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WIU Offers Minor in Queer Studies

The Queer Studies minor is the first of its kind among state universities in Illinois.

Western Illinois University will begin offering a minor in Queer Studies minor this fall.

Merrill Cole, an Assistant Professor of English, created the minor, saying the university lacked academic opportunities for students looking to embrace sex and gender diversity.

“We didn’t have any sort of academic program that addressed the students who were interested in, or who identified within, the various LGBTQ communities. I’d offer a course here and a course there but it was always this sort of ad hoc kind of thing. So I felt that there was a need for some sort of stable programming,” Cole stated.  

Credit Western Illinois University
Assistant Professor Merrill Cole created the minor. He pushed to use the term "Queer Studies" as opposed to the more neutral "Sexuality Studies".

While the term “queer” remains offensive to some people within the LBGTQ community, Cole assured that the university is incorporating it in a progressive light.

“The idea back in 1990 was to re-purpose the word to turn what was a slur into something positive. So a lot of people embrace the term for Queer Studies or for Queer Theory," Cole said.  "We were initially going to be a Sexuality Studies program, but I argued for the hard-line term and eventually people started to agree with me."

Cole said WIU is ahead of the curve with the development of the Queer Studies minor because its peer institutions in Illinois simply don’t have anything like it.

“One of our peer institutions just outside of the state, Western Kentucky, has had a Sexuality Studies minor for some time. Nationally, the first program was set up in 1989. So we’re not in the vanguard here nationwide, but we certainly are in the vanguard in term of public institutions in Illinois,” Cole added.

Cole hoped the minor can also be used as a recruitment tool for the university by showing prospective students that WIU embraces diversity.