Editor's note: Premed student Jack Gumina ’19 loves rock climbing, works as a campus EMT and majors in the seemingly disparate pairing of chemistry and women’s and gender studies. He’s been interested in science his whole life but he didn’t discover women’s studies until late in high school. When Gumina talks about his unexpected passion, his dual interests make perfect sense.
My interest in women’s and gender studies came my senior year of high school in an unlikely place. I was a varsity swimmer and lifeguarded after practices once a week. My assistant swim coach had just got an Africana studies degree from Wooster Because she was only 24 at the time, our ages were similar enough that it felt like we could talk as equals, and I felt comfortable sharing my thoughts with her. Because I have lived life as a privileged straight, white male, I have never experienced any kind of oppression or discrimination. This led me to believe that oppression based on gender, race, sexuality, etc., were things of the past.
She was a strong feminist and anti-racist and whenever conversation of gender and race came up, she would argue from those perspectives. I would push back and prod her for evidence that I had intrinsic privilege as a white male and that oppression was still alive and well. Thinking back on it, I am not sure why she put up with me for so long. After a few conversations, she suggested books for me to read, and once I started to do that things came more into focus. As I said, I am a science minded person, and it really took writing backed by research and quantitative studies to change my mind. After I began to read feminist research, I saw issues of gender and race everywhere.
Majors: Women's and Gender Studies & Chemistry
Hometown: Rochester, N.Y.
High School: The Harley School
Another person who I lifeguarded for was an art teacher, and she told me that she asked her students to grade themselves at the end of the year. My first thought was, ‘Wow — I bet gender is a factor in how students evaluate themselves.’ I spent the rest of my senior year conducting a study of my entire K-12 school looking at how gender affects confidence in different subjects. Having spent my senior year reading up on feminist research, I was eager to take women’s and gender studies in college. I enjoyed my classes and found that they continued to make me see the world in a new way, which prompted me to keep taking them.
Something interesting is that I am very good at chemistry, but only average at women’s and gender studies. My grades in chemistry are significantly higher than for women’s studies, even though I put a lot more work in to women’s studies. I am premed and in the world of a premed student at Hamilton, grades below A- aren’t allowed. Because I was always on the B+/A- border with my women’s studies courses, I felt I should just study chemistry because it would be better for my GPA.
While this is true, I came into Hamilton with a scientific mind and felt like it would be a waste of a liberal arts degree if I left with the same scientific mind. Women’s and gender studies broadens my horizons and each class challenges me to see the world in a new way. While I love chemistry, it doesn’t expand my mind in the same way. In a lot of ways I see my women’s studies degree as the more practical one for entering medical school.
Chemistry is important for biochemistry which is the foundation of medicine, though I don’t think many doctors could still work out an organic synthesis. However, doctors interact with people every day and understanding systems of oppression that affect the patients you are responsible for is paramount for providing effective care, as is recognizing your privilege and the power you are given over another human being’s life. I feel that women’s and gender studies has taught me how to think about people holistically and to realize that many people’s experience of the world is dramatically different from my own. This is something which I believe must be taken into account to be a good doctor.