Kali Furman, PhD Candidate in WGSS

Kali Furman is a PhD Candidate in Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies at Oregon State University.  Her research is focused on social justice education and feminist pedagogy and her dissertation, “Making Sense of Social Justice Education: A Case Study of the Difference, Power, and Discrimination Program,” seeks to understand the complex history of the DPD Program at Oregon State University.

In her research, Furman is examining the current status of the program through three different perspectives: faculty engagement, course design, and student experiences. Through her work, she hopes to enable a deeper understanding of the DPD program and provide important insights into curricular interventions for social justice in higher education.

Furman earned her bachelor’s degree in History with minors in English and Gender Studies at Boise State University in 2011. In 2015, she graduated with a Master of Arts in Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies and in 2016 she got her Graduate Certificate in College and University Teaching at Oregon State University.

Kali has also worked at the Pride Center at Oregon State University and since 2016 she has been a graduate research assistant at Oregon State ADVANCE, a program focused on promoting the practice of equity, inclusion and justice for women and individuals from historically underrepresented groups who are faculty members belonging to the STEM fields as well as social and behavioral sciences disciplines.  

Kali has 10 publications in various journals and her most recent publication was a book review in Feminist Formations.

What does being in Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies mean to you? What really excites you about being a part of it? Can you tell us about some challenges you faced as a researcher, that you overcame?

For me, one of the things that's challenging is picking a thing to focus on in research. I have always been...passionate about teaching and learning. I love being in the classroom. There are so many misconceptions about feminism and about women, gender and sexuality studies and about this kind of work, that I really love being in the classroom and being able to help students dispel those myths and to come to an understanding of what this is actually about.

What are some of the misconceptions about feminism that you have come across that were interesting or stark, or shocking, something you felt like doing something about?

For a lot of students there are a lot of misconceptions that if you only hear about feminism or social justice from the media, especially right wing media or conservative media, there are all of these ideas about what it is that aren't accurate. Some of those very old stereotypes, this idea that we needed feminism in the 60's but we don't need feminism today, that these issues have been solved. I think there is a lot of misconceptions about "how far we have come.” If people only understand feminism as this really whitewashed movement that helps upper middle class white women, then that also is completely a misconception about what feminism is and what it is doing.

What were some of your learnings as a graduate teaching assistant?

My feminist pedagogy focuses on using interactive teaching strategies that encourage students to think creatively about the topic at hand and to create space for them to create tangible artifacts of their knowledge. This is done through small and large group discussion, as well as creative and activist projects. Don’t be afraid to get creative in both your teaching and assignments. Keep a teaching journal where you reflect on your teaching and how different experiences, activities, interactions, and readings go.  

What is the best career advice you have ever received?

The first thing that came to mind is that I have had people in my life who simply told me that I was smart enough to pursue graduate school and get a PhD. They were like, “You should do this.” After I finished my undergrad and  was working professionally, my boss was the first person to say, you could absolutely get a PhD.  It is incredibly difficult but you are capable of doing that.

What is it about WGSS as a field that excites you the most, to think that you are a part of it? And in what way has this field shaped you as a person?

I grew up understanding that the world was unequal and people believed really messed up things, I grew up in a place with just rampant sexism and racism, and really saw that pretty tangibly growing up, and so I knew there were things that were going on, but taking WGSS classes as an undergraduate student and then continuing on into my graduate studies gave me language and a framework for understanding what those things were.

Both talking about the ways in which oppression manifests for women, for people of color, for queer and trans people, people with disabilities, and understanding what is happening in those mechanisms of oppression, but also what people are doing about it, how people exist and resist and thrive despite those things is so powerful and I think that is what is so exciting about WGSS, is that it does both of those things and that that is such vitally important work.

Would you describe yourself as an activist? Does your personality have that side? What does activism mean to you?

We have this idea that activism is only this hyper-visible public display of action, which is one way of doing activism. But I think that activism can be much more than that. The intent is to create change in the system that is not changing. I actually feel like a lot of the activist work that I have done has been through my professional work in the student affairs side of things. I was working with undergraduate students and both building their understanding and capacity around social justice issues and what did they want to do about it. Creating those kind of spaces on campus or being a part of running those spaces to me did feel like a form of activism.

I also think about teaching as a form of activism, especially when you are teaching explicitly social justice feminist content which was what we do in WGSS. I love teaching intro sections, I love teaching the 200-level classes because I find it’s really really exciting to introduce students to concepts or frameworks that may be they haven’t had access to before or have only heard one side of and to help them understand them in a different way.

What do you love about this program?

Graduate school is hard no matter where you are. Here our faculty recognize that it’s hard and they talk to us about it and they'll be the ones to be like- so what are you doing to take care of yourself outside of school? That's not common. That is not the norm at all, and I think it makes such a significant difference to the culture of our program and to me just like as an individual human doing this program. That is the understanding here in WGSS at Oregon State that our faculty challenge us. We have a rigorous program, you read a lot you write a lot, you are pushed in really good ways.

Story and photo by Sharadha Kalyanam, PhD student, Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies, Oregon State University.