WGS and the World: Alumni Interview–Dr. Vanessa Ann Claus ’08

Meet Our Alumni: Dr. Vanessa Ann Claus

Dr. Vanessa Ann Claus ‘ 08 graduated with a dual major in Women’s Studies* and Communication. Dr. Claus is a Lead Faculty Member at Colorado State University-Global Campus teaching business and management courses and publishing in peer-reviewed journals. In 2013, she co-published “Culture and leadership: Women in nonprofit and for-profit leadership positions within the European Union” in Human Resource Development International.  Dr. Claus shares with us her formative experiences as a Hope student and the importance of Women’s Studies in developing critical thinking “outside the box.”  

What are you doing now? What paths led you to this point?

I firmly believe that I have the best career in the world.  I am a Lead Faculty member at Colorado State University-Global Campus. Additionally, I am also the owner of Advanced Academic Editing & Coaching, LLC.

I have a Master of Science in Human Resources and Education Development from Eastern Michigan University and a Ph.D. in Human Resource Development from Texas A&M University (TAMU).  While at TAMU, I worked as a Graduate Assistant teaching online courses.  From there, I fell in love with teaching online.  A lot has brought me to where I am today, but I feel blessed to have a solid education.

Did you major/minor in WGS, and if so, how did your WGS major/minor/certificate shape you? If not, how did you come to WGS as an academic discipline?

I have a dual major from Hope College.  My majors are in Communication and Women’s Studies.  During my first semester at Hope College, I was enrolled in Dr. Julie Kipp’s First Year Seminar (FYS) course, “Activism and Advocates.”  Dr. Kipp is an instructor like no other. She is opinionated, humorous, brilliant, and unique.

Since Dr. Kipp was my FYS advisor and my instructor, she recommended I enroll in some Women’s Studies courses.  I was hesitant, but she pushed me to take one.  From there, I was hooked.  I took courses with Dr. Jane Dickie, Dr. Jane VanderVeld, and many other brilliant women who were passionate about different topics.

Side note: To the person who enrolled me in Dr. Kipp’s FYS, thank you! I could not ask for a better FYS experience, which opened so many paths and doors.

How did your WGS education shape you?

The ability to think critically and to analyze the world around you is essential.  While I learned so much from the faculty and my classmates in the WGS program, the most important skill that I acquired was thinking outside of the box.  In fact, without the WGS program, I likely would not be where I am today. Thinking critically has allowed me to successfully complete my graduate and doctoral programs.

In addition to the invaluable skill of critical thinking, I also found my voice.  I learned that my voice is important and that everyone is entitled to speaking their truth. Furthermore, I had the opportunity to interact with unique individuals, who I might not have met on campus otherwise, while in the WGS program.

What advice would you give to current WGS students or students considering WGS as a major or minor?

I received a lot of backlash and comments for being a Women’s Studies major.  When I started my first Women’s Studies course, it was not uncommon for people to voice their questions, concerns, and offensive comments about my degree program choice.   Some of the comments that I vividly remember include, “What would anyone do with a degree in Women’s Studies?” or ”Are you a feminist now?” or “Are you a lesbian?” Honestly, I cannot even remember all of the comments that I heard from individuals, but I am so glad that I didn’t listen to the feedback of others.  Take a WGS course.  Enter the course with an open mind.  The WGS graduates are some of my dearest friends, to date. You will likely find your home in the WGS community.

If you could teach any WGS course, what would you title it, who is one person you would include on the syllabus, and why?

Good question. I would title my course “Be Your Best Feminist”  because I believe feminism is personal. We each have our own worldviews, experiences,  and perspectives.  To make feminism a more acceptable term, it is important that we recognize who we are (as feminists) and how we can make a change given our passions, interests, and goals.

If I could include any speaker in the syllabus it would be Emma Watson.  I think she is poised, intelligent, and well spoken.  Her quote, “If you stand for equality, then you’re a feminist.  Sorry to tell you,” is moving.  I wonder how many people would categorize themselves as feminists after recognizing what true feminism means?

* The Hope College Women’s and Gender Studies Program went under a formal name change from “Women’s Studies” to “Women’s and Gender Studies” in fall 2014.

