New faculty: Joanna Wuest
New faculty Joanna Wuest loves showing students how to do the granular research academia requires. But she also loves taking that academic research and connecting it to broader discussions at Mount Holyoke.
Joanna Wuest loves showing students how to do the granular research academia requires. But she also loves taking that academic research and connecting it to broader discussions on campus, in the community and in popular media. Wuest herself has published widely in publications like the Boston Review and The Nation.
As a professor of politics who focuses on politics of identity and inequality, Wuest’s course offerings feel almost tailor-made for this moment. Wuest is particularly interested in American constitutionalism — or how a single text and interpretations of that text can be stretched and warped to shape politics. She is also an expert at demystifying legal doctrines in Supreme Court decisions, something she hopes to help her students do too. In her civil liberties class, Wuest looks forward to showing students how just a few words or phrases in the Constitution can take on sometimes wildly different meanings. “Like freedom of religion, which can protect everyone’s rights — Jehovah’s Witnesses, for example, refuse to salute the American flag in a school, but that same principle in the Constitution can be interpreted to allow for-profit businesses to withhold reproductive health care or to engage in overt discrimination,” she said.
Wuest received her Ph.D. in political science with a certificate in women, gender and sexuality studies from the University of Pennsylvania. One of her favorite courses to teach, therefore, is Sex, Gender and American Politics. “It’s a fun course because we cover the standard legal doctrines on sex and gender discrimination, but we also talk about things that maybe students haven’t thought about, like bureaucratic regulation of sex. For example, why do we have gender markers on our driver’s licenses?” she said.
Between lectures, Wuest hopes to continue her work on two books. The first, due out in 2023, is entitled “Born This Way: Science, Citizenship, and Inequality in the American LGBTQ+ Movement.” It takes a rigorous look at the “born this way” ideology in American culture, law and politics. Her second, tentatively titled “Uneven Egalitarianism: Civil Rights, Corporate Power, and American Constitutionalism,” examines how corporations often say they’re fighting for social justice causes while actively engaging in practices that oppose those efforts.
Drawn to Mount Holyoke due to its small class sizes, the high levels of student engagement and the rigorous work her colleagues are doing in the politics department, Wuest has found that her new job comes with a nice bonus. “The campus is beautiful — I’ve already hiked all around the lakes and mountains,” she said.
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