Interview with Will Sherry
Oral History Item Type Metadata
Will Sherry Interview
Edited by Matthew Harris-Ridker and Will Sherry for clarity
[00:00:01] MHR: All right. So I'm here with Will Sherry. It is June 19. Hello Will!
[00:00:07] MHR: Thank you for being a part of this... OK. So to start off I'm going to ask you where are you from, and how did you end up at the College of Wooster?
[00:00:18] WS: I'm originally from New York. I looked in a lot of small liberal arts colleges. I played soccer at Wooster and so I looked a bunch of different Division 3 schools and then just visited. And I really... I kind of took to it felt really like home. It felt really... well very different from home! But very comfortable. Yeah, that's what I would say.
[00:00:40] MHR: Very nice. When did you graduate?
[00:00:43] WS: I graduated in... let's see... in 05.
[00:00:46] MHR: 05? Awesome. So my next question is what made you interested in the WGSS Discipline and what inspired you to, sort of, take your first WGSS class at Wooster?
[00:01:01] WS: I think I was inspired particularly by the examination of culture. So I was really interested in looking at just sort of, like, how things look within different cultures and sort of contextualizing those differences. I was really interested in, sort of, those Anthropology courses that looked at culture. I was the Sociology major. But really I think it was that, sort of, in-depth look at, like, what is... what is culture, how does it impact, sort of, people's perceptions of who they are.
[00:01:32] MHR: What was the first WGSS class you took? Was it just the Intro class?
[00:01:35] WS: Yes.
[00:01:36] MHR: Ok!
[00:01:36] WS: I think it was... yeah I'm trying to think back. I think it was just the Intro class, yeah.
[00:01:42] MHR: Ok, cool. So what was the state of the Program when you were a student there, and, like, what were some pros and cons you had of it?
[00:01:50] WS: Yeah, and so I think part of it is that it wasn't... it wasn't really, like, a Program like it is now. So I would say it was just more of a major. So you... so I was a Sociology major. You could take Anthropology classes, like women and gender classes. But it wasn't like there was a Program and you were a part of it. It was more like you were a part of that, sort of, cohort of Disciplines that, like, look at things like culture, like Anthropology, Sociology and so that's, like, the first thing I would say. Like the term WGSS wasn't... we didn't use that term. And so... as far as that. And so I think it was a lot less of a cohort, sort of, experience than it was just like an interest academically and some similar things.
[00:02:40] MHR: That's interesting. In the classes you took, and how you saw the Program, what were some, like, pros and cons you saw? Like...
[00:02:50] WS: Yeah I felt like the theory was really strong. So I left Wooster with a really really strong grasp on, like, contemporary social theories, classical social theories. I was a teaching assistant for classical social theory for two years, which is a really I think an experience too many times the liberal arts school you don't get to really T.A., at least then. And so that was a really good experience. So I felt like the theory was really really strong. I think that had a lot to do with, like, the strength of the independent study.
[00:03:26] So working with faculty directly on a research interest I think is a really really strong element of the Program. But we didn't really delve as much into it, like, race as my work does today. So like what I know about, sort of, gender and sexuality work today is that's sort of the core of that work is the, sort of, intersectional experiences that people have. I didn't leave with as much a grounding in my understanding of those things as I gained later. But I had a really really strong sense of, like, where the field came from a traditional perspective. I would say I wasn't looking at a historical black feminist work. That... that wasn't the work that I was being exposed to. Again, most of my courses were at the intersection of Sociology. So I was looking at Marx and Durkheim and, like, lots of classical theorists. I know I did not leave with the knowledge I needed at the, sort of, intersection of experiences that I gained at my master's Program in much more detail.
[00:04:36] MHR: Gotcha. Yeah that sort of seems to be a trend that students...
[00:04:41] WS: Yes.
[00:04:43] MHR: are critiquing.
[00:04:44] WS: Ok.