Are you a WGS alum who would like to be featured on our blog? Email us! wgs AT hope DOT edu

“You were designed to intertwine with people who have stories different from your own”: An Interview with Dr. Davia J. Crutchfield

Dr. Davia J. Crutchfield will be visiting Hope’s campus this week. Check out our interview with Dr. Crutchfield. She discusses her Women’s Studies certificate, the value of WGS courses, her research inspirations, and more. 

What are you most excited to share with students, faculty, staff, and community members who will attend your lecture on Thursday, November 8?

Honestly, I am most excited for the conversation following the lecture. I am eager to engage with Hope’s academic and surrounding community about secular rap and spirituality. I think the dialogue will be compelling and motivational.

Did you major/minor in Women’s and Gender Studies (WGS), and if so, how did your WGS major/minor/certificate shape you? If not, how did you come to WGS as an academic discipline?

I completed the Women’s Studies certificate as part of my Master’s program at Howard University because I wanted to critically examine social and spiritual issues faced by Black women.  Taking part in a Women’s Studies Program at a Historically Black College and University (HBCU) provided me a space to explore Black women’s varied experiences, and I became aware of my own biases. I was more conscious of the varied ways oppression shows itself in various areas, especially in the areas of women’s contributions to various disciplines, spaces, art forms, and more.

What difficulties, if any, did you have reconciling your faith with your Women’s Studies certificate?

This is such an interesting question because I do not think I was conscious of how my learning impacted me until I recognized that the questions I was asking myself and others changed. For example, a couple of years ago I asked a few of my Christian friends: “As a Black Christian woman, how do you see yourself? Which descriptor comes first to you: Black, Christian, or woman?” The answers differed, but in some form, we all agreed that the three do not operate individually; they were collective. Our varied experiences as women, as Black women, and as Black Christian women have all contributed to our narratives, understandings, and interactions of our faith and the world.

I once heard a pastor state that as we enter the church our culture fades and falls away. The pastor commented that we adopt a Christian identity and our individual culture becomes obsolete. I was troubled by that—not because I don’t believe in a Christian identity—but because I think to typecast Christianity into a narrative that suits a particular group of people truly diminishes the lived experiences of those who have to “compromise more” than others to fit that identity. It creates a hazardous environment, and it offers another avenue to marginalize members of the congregation, especially when we live in a world that constantly tells a group of people “your voice is unimportant; your contributions are unimportant.”

If this does not give too much away before your lecture, what inspired you to research on Kendrick Lamar?

I began with puzzle pieces and the masterpiece followed. I knew I wanted to study the relationship between Christianity and secular rap music as I have sometimes met disdain from others because I enjoy secular rap music. Also, my younger brother, Malcolm Xavier, was a huge supporter of my interest in the complexities of Black masculinity, Christianity, and secular rap music. I knew I wanted to study these complexities in a way that did not look to demonize secular rap. As I unpacked my research on Black Liberation Theology, Black Radicalism, and secular rap music, I realized I wanted to examine how Black Christian men used secular rap music as part of their socialization and personal expression. Later, those ambitions turned into a textual analysis on secular lyrics. Enter Kendrick Lamar. His album, good kid, m. A. A. d city(2012), had just dropped, and his lyrics made headlines left and right. He also had an incredible body of music to study. The beauty began to unfold throughout my entire writing process. Looking back, it was incredible.

 Your talk will be on the intersections of faith and Black masculinity in the context of Kendrick Lamar’s music, and you have mentioned you have a graduate certificate in Women’s Studies. What advice would you give to current students who are not considering WGS as a major or minor (or even a course in their undergraduate studies) about the value of a course in WGS?

I would ask “why deny yourself such a good thing?” Just start with one course and allow yourself to grow in it; it will truly strengthen your perspective–not only on other people’s experiences but also your own. My own Women’s Studies courses helped me formulate a language to tell my own story that was so empowering. Regardless of your gender or gender identification, I think a WGS course offers what many courses do not always allow—another voice, seat, perspective, lens. And that is essential because we are not designed to live life in a vacuum. You were designed to intertwine with people who have stories different from your own. It is dangerous to live in a monolithic world because you deny yourself the good fortune of growing in an awareness that will only strengthen you as you continue to live in this world.

