Graduates of the women’s studies program speak up

Heather Boyer: law clerk, student and graduate of women’s studies in 2008

As a law clerk at The Amlong Firm and a law school student at Nova Southeastern University, Heather Boyer understands what clients are facing in the area of employment discrimination.

She mostly attributes this to her master’s degree in women’s studies that she obtained in 2008, which helped her learn how to recognize social issues. Currently, she is learning how to fight these issues as a law student.

“With my master’s in women’s studies, I am uniquely positioned to enter the legal field and fight discrimination because I can understand what my firm’s clients are facing,” says Boyer, a future employment discrimination attorney. “I’m committed to fighting against discrimination, and the women’s studies program has given me the academic background to go into law school being able to name the problem. Law school is giving me the tools to fight it.”

Boyer says that she stands behind women’s studies. She explains that she learned a great deal from the program, especially from being a teaching assistant where she taught Introduction to Women’s Studies. Also, the program has highly enhanced her current education in law.

“I have a leg up on that knowledge and perspective. This degree has put me ahead of my classmates in reading, understanding, dissecting and explaining complex cases and theoretical pieces,” says Boyer. “Between the classes and teaching, and writing an M.A. thesis, I have a body of knowledge that prepares me for my legal career in a way that puts me ahead of my classmates and helped me earn a great clerkship.”

Judith Selzer: vice president of public policy and communications of Planned Parenthood in Boca and graduate of women’s studies in 2005

She keeps the doors of Planned Parenthood’s health centers open and ensures that both men and women have access to health care.

“You name an issue, I’ve somehow worked for it,” says Judith Selzer, vice president of public policy and communications of Planned Parenthood. “Women are everywhere. There wasn’t anything we weren’t working on, quite frankly.”

Selzer graduated from FAU with a master’s degree in women’s studies and a certificate in non-profit management in 2005. She has been on Planned Parenthood’s staff for the past 2 ½ years working in areas of social justice, public policy, grant-writing and, of course, women’s issues.

She first started her education with a B.A. in sociology from Smith College, but she wanted to bring her passion for the women’s movement back to South Florida. Looking to take her career to the next level, she was surprised when she found a master’s program that piqued her interest at FAU.

“It puts FAU on the map for social justice and gives it some national recognition because of the fact that it has a graduate degree [in women’s studies]. To have students coming from out of state says a lot about the program,” says Selzer.

She says that looking at things from a theoretical perspective prepared her to smoothly transition into a position as an advocate.

“We all grow up with our own little worldview, and Women’s Studies Center programs help expand it,” she says. According to Selzer, the Women’s Studies Center warns, “There’s more to life than just the experience you have with your family. Be critical about what you hold as truth and absolute fact.”

Selzer was upset when she learned that the women’s studies program might be cut, and she acknowledges that many men and woman in the program have accomplished incredible feats after graduation, many of whom are public policy advocates like her.

“I was really alarmed and concerned to learn that one of the programs they were adjusting was women’s studies because I don’t know where else you can see a direct link between theories talked about in the classroom and the real world,” she says.

Like many other graduates, Selzer feels indebted to the women’s studies program. She was able to teach classes such as Introduction to Sexuality and Gender, which she says was critical to her development as a human being. Also, the quality of the professors made a difference.

“I am indebted to the wonderful, inspiring leadership of the professors. They are true mentors. They nurtured, supported and educated their students every day. They really pushed us to find a way to leave a mark,” explains Selzer.

A fan of the program, Selzer says that a master’s degree in women’s studies can best be described as interdisciplinary. It involves an education in many subjects, including science, literature and history.

“At its core, it’s dealing with the intersections of human life. It’s an intersection of all of the disciplines,” she says.

Stephanie Kunkel: lobbyist, legislative and policy advocate and field director for Planned Parenthood in Tallahassee, as well as a graduate of women’s studies in 2006

Stephanie Kunkel’s mom used to say, “What will you ever do with a women’s studies degree?”

Two degrees in women’s studies later, an undergraduate from San Diego State University and a graduate degree from FAU, Kunkel is answering that question every day. She is currently a lobbyist for Planned Parenthood in Tallahassee, as well as legislative and policy advocate and field director.

“Every now and again, [I’m], like, ‘Hey, Mom, remember that question you used to ask me?'”

To further answer her mom’s question, Kunkel explains, “In my role, I spend probably about four solid months dealing with elected officials both here in Florida and [in] Washington, D.C. Every day, it’s something new. It’s a new battle. It’s a new discussion. It’s a new lobbying opportunity,” she says. “If you spent a week with me, five solid days in Tallahassee, you would probably be blown away with the range of thinking that goes on here in the capital.”

She landed the job at Planned Parenthood, where she has worked for almost two years, shortly after working as the only full-time staffer on Kelly Skidmore’s campaign to become a member of the House of Representatives. Kunkel attributes most of her current success to the master’s program at FAU, because she would not have branched out if it did not exist.

Kunkel says that she learned all of the skills she needs to fulfill her current role through FAU’s master’s program in women’s studies.

“You were just able to kind of create your own degree and course study. It’s kind of the ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ type of degree. It’s totally invaluable,” she explains.

She adds that there are very few colleges that offer advanced degrees in women’s studies, and most of them are places such as the University of Iowa and Emory University. This is what makes the program so valuable to her and other FAU graduates.

“To cut that program was heartbreaking to me because they should be expanding the program, not trying to eliminate it,” says Kunkel.

Kunkel always assumed that she would work with women’s issues such as rape, assault, domestic violence, equal pay for equal work and, generally, all issues encompassing women. However, when she began working at Planned Parenthood, she decided to make a commitment to just one area to try to more effectively bring about change: the area of reproductive health care.

When Kunkel first left California after finishing her undergraduate degree, she did not imagine herself getting a master’s degree in women’s studies in Boca Raton.

She actually stumbled upon the degree through Google, after coming across a book, titled Goddesses and Monsters: Women, Myth, Power and Popular Culture, written by Dr. Jane Caputi, a current professor at FAU. From the beginning of her Google search to the completion of her master’s degree, Kunkel was very appreciative of FAU for having the program.

“I owe it all to the program at FAU,” Kunkel concludes.