[00:04:44] MHR: Currently Wooster is looking for a tenure track professor for the WGSS Department...
[00:04:50] WS: Ok.
[00:04:50] MHR: ...and they're really trying hard to make... or to make an effort to hire somebody who is really knowledgeable in those areas.
[00:04:59] WS: Yes!
[00:05:01] MHR: So hopefully will become better in the future.
[00:05:05] WS: I'm sure.
[00:05:05] MHR: Yeah. [00:05:05] So my next question is, what were some of your favorite classes you took in the WGSS Discipline at Wooster, and what were the most valuable things you learned from those classes?
[00:05:17] WS: I would say that some of the most valuable classes that I took... oh let's think back... I would say some of the most valuable classes I took were in qualitative research. I think that that's definitely a strength of the Program.
[00:05:34] I think that the quantitative course was strong. I happened to take it when the main faculty was on sabbatical. So I had a visiting faculty and they were not as strong, but what I knew of it was that it was really strong. So I would feel like the research methods courses were incredibly helpful for me in going on to get more education. And even in just my work now, like I can... I can do a lot around qualitative research. I know a lot, I can move a lot within that field because of the classes that I took. So I think those were some of the strongest classes, probably was in some of, like, with the research methods. Especially in, like, a WGSS Discipline. How to do qualitative research in a way that isn't just getting what you want, but is, like, contributing and taking into account, sort of, the effort and energy that people are giving to you. For you to have that kind of learning. So I would say those are some of the things that I've probably utilized the most. And that...that were the most meaningful were some of the research methods courses.
[00:06:39] MHR: No, that's awesome. I just finished Junior I.S. [class] and I think I have a better grasp on things, but we'll see next year.
[00:06:47] WS: I know!
[00:06:50] MHR: Not one hundred percent sure.
[00:06:50] WS: It's an ongoing battle I think. But they do.... they bring you through it. I mean I still... I still am learning a ton. I do a lot of assessment work in my position and I feel like I'm always learning from people who that's like their main thing. And I don't think it'll ever be my main thing, but is it's really helpful and valuable to have those skills, for sure.
[00:07:12] MHR: Yeah. So going more on, sort of, your experiences with classes in the WGSS Discipline, how did what you learn in your WGSS classes at Wooster, sort of, differ from your other classes that you were taking? Like, was there anything unique that you learned from those classes in particular?
[00:07:32] WS: I think in particular there was a lot of discourse. And so I think that is something that differed... Was, like, I felt like I had really great faculty. I felt like my faculty had the ability to facilitate discourse and it seems like that can be rare. But I work at a big college at the University of Michigan, and that is a constant criticism of the classroom experience is that there are not faculty [00:08:02] that can facilitate difficult conversation with, like, really different opinions and differing beliefs on one's experiences. And I felt like there was a really good skill set that faculty had in those courses in particular. In being able to engage difference, and, sort of, bring people along in learning, and value peoples' different opinions without it being an argument. And so I think that that was really valuable, and something that differed, I think.
[00:08:45] MHR: Yeah I agree with that too. I would say we have, in my WGSS classes especially, we answer some really, like, controversial topics that...
[00:08:52] WS: Absolutely!
[00:08:52] MHR: ...I think have been... that the conversations have been really meaningful and...
[00:08:55] WS: Yeah!
[00:08:55] MHR: And everyone was able to say what they thought without judgment from the professors, especially. So I agree with that.
[00:08:58] WS: It's hard. That is really hard to do. It's hard facilitation. And, yeah, I do, I think they do that well which is really cool.
[00:09:04] MHR: Yeah. So my next question is, if this question applies because I know you're Soc, but is there anything you learned in your WGSS classes that, sort of, inspired for what you did for your I.S.?