If you could teach any WGS course, what would you title it? Who is one person you would include on the syllabus? Why?

I would teach a course on Black women artists who use their platforms for social activism. I would include Jenifer Lewis, actress and author of The Mother of Black Hollywood: A Memoir (2017), on the syllabus, and I would petition for her to lead a lecture. Lewis’ boldness is beautiful; she speaks on mental illness (a taboo topic for many within Black communities), on social engagement, social responsibility, personal growth, accountability, and more.

What is a WGS book you read—recently or not so recently—that you would call your favorite? Why?

I am currently reading Dr. Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist, and it is incredible. I love her voice, her perspective, and her account of her experiences.

Do you want to learn more? On Thursday, November 8, at 3:30 PM, Dr. Crutchfield will be speaking in Fried-Hemenway Auditorium at 3:30 PM on “Faith, Intersectionality, and Black Masculinity: Kendrick Lamar’s Urban Theology.” On Friday, November 9, she will be speaking on “Unfinished Business” in Dimnet Chapel at 10:30 AM and guest teaching Dr. Kendra R. Parker’s “The Secular and the Sacred: Black Biblical Appropriations” cultural heritage course at 12 PM. On Sunday, November 11, she will meet with the Black Student Union in the Bultman Student Center at 8 PM. All events are free and open to the public.

Dr. Crutchfield’s visit is co-sponsored by the Women’s and Gender Studies Program, the Emmaus Scholars Program, the Cultural Affairs Committee, and the Global Learning Director.

Meet the WGS Faculty: Dr. Sarah Kornfield

How long have you been teaching at Hope College?

This is my 4thyear teaching at Hope College.

Did you major/minor in WGS, and if so, how did your WGS major/minor/certificate shape you? If not, how did you come to WGS as an academic discipline?

The college I attended did not have a WGS major/minor, and I didn’t really understand what WGS was about or why it might be useful to study. Then, during my research in Graduate School (at Penn State), I added a dual degree in Women’s Studies. I came to realize that just because I was a woman and had a gender, I didn’t understand the history of women and gender, what women’s experiences are (or how gender shapes experiences), how creatively and productively women are affecting change in the world, or how our current gendered social systems affect women and men. Essentially, just because I speak English doesn’t mean I understand English Literature the way an English Major does, or just because I can communicate with others doesn’t mean I understand how Communication works the way a Comm Major does; so too with Women’s Studies. More specifically, I came to realize that I didn’t really understand my own life experiences of harassment, assault, and oppression. I came to WGS to learn theories, tools, skills, and practices that would help me live.

What advice would you give to current WGS students or students considering WGS as a major or minor?

WGS is the most life-giving major I can imagine. My advice: try a class! WGS 160 Women in a Global Society; WGS 200 Intro to Women’s & Gender Studies; WGS 350 Feminist Visions of Justice. These courses are designed to help you live good and flourishing lives, with thriving careers, relationships, and community involvement.

If you could teach any WGS course, what would you title it, who is one person you would include on the syllabus, and why?

Feminist Activism. It would be a class that focuses explicitly on the successful strategies of feminist activism (coalitions, specific argument forms, protests, civil disobedience, speeches, persuasive techniques, activism in popular culture, activism in literature, etc.). Whose work would we read? Anita Hill (law professor famous for the 1990s’ version of #MeToo activism); Adrienne Davis (law professor); Adrienne Rich (poet, activist); Emma Goldman (anarchist political activist); Ursula Le Guin (sci-fi feminist author); Kimberlé Crenshaw (legal activist and scholar); and so much more!

What is a WGS book you read–recently or not-so-recently–that you would call your “favorite”? Why?

Manliness & Civilization by Gail Bederman (who, fun fact, was History/WGS Professor Dr. Jeanne Petit’s doctoral advisor!). This book is a US history of sex/race in America from about 1880-1920. It’s well written, has outstanding case studies (Tarzan, Boxing!) and covers a whole range of institutions (medicine, education, politics, war, news, women’s activism, and sports).