Amanda Stewart is part of a new cultural wave at Elmhurst College. The adjunct sociology professor does not fit in any traditional box assigned to professors, to students, or to women. As an openly queer woman who has progressively become more comfortable in her own skin, Stewart stands out amongst the faculty for her distinctive perspective on feminism and LGBTQ+ rights.
“I grew up in Charles City, Iowa,” she says, waving her hand above her head, as if to point to the northeast corner of the state. “I grew up in the country on a gravel road.”
For Stewart, working on her grandparents farm and at her family’s small business was formative. The experience opened her eyes to the struggles queer people were facing in rural environments.
“My research interests are sexualities, gender, and rural studies,” she says, the sleeves of her feminine rose-print dress fluttering.
Some of her past research has focused on the relationship that transmen in Chicago have with feminism and feminist organizations.
Stewart moved to Chicago in 2005 after finishing her master’s in Gender, Sexuality and Cultural Studies at the University of Manchester in England and started teaching a few courses at community colleges. Before she made the decision to become a professor, she worked in human resources. Eventually, she decided to pursue her PhD so she could land a job as full-time faculty at a university.
Her divergent research and sarcastic personality fill a void at EC.
“I met with the director of sociology, and she let me know that the department was hoping to find someone to teach Sex and Gender,” she remembers. She pauses to take a drink from her glass water bottle. “[EC was looking for someone] who was currently involved with research in the field and would also focus more on sexualities, as that was something that students were increasingly interested in seeing.”
Stewart was the perfect fit. Her dissertation, “Queer Women in Rural Spaces”, argues the unorthodox view that queer and trans* women who live in rural spaces are not only surviving, but thriving.
“My favorite courses to teach are gender and sexualities,” she admits, excited to be teaching her favorite subject this semester at EC.
Sophomore Alec Degnan always looks forward to class discussions in Stewart’s Sex and Gender class.
“She not only knows what she’s teaching, but she’s passionate about it,” he says.
From her push for collaborative learning to her openness about her own struggles with identity and sexuality, Stewart connects to her students on a personal level.
“I really enjoy teaching at Elmhurst College [because I went to a similarly] small, liberal arts college in northeast Iowa and see many parallels between the two campuses,” she says.
Even though it is only her second semester at EC, she loves the energy students bring to her class.
“Students are very involved on campus and in the community, which I find extremely important,” she decides.
Stewart believes college is much more than just attending class. Some of the best experiences students have at college are getting to know their peers, traveling, and uncovering new aspects of their identity. She admits that shaving off all her hair during her undergraduate years was a transformative college experience.
“Amanda is different,” muses senior Sandy Ramirez, speaking of her professor like a friend. “She doesn’t talk to us like we’re students, but like we’re equals. I’ve never had a professor that was so open with us about their personal life.”
Stewart tells stories about her trans* partner in class. She gushes about their new puppy, Quill, and talks about her love of cooking and gardening along with her love of animals. She entertains conversations about relevant Netflix shows, talks about her experiences studying and living abroad, and admits that if she was not a sociologist, she would have been a travel writer or worked for an animal rescue group.
It is clear that Stewart is one of the more progressive professors at EC. In class, she offers her students opportunities to explore their multiple identities. Every discussion is collaborative. She openly recognizes intersectionality in her own research, understanding that her position as a white, cisgender, queer woman complicates her experiences and gives her a unique perspective that most of her students do not have.
Seeing strong female faculty like Stewart is empowering. LGBTQ+ students feel more welcome when they see faculty who represent them and their experiences, and EC becomes a more inclusive and supportive environment when professors like Stewart are teaching.