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UCCS’ Tre Wentling takes a whole-world approach to gender studies

Queer & There


As the days gradually shorten and fall semesters begin, college students, and even faculty, may feel reluctant to get back to school. However, as the most recently hired professor in the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs’ Women’s and Ethnic Studies program (WEST), Dr. Tre Wentling is eager for the new semester to start. He will be introducing new transgender- and gender identity-focused courses, further diversifying the program.

Born into an American military family stationed in Germany, Wentling became accustomed to moving to new cities and meeting new people. After being exposed to new places and new ways of living, he found that studying sociology helped him interpret life. “In this way, I could make sense of our experiences as a military family living abroad for two-thirds of my first 18 years. I could apply a language, theories, and recognize patterns as I moved across cultures, was exposed to a variety of languages and understood that there are multiple ways of being.”

Having graduated with his Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts degrees in sociology from UCCS in 2002 and 2004, respectively, Wentling now reflects on his time with faculty members of the WEST department, including Abby Ferber, Dena Samuels and Andrea Herrera, saying: “They raised me up... They recognized me. They included me. They believed in me.”

After finishing his graduate studies program, he continued pursuing his education at Syracuse University and earned his doctorate in sociology in addition to a Certificate of Advanced Studies in Women’s and Gender Studies. Coming back to his roots, Wentling now has the opportunity to teach at his alma mater in hopes of spreading his passion for learning to the students on campus.

As Colorado Springs continues to attract students to this increasingly popular branch of the University of Colorado, Wentling and other faculty feel obligated to reach out to students and provide a route to knowledge that many students and parents overlook. The WEST program offers students an interdisciplinary lens that takes into consideration how gender, race, sexuality, class, disability, age and combinations of such categories affect personal histories and life experiences of people all around the world. Unique combinations of social identities greatly direct our lives, posing specific obstacles for minority social groups.
CU Boulder and CU Denver have similar programs; however, they are fragmented into women’s and gender studies programs and ethnic studies programs, which can often leave students with incomplete pictures of how privilege and oppression operate.

Uniquely, the WEST program also focuses on social change and strives toward equity for all people, intent on breaking gendered, racial and other oppressive boundaries.

Wentling argues that “life can’t be diminished or devalued… People are bigger than how they identify, but identity is a piece of who we are.”

Wentling will specialize in gender and sexuality studies, unpacking terms like “male,” “female,” “gay” and “straight,” and exploring all the gray area that lies between these polar words, while still taking race, age, disability and socioeconomic status into account.

Looking forward, Wentling intends to overcome the hurdles of attracting students to classes revolving around gender and sexuality by increasing awareness of the value of studying social sciences. During his time teaching at UCCS, he hopes to teach a Trans Lives course, an Oral Histories and Memoirs course that will highlight personal narratives of trans folks, and a Queer Methods course.

For students who identify with the LGBTQ community, these classes will cover our histories, our community, and will encourage us to seek equity for everyone, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity. For straight and cisgender students, these classes will promote allyship and provide the opportunity to better understand and support their peers.

Passion, dedication and compassion drive the WEST faculty members as they strive to teach the importance of interpersonal and international relations. Wentling loves the program as much as other WEST students and faculty, and says: “I want to give back to WEST what WEST faculty so graciously gave me.” With this intersectional approach and faculty members who are dedicated to their students and to bettering the world, the WEST program helps UCCS students navigate their own lives in personal ways. In a world that normalizes hate and bigotry, there are people who want to teach compassion and understanding, beyond the limits of social categories.

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