Meet Our Majors

Meet some of our Critical Theory & Social Justice (CTSJ) majors.

Lulu Wiesemann ’22

Hometown: Clarksville, TN
Majors: CTSJ, Music (vocal performance)

What was your motivation to major in CTSJ? Was there a specific inspirational moment or experience?

I arrived at Oxy never having heard the term “critical theory.” However, a late registration time and a need to fulfill core requirements put me in “Intro to Critical Theory” my first semester. It was in the first week of that class that my eyes were opened to a whole new way of thinking, of interrogating ideas and questioning why power structures exist the way that they do in our communities. For the first time, I was expected to be an active engager with class readings, all of which were focused on combating oppressive structures of various degrees. I was impassioned, and I declared my major that semester. 

Are there any standout classes you’ve taken?

My favorite class in the department has been “Mother Goose to Mashups,” which studies the application of critical theory in the genre of children’s literature, including everything from books to movies and music videos. This course, like others in the department, allowed for alternate project options, and so along with writing papers, I created a children's book, produced a new folk song and wrote theoretical discursive fan fiction. This class broadened my understanding of how deeply integrated socially constructed ideologies are in our everyday lives.  

[In one course]...along with writing papers, I created a children's book, produced a new folk song and wrote theoretical discursive fan fiction.

Can you describe your senior comps project?

For my senior comps, I am exposing the arbitrarity of the social construction of normative gender and explicating the force of its grip on society, which lays the foundation for a discussion of genderqueer youth as uniquely positioned within this social force. I develop this idea into an exploration of modern genderqueer youth actively engaging in subversive gender discourse to try to understand what barriers are inhibiting their access to free exploration of gender expression. 

Do you have any advice for a student considering a major in CTSJ?

Go to office hours! Some of the best learning I experienced came from stepping into my professor's office with a list of questions. Even if you are not struggling in the class (and especially if you are), make a point to have one-on-one time with the professors because the CTSJ professors truly do care about your goals and how they might be able to help you develop inside and outside of the classroom. Office hours is where I really got to see into the personalities of my professors beyond their lecture mode, and I learned how much of an interest they would take in my life if I gave them the chance.

What is the “vibe” of the CTSJ department?

Our department is the perfect combination of incredible and diverse passion, intense rigor and supportive collaboration. It's honestly a pretty chill group of folx, nobody taking themselves too seriously, but everybody deeply cares for the material they interact with. We have very conversation-based courses, and our professors treat us as intellectuals in our own right. The department houses the internationally respected Critical Theory & Social Justice Journal of Undergraduate Research, the only academic publication of its kind, but we also have laid back Halloween parties and plenty of snacks and coffee to go around.


Mary Ambriz ’22

Hometown: Fontana, CA
Major: CTSJ; minor: Gender, Women & Sexuality Studies

What was your motivation to major in CTSJ?

I took “Immigration & Education” my first semester at Oxy, and it was the first time I felt included in any sort of historical narrative. I'm a first generation Mexican-American in addition to being a first generation college student, and working through how immigration status as well as racial and ethnic identity systemically impact our route to education made clear the systems of power at play in my life thus far. The class put to words things that I've experienced but never knew how to describe—the end of that class was when I knew I wanted to stay in the CTSJ department.

Can you describe your working relationships with CTSJ professors? Are there any standout classes you’ve taken?

“Resistance Movements & the Law” (literally any class with Professor León), “Social Justice Bootcamp” (Professors Moazzam-Doulat & Heldman), “Whiteness” (Professor Griffin), “Settler Colonialism” (Professor Small), and “Intersectionality” (Prof. Heldman) have been some of the most enriching classes I've taken thus far. I'm currently in “Language & Power” with Professor Christianakis and I can tell this will be one of my most memorable classes as well.

As for the professors, I've never met people as passionate about their specialties as I have in CTSJ. They're all extremely well connected, and they'll do what they can to connect you to someone who knows someone related to a thing you're interested in. Professor Christianakis in particular is doing amazing work with the OxyGen program, which connects students (of all majors) with internship/work opportunities via alumni in a variety of fields. All of the professors are beyond supportive of anything their students ask about, whether it's starting conversations about inaccessibility or fat activism on campus, or giving advice on post-grad paths. I know I can go to any of them to talk about something, and they will always go out of their way to help.

Don't underestimate what you can do when you have an entire department supporting you.

Have you taken part in any student research opportunities at Oxy or elsewhere? Can you describe your senior comps project?

The past two summers I participated in the Summer Research Program, sponsored by the Undergraduate Research Center. In 2020 I interned through the UEP/I Affordable Housing Summer Internship Program with East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice. I researched the police budgets of nine unincorporated cities in L.A. County as well as rent/mortgage moratoriums throughout the pandemic. This past summer, I began research for my senior comps. I created a dataset of 300 TikTokers with an interest in the demographic breakdown of the American fat activist movement on TikTok as well as the topics being pursued by various activists according to their intersectional identities. I accidentally discovered my comps topic as a sophomore in “Resistance Movements & The Law,” and I was able to pursue this topic in my classes afterward, which was really cool.

