights, the realm of work, and migration. Seeing these intersections helped me see a new way I could bring together my learning experiences. As a political science student, I was getting an understanding of the technical aspects of policy and politics, while studying gender classes helped give me contextual framework. When the Political Science department introduced the Public Law stream and distributed the course offerings, I thought that these could help me towards my goal of becoming a lawyer by giving me a better understanding of the legal system.
 
Can you describe your program(s)? What is it actually like?
 
Being a part of these programs really helped me develop my ability to be an independent learner, develop my understanding of the areas, and think critically about the world around me. While the assignments were research heavy, professors usually gave you topic suggestions that were broad enough for people to pick something they truly were interested in from the classes. Junior courses were broad enough for people to really explore the topics within political science, gender studies, and public law. It is this ability to explore areas I may have not been exposed to before that changed my interest in becoming a lawyer to choosing the master's program I'm currently enrolled in. I was interested in immigration because of my parent’s decision to move from their home to Canada, in search of better opportunities. I saw the importance of having work in the immigration process. However, the ability to dive deep into Canada's political and legal system helped me see work in a whole new way in Canada's context. The ability to really get into these topics helped me see all the new ways I could interact with the immigration process and other social issues through my new understanding of work.
 
What tips/advice can you provide to students just starting or considering this program(s)?
 
Talking to professors can be absolutely terrifying but it is such an integral part of the learning process. If office hours are too big of a step, I recommend getting in touch with the Departmental Student Association's to find out when they'll be hosting mix and mingle events with the professors. This is a good way to get to know your professors but also get to know professors who will be teaching courses or areas you're interested in. Go to the AA&CC and Writing Centre, I cannot stress this enough! They have program specific resources that can help you. Whether it is for research skills, study skills, or career development, they can help you in your realm of study. The Writing Centre is another great place. Find out if there is anyone there who specializes in the subject area you are writing for. As a graduate student, I still find myself using my school's writing centre. Go to all of the networking and extracurricular events. The Lunch and Learns and Mix and Mingles that I attended helped my understanding of all the ways the program branched out into the world. People provided invaluable advice for the working world. However, I think the best piece of advice that I got from these events was that it was okay to fail and that it was okay to not have an answer for everything.
 
What will you do with your degree after graduation? (Future plans?)
 
I've already graduated and my degree from UTSC has really helped me throughout my master's program in industrial relations. Those readings may seem heavy at times, but they have helped me a lot! I find myself referencing and revisiting them throughout my courses. My master's program really emphasizes the disciplinary approach and I'm able to use what I know and try to push myself to see subjects from different disciplinary lenses. In addition, what I learned through the public law program has been foundational for my understanding of the main issues of my program. Because my program goes very deeply into labour law, the things I have learned from public law courses have helped me really strengthen what I'm currently learning. However, one interesting piece that I got out of the political science program was the quantitative analysis credit that I needed. Being exposed to how statistics and social science intersected gave me the leg up I needed in my master's program.
 
What has your academic journey during your time been like as you progress toward graduation?
 
My undergraduate experience was a rollercoaster. I finished strong in my first year. Anxious about my undergraduate experience, I would frequently visit the AA&CC to talk about my study habits and how I could make sure I could stay on my path towards graduate school. However, my transition into second year was met with a couple of personal challenges that affected my studies. Finding support through student services was imperative for overcoming my personal challenges and succeed in my third year. Fortunately, through the support I received from student service departments, I was able to bounce back and become more involved with my academics. By third year, I was narrowing my academic interests down and by fourth year, I was taking a lighter course load focused specifically on areas I was interested in such as an independent research project. My experience between first to third years was imperative in accomplishing the independent research project because of its need for taking my learning towards its own direction.