[00:09:21] WS: Yeah! So my independent study was on gender in a lot of ways. It was on the performance of gender through waitressing. Yeah, at different... comparatively at different, like, social status restaurants. So at, like, a high end restaurant, at more like Pub kind of bar restaurant, and then at more, like, a diner type of restaurants. And so I was definitely, like, super interested in performative gender. I was really interested in how class influences gender. And especially when you're in a position that requires like... I studied emotional labor. So that requires you to, sort of, be performative in order to excel and be successful. And so I think a lot, I mean there is a lot of intersection in the classes that I took around, you know, meaning making or around gender and how it's both something that we make meaning of for ourselves and that is consistently being made meaning of by others. And, sort of, that cycle and that relationship of gender to sort of social life was a big part of my... of my coursework and a big part of my Junior I.S., it was the same as my Senior I.S. it was just... as many do the beginning parts of it. And I studied the topic abroad in Jamaica. I went in an abroad Program that was also focused on gender in Jamaica, Gender and Economic Development. And so I studied the same topic at different hotels. So from like a Ritz Carlton to a much less expensive motel. And so, kind of, all of that was really of interest to me and taking classes that, kind of, fed that topic around performative gender and around class... were things that I was interested in.
[00:11:17] MHR: Yeah!
[00:11:17] WS: It had a huge influence. You know, my topic really, like, centering on that.
[00:11:22] MHR: That sounds very interesting!
[00:11:22] WS: It was! It was, it feels like...
[00:11:25] MHR: I'd like to read that actually!
[00:11:25] WS: ...Yeah! it feels like years ago, light years ago, I should say. But it was it was super interesting. It was all qualitative and it was really... it was a very good experience. I mostly did work within the community at Wooster. And I also worked in the community all four years. I worked at a place called The Spot which is an after school Program at Cornerstone Elementary. And so I really like wanting to, sort of, be... live within that community and doing work within the community. And so that was also I think part of... part of a, sort of, a WGSS Discipline mindset of, like, really being... being within and getting to know the participants in the region.
[00:12:06] MHR: Yeah. What were, like, some of the conclusions you came to in your I.S.?
[00:12:10] WS: Yeah, yeah for sure! So a lot of what I looked at was, and sort of some of the conclusion, was the way in which the social status of a restaurant really pushes people toward the more masculine presentation of feminine gender. So the idea of, sort of, like black tie service, tuxedo. We looked at in the, sort of, middle range restaurants a ability to, sort of, utilize hyper femininity on whether that was a choice or an expectation, I think varied. But this, like, experience of, like, hyper femininity as success... so an over sexualized type of environment.
[00:12:55] And then in the more diner settings, some of the most interesting, and I think in some ways... there was a lot of bias and that a lot of the waitresses I worked with in the more diners and had been in those places for so long that a lot of their... their gender performance came from that, sort of, status of being like...like an owner in a place. And even though they weren't. So this... this idea of like the way in which power sort of can be shifted in a place based on, sort of, longevity and how that allows you to sort of take back that sexualization in a way that you can sort of own it through a... almost like a lot of times also age, like an elder lens. And so those were some of the things that we looked at. But very different performances of gender and different, sort of, understandings of the expectation of gender at each restaurant. But a lot... a lot of gendered language in a diner. A lot of, sort of, what many people would say was consented banter. Whereas like at a higher end restaurant you actually it's much... it's much more underground. Sort of you masculinize everything and call in neutral.
[00:14:19] MHR: Yeah.
[00:14:21] WS: And that is... that that is the neutral. And so you make it sort of invisible. Whereas in like a diner it's all out there in a way that others might feel it as non-consented, really biased. "Hey sweetie, hey honey." But the experience of the people was from a place of more power as a waitress.
[00:14:45] MHR: Yeah.
[00:14:45] WS: But those were, sort of, interesting pieces.
[00:14:47] MHR: Very Nice! Yeah I'm really liking asking all, like, previous students about what they're different I.S. topics have been and just...they're all so interesting.
[00:14:56] WS: What are you studying?