What do you find most compelling about studying CTSJ?

CTSJ is essentially multiple departments meshed together with a central focus on social justice, so you'll learn how to apply a variety of different frameworks to whatever social justice issue you're passionate about. This skill is critical in finding ways to address these issues. For example, in my comps I'm using Foucault, Mbembe & Kristeva to explain the importance of studying fatphobia during a global pandemic. You can apply literally any concept you learn in CTSJ to a real-world issue, which is really useful if you intend on doing social justice work beyond Oxy.

Do you have any advice for a student considering a major in CTSJ?

Don't let the ‘Critical Theory’ part of CTSJ put you off. Theory can be intimidating, especially to someone who (like me) didn't have access to these sorts of rigorous academic texts before college. All of the professors will do whatever they can to help you understand something; don't underestimate what you can do when you have an entire department supporting you.


Maylene Ubaldo Hughes ’23

Hometown: Sacramento, CA
Major: CTSJ; minor: politics

What was your motivation to major in CTSJ?

Originally I came in to Oxy thinking that I was going to major in kinesiology, and then after taking a Professor Small class, “Black Feminist Texts,” I had a revelation that my passion for learning comes from me being able to think critically about different topics and how they relate to everyday life. I looked more into the CTSJ department and its classes, and found that the topics and lessons being taught were actually making me excited to learn. 

I feel like these are the classes that really open my eyes to how the world works. I love being able to challenge myself in terms of how I think.

Can you describe your working relationships with CTSJ professors? Are there any standout classes you’ve taken?

I love all of the CTSJ professors. I believe that they are incredible people with a vast array of knowledge. If you take any CTSJ class, you will be shocked at how passionate they are, along with how much they know about the topic. They are super accommodating and conscious when it comes to their students which I greatly appreciate. My favorite classes so far have been “Black Popular Culture” with Professor Small and “Afterlives of Chattel Slavery” with Professor Crawford.

What do you find most compelling about studying CTSJ?

I love that I am constantly learning new things. I feel like these are the classes that really open my eyes to how the world works. I love being able to challenge myself in terms of how I think, and CTSJ does a great job at that. These are concepts that are relevant, and they shift and expand your thinking and knowledge about the real world—whether it's the past, present or future.

What are your ambitions post-Oxy and how has the liberal arts approach helped to shape these ambitions?

Currently the plan is to go to graduate school and get my Ph.D. in order to hopefully become a professor one day. The liberal arts approach opened my eyes to what I actually love to do and what I can see myself doing for the rest of my life. I want to make a difference and change the way individuals view the world. This is what CTSJ and Oxy did for me, so I aspire to be that person for other people one day. 

Do you have any advice for a student considering a major in CTSJ?

My advice would be to network with the professors. Go to their office hours, get to know them. I know that can be scary and I myself struggle with that, but they really are such good people to know and have as a connection.


Samantha Gordon ’22

Hometown: Weston, MA
Major: CTSJ

What was your motivation to major in CTSJ? Was there a specific inspirational moment or experience? 

I decided to become a CTSJ major in 2020, during the pandemic. I think many of us had time to pause and take a look at the world around us and ask ourselves what part we are playing in our community. I decided I wanted to be more active in my community and beyond and CTSJ is a wonderful major to help teach students about how we can help make an impact through activism work and fighting for social justice. 

Can you describe your working relationships with CTSJ professors? Are there any standout classes you’ve taken? 

Professors Heldman and Moazzam-Doulat have both been instrumental in my time at Oxy. In my junior year, Prof. Moazzam-Doulat helped me carve out my senior thesis by introducing me to theorists that are pertinent to my subject. Prof. Heldman understands my passion for CTSJ work combined with my love for media and entertainment. She allowed me to help her work on her book over the summer, which was a wonderful experience.

CTSJ is a wonderful major to help teach students about how we can help make an impact through activism work and fighting for social justice. 

What do you find most compelling about studying CTSJ? 

I love working on my Senior Comps! It is a project that I can really dive into with more depth than I have ever been able to do before. I love knowing that all of the seniors are experiencing this together and we can really be there to support one another.

What are your ambitions post-Oxy? 

I hope to combine my passion for activism work and the education I have received from the CTSJ department with my passion for the entertainment industry. I hope to work for a production company that creates important, thought-provoking, conversation-starting and transformative pieces of art that can impact society. 

What is the “vibe” of the CTSJ department?

Everyone is so nice! I transferred into Oxy last year and felt a warm welcome from all of my peers in the CTSJ department. I am blown away by everyone's intelligence and how much they care about the work they do.

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