Committee renames Women’s Studies

Amanda Doyle

The faculty steering committee for the Women’s Studies program has officially changed the program’s name to Gender and Women’s Studies, and the occasion was marked with a roundtable discussion about the new name.

The GWS steering committee had a forum to discuss the name last spring, and out of the discussion came the idea to change the name, according to Seth Whidden, co-director of the Gender and Women’s Studies program.

“There was a desire to have the name reflect more accurately the program and where we want to go with it,” Whidden said.

Other names were suggested, such as Feminist Studies and Gender Studies, according to Co-Director Lisa Sewell.

“[Women’s Studies] has a social justice aspect to it,” Sewell said. “Feminist Studies was also proposed, but there is a stigma attached to it.”

By leaving “women” in the title, the social justice aspect and the history of the program are both retained, according to Whidden.

“To call it Women’s Studies didn’t give the possibility for masculine studies,” he said.

According to Whidden, the biggest problem the program faces is drawing in underclassmen. Sewell said that advisers are urged to make their students aware of the Gender and Women’s Studies program.

“One of the great unknowns is that you can double dip when it comes to courses,” Whidden said. “A student taking a sociology GWS class can have that class count for both the GWS concentration or minor and a sociology major.”

The roundtable discussion was held on Feb. 19 and had an audience of about 20 participants that included students, faculty and staff. Whidden and Sewell led the discussion.

All attendees introduced themsleves, which emphasized the casual open-discussion nature of the event.

“[The discussion] was held to officially and formally announce the name change,” Whidden said. “We wanted to get a sense of what the campus feels about the program and what direction they think would be beneficial for the program.”

Attendees participated in the event by giving their opinions on the new name and the challenges the program faces.

Rev. David Cregan, O.S.A., said that the name change would allow more people, including males, to identify with the program itself.

“I teach Irish Studies in the English department, and I have students come in telling me that they took the course because they are Irish,” Cregan said.

According to Whidden, the intention of the name change was not to attract more male students, but to create a new understanding of gender and how it is constructed.

Currently, there are about 20 students receiving either a minor or a concentration in Gender and Women’s Studies and this number will grow as the program adds more classes, according to Whidden.

From the fall of 2003 to the current spring semester, the number of courses offered under the Women’s Studies program has fluctuated between 12 and 22 courses.

In the future, he said he hopes that more courses will be added in order to transform Gender and Women’s Studies into a major under the umbrella of Human Studies.

“We do have courses in other colleges that carry the Gender and Women’s Studies label,” Whidden said. “We are absolutely open to considering proposals for courses to have a GWS label. We would love nothing more than to have GWS courses in engineering and business. The only limitations are what the faculty can dream up.”