[00:14:58] MHR: For me, in WGSS, I am looking at... I want to look at the AIDS crisis era and, sort of, where the stigmatization of that it, sort of, becoming a gay plague. Like where... like where that came from and like what in our American culture made that become the, like stigma, surrounding it. And then hopefully I'm going to do something where I give a survey to people at Wooster to see, like, what stigmas still apply today.
[00:15:28] WS: Oh cool, yeah!
[00:15:30] MHR: So, we'll see.
[00:15:32] WS: Yeah, that's cool!
[00:15:34] MHR: Thank you! Well speaking of stigma, actually, did you face any sort of stigma being a student in any of the WGSS classes? Like was the campus community like.... Did they stigmatize students taking those classes?
[00:15:51] WS: Great question. I feel like I was fairly ignorant to stigmas that existed because I was not out in any way. So I just... and I probably, like, was sort of a part of this majority that... I don't recall having stigmas around that. But I do know there was, I mean there was a lot of stigma around gender and sexuality, and so anywhere where people are congregating that have sort of... you know, non-normative, as some people would use that word, gender and sexual identity is there was stigma, for sure. And so I think to the extent to which that is a place people congregated, yes. But again it wasn't really like a Department in that way. And so it wasn't... it wasn't really the same. But certainly there was stigma around any sort of place people are congregating. It was not an easy, I'm sure you're hearing it's probably not easy now, but it was not... at that point I really did not consider being out at Wooster. It, for me, was not worth the cost...
[00:22:18] MHR: Yeah.
[00:22:18] WS: ...at the time. Yeah, and that was, sort of, not even around but like not regarding a transition at all. Just as, sort of, regarding like who I dated and who I spent time with. And so it wasn't necessary to hide that for me until junior year at which point... I mean I can, sort of, in the work I do now I would give myself much different advice of course, but I can also, you know, understand that for me that just wasn't... well not a possibility but would have been really... it would have been really challenging... I think for me. So I... what I know is there was a lot of stigma. I mean there was a lot of stigma, I think, just in general around gender and sexuality and certainly... I don't know maybe I felt, like, safer exploring in the, like, an academic way. So I felt less stigma in sort of saying like, "this is an academic interest or Discipline!" I didn't make the connection between, like, an interest in gender expression in an I.S. and myself when I was doing it. And so it was just like an academic interest not like a personal interest. Now clearly, you know, I see things differently. But then it really wasn't about me in that way. And so I was able to kind of, like, distance from it.
[00:23:25] MHR: Yeah, yeah. I've been asking many people, because I've been interviewing people from...
[00:23:29] WS: Yeah!
[00:23:29] MHR: ... the beginning of the Program to... and tomorrow I'm interviewing somebody who just graduated last year and it's really interesting to hear how, like, the flow of, like, the culture at Wooster as well as the change in the academic perception of the WGSS Department has changed. So...
[00:23:44] WS: Yeah!
[00:23:44] MHR: ...I think it's very interesting to see how, like, that all is flowing.
[00:23:49] MHR: So my final question actually is how have you used what you learned in the WGSS Discipline in your life after Wooster?
[00:24:00] WS: Well, definitely my career is sort of front and center in that work. So I'm a senior administrator at the University of Michigan. I direct the gender and sexuality center, but to, sort of, be more specific I direct a center but that center six full time staff. So I don't actually and much of my time, at this point, in The Spectrum Center or, sort of, doing that work because there are five other people and that's what they do. And so most of my work is diversity and inclusion work across the University of Michigan. So strategic planning and assessment around... particularly around educational intervention for students, staff, and faculty that increase inclusive community. My specialty, my expertise is in gender and sexuality. I mean I use a lot of what... I think foundationally I use a lot of what I learned all the time. So I think my work requires, like, a deep respect for understanding what I don't know. And I think that that's something that Women and Gender Studies Programs, you know, have as foundational. That like the minute you think you understand another person's experience you're sort of not living the work. And so I think that, like, as a foundational set of words I use it all the time.
