Initially, Fullerton College’s Ethnic Studies Department Chair Amber Gonzáles wanted to become an environmental lawyer but decided to change her path after transferring from Mount San Antonio College to Cal Poly Pomona, where she majored in gender, ethnicity, and multicultural studies. She then moved on to earn a graduate degree from the University of California, Santa Barbara.
“I say quite often that this path called me. I didn’t really choose it as much as it chose me,” Gonzáles said.
Gonzáles has been teaching at Fullerton College since 2014 but has been an instructor for 12 years in total. This semester, Gonzáles is teaching Intro to Women’s Studies and a new class introduced by the Ethnic Studies Department last Fall called Women of Color.
At Fullerton College, there is no Women’s Studies Department, rather there is a Women’s Studies Program where students can take classes from a variety of departments, for example, HIST 270 – Women in United States History or PHIL 195 – Women’s Issues in Philosophy.
For Gonzáles, women’s studies and ethnic studies are inseparable. At least 90% of the material she assigns is from people of color. The other 10% consists of people who may be white but are allied to radical and intersectional feminist thoughts and ideas. The material used in her courses is not limited to academic text, as they include artwork and works from community organizers.
“I want my students to see that you don’t necessarily have to be a person of color to take on these political positions,” Gonzáles said. “You can absolutely be a white feminist and take on this intersectional feminist perspective.”
One of the first things Gonzáles asks in her women’s studies classes is what misconceptions people have about feminism. She often hears from her students that many believe that feminists are angry, want to replace men in power and that the singular goal of feminism is equality. Through her class, students learn that there is more to feminism than what they see represented in the media.
What she introduces to her students is a radical type of feminism that focuses on dismantling systems of oppression and challenging the status quo. At the same time, she also encourages them to envision what kind of society they would like to create.
Gonzáles encourages everyone to take women’s studies classes, as the issues discussed in her class help students navigate the organizations around them whether that be issues with their boss or interpersonal relationships. She described intersectional feminism as critical to understanding current events, and how to move forward.
“Folks are so interested, for example, in the movement for Black lives, and my response is if you want to know that then you have to understand women of color feminism because that’s the framework of this movement – radical Black feminism,” Gonzáles commented.
With regards to the Women’s Studies Program, Gonzáles said that she appreciated the existence of the program as it is not something that exists at a lot of community colleges. However, she said she would like to see more classes in more departments offer classes related to women’s issues, such as a Women in STEM class, for example.
She also mentioned the need for more support groups for women and non-binary people on campus.
As of now, the two Women’s Studies courses are under the social sciences division, so any department would be able to teach those courses. Currently, the Ethnic Studies Department teaches these courses, which is why, according to Gonzáles, students taking those classes are getting a strong intersectional feminist perspective.
For Women’s History Month, she encouraged students to forgo mainstream movements for grassroots advocacy and to explore the most pressing issues in their own community. She used the current movement to protect Puvungna, a sacred plot of land on the California State University Long Beach campus as an example of a current, local indigenous feminist issue.
Click here for more information on the Women’s Studies courses offered at Fullerton College.