Amber OGrady-My Amor Photos
Inspired by Nancy Drew, Daria, and A League of Their Own, I grew up bouncing to the beat of my own feminist drum. I aspired to make a difference. With fantasies of the 1970s protests seared into my mind, I headed off to college searching for inspiration, activism, and justice. A rigorous college education in sleepy Ohio led me to a graduate degree at San Diego State University, home of the first-ever Department of Women’s Studies. Rumor has it that the department gained legitimacy in its early days by co-opting university letterhead and employing the strategy of “faking it till you make it.” That was the kind of gumption I hoped to learn. At SDSU, I found a community of dedicated scholars and activists committed to engaging in complex discussions around marginalization, oppression and inequality. My academic journey was rich, thoughtful and critical. Experiences outside of my coursework, however, catalyzed my career. I had opportunities to teach my very own undergraduate courses, travel abroad, and gain management skills by supervising interns and volunteers at a local archive.
At graduation, I faced one of the most dreaded questions for folks in diversity and identity disciplines, “What can you do with a Women’s Studies degree?” The answer is not always easy. Early on, I worked a lot of menial, low-wage, jobs. I remained at SDSU at a lecturer in Women’s Studies, but unfortunately teaching one course per semester only paid about 20% of my bills. I supplemented my teaching income by working as a part-time sale associate without benefits at Fashion Valley Mall while teaching WMNST 385: Women’s Work. I was the perfect case study for job insecurity and underemployment. Do not be afraid of these jobs! They can pay your bills while motivating you to find work in your field.
Just when I thought I could fold jeans no longer, my hundreds of job applications landed me a dream job. I work for a social services agency where I supervise program development, curriculum design, and the training and management of staff. I get to design programs that empower youth, college students, and young professionals around difficult issues in society. Participants in these programs develop leadership skills while address problems like: hunger in San Diego, gender inequality, and systemic racism. My teaching experience from SDSU also helped me to pick up teaching jobs in the Global Studies and Sociology departments at National University. At National, I get to teach online and onsite courses; reaching diverse military and non-traditional student populations.
I’ll be honest that my work-life balance still needs some calibration. Teaching and working in social services often require long- hours and tireless dedication. My peers and colleagues frequently experience burn-out. Working with clients and underserved populations has changed my priorities. The struggle for justice is not about high-profile protests. It’s about the daily and often mundane struggle against inequality and oppression; it’s about the beautiful acts of resistance that I routinely witness at work, and it’s about tenacity. Not until long after graduation did I realize that the gumption of Women’s Studies rubbed off on me. It helped me to become more committed, sassier, and more resolute in my personal and professional quests. I am incredibly empowered, in part, by my education at SDSU. As a result, I’ve learned that social change requires us to invest in others. I often get the privilege of working with teen girls and I never cease to be impressed by their dedication to equality. There is one lovely question that I get asked over and over again by these young women. Their question is, “What can I do with a Women’s Studies degree?” The options are limitless and I am still honing my answer.
Jessica L. Nare holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from Ohio Wesleyan University and a master’s degree in women’s studies from San Diego State University. She currently works at Jewish Family Service of San Diego where she supervises the Youth Leadership Department. Jessica has traveled widely to study women’s issues with scholars and community organizers throughout Europe and Asia. She brings these experiences to her work as a core faculty member in the College of Letters and Sciences at National University and a lecturer in Women’s Studies at SDSU. In addition to social justice, Jessica is deeply passionate about high-brow fiction, B-horror films, and Halloween.