[00:25:07] The basis of my work, I think, on a, sort of, more obvious level I think and talk about gender and sexuality constantly in my work, as the director of the Center; The first center on a college campus in the country. We opened in 1971. We're expected to, sort of, be leading and be leaders nationally for this work. We made a big change to add pronouns on class rosters across the institution of forty thousand people is like a major initiative. And it came down to, like, do we have a drop-down of pronouns only or do we have an open box?
[00:25:40] MHR: Yeah.
[00:25:40] WS: And it's like a critical question, right? I mean, most people are going to pick something on the drop-down. Hands down, Of course. And those that don't have an option are the ones that never do. You know, I bring that framework and I think that is a lot of what I learned. Even through an I.S. process, like not even about content. The process of I.S. is, sort of, uncovering how to learn. What does it actually mean to, like, learn from others and to engage in your own learning, and to take critique from faculty, and to disagree, and to, you know, be sort of active in your own learning? And I think that's what my job requires. That to be a leader of many many different staff across the institution, to lead a major initiatives around ability, around race you have to enter, sort of, in there not knowing, and be active in your learning. How do you fill gaps that you have? When is it appropriate to learn from other people and when is it more appropriate to go online or to get books or to go to an event? So I think, like, the process of seeking out learning versus how... how some people that haven't had those experiences come to the work with, like, an expectation of being taught. I think that's like a critical thing and the latter pisses people off.
[00:26:49] And then... so yeah... you know you can't come expecting someone is just going to teach you who they or about their work. And I think that's true of our students. As a student that's not your job. You know you should be as involved in that as you want to be because it's beneficial for you whether that means, like, because it's giving to others or because you're getting something from it. But I think that's a lot of what Wooster and, like, the process of learning taught me. And what I take with me is how to be a learner in a community. And that's I think a real strength.
MHR: Yeah, that sounds like very important work!
[00:27:16] WS: Yeah
[00:27:16] MHR: So thank you!
[00:27:16] WS: Yeah.
[00:27:16] MHR: So those are all my questions. But before I end, I want to just ask you if you have any questions or anything else you would like to say about WGSS at Wooster?
[00:27:25] WS: I mean... I've been really impressed just in sort of, like, the campus's growth of, like, their... I'm going to get the name wrong... it's like an intercultural center...
[00:27:31] MHR: Center for Diversity and Inclusion?
[00:27:31] WS: Yes, along those lines! There wasn't... there really was nothing, like, anything like that... at all. And so I think that, you know, the growth of, like, academic Programs and student support is really critical. I have no doubt there's lots of work to do. But certainly I think that there has been like a vested interest in creating more depth and more safety on campus. More comfort. And I think that that is in part, like, increasing academic opportunities and, like, knowledge. That's been exciting.
[00:28:02] I think I left, you know, in a place of like, "this was a great college experience." I academically learned a ton, got into my top masters Program, like, I'm feeling really good to go. But socially left a lot to be desired I think around inclusivity and just like being able to be who you are. And I feel like since I've left when I've been reached out to you it's been about really positive things that are, like, growing and changing. So I think that that is super important.
[00:28:29] MHR: Yeah!
[00:28:29] WS: It seems like it's moving in a good direction.
[00:28:30] MHR: Yeah I agree! I think we're in a very exciting stage where it's like... there's so much interest in these topics and these issues and I think the college and the WGSS Discipline and Department are really trying to, like, ride that wave to really create...
[00:28:47] WS: Take the opportunity!
[00:28:47] MHR: ...and inclusive environment. Yeah!
[00:28:48] WS: That's what we do! The minute there's an opening we're like, "it's now or never! So, yeah let's get it done!"
[00:28:56] MHR: Exactly! Thank you so much for being a part of this.
[00:28:59] WS: Yeah!