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Saint Mary’s announces new major

| Monday, September 1, 2014

Saint Mary’s announced Friday the establishment of a new academic department, the Department of Gender and Women’s Studies (GWS), and a new interdisciplinary major in GWS.

Director of media relations Gwen O’Brien said the College has offered a minor in women’s studies since 1985, and the program was named GWS in 2012. In February of this year, the Academic Affairs Council approved GWS as a major, and the minor remains an option for undergraduate students.

Stacy Davis, associate professor and coordinator of the GWS Program, said the process for recognition as a major began in 2007, and the program just received administrative approval to become a major and department.

2014 GWS Hooding 061Photo courtesy of the Saint Mary's Gender and Women’s Studies website

“The GWS steering committee, with the help of associate dean Joe Incandela, spent the 2011-12 school year developing a three-page prospectus for the major,” Davis said. “This was approved by the president and the provost in May 2013. In the meantime, the program had a successful internal review, which helped us to make our case for the major.”

Once the prospectus was approved, the Curriculum Committee had to greenlight the major.

“Professors Susan Alexander, Phyllis Kaminski, Sonalini Sapra, Jamie Wagman [and I] drafted the proposal for the major, which was reviewed by GWS faculty last fall,” she said. “The Curriculum Committee approved the proposal in February, and the chair of that committee, Joyce Hicks, presented the proposal to the Academic Affairs Council, which accepted it. Once the major was approved, the program became a department.”

The GWS department consists of GWS faculty and professors from several other departments at Saint Mary’s, Davis said. GWS curriculum encourages students to examine and analyze women’s lives, she said.

According to the 2014 SMC Bulletin, GWS applies an inclusive and interdisciplinary approach to the study of women, gender identities and sexualities. It is guided by feminist activism and feminist theoretical insight into different forms of power, inequality and privilege. Within each course in the department, students investigate the intersections of gender, race, class, sexualities and other identity categories from historical and contemporary transnational perspectives.

GWS, founded in 1984-85, was the oldest interdisciplinary program at Saint Mary’s, and Davis said it was important to make the transition to having a GWS department and major.

“The best liberal arts colleges in the country, and especially women’s colleges, have traditionally had departments [or] programs in Women’s, Gender, Sexuality and/or Feminist Studies,” she said. “Forty-four of the top 50 liberal arts colleges have programs, and 32 of those colleges, including all of the women’s colleges, have majors.

“Our faculty concluded that transitioning from a program to a department would be another sign of the College’s continued commitment to high-quality education.”

The department offers courses housed within GWS, as well as courses from 14 other departments and programs, Davis said.

“These include courses in African-American history, postcolonial women’s writing, LGBTQ Studies, stereotyping and prejudice, becoming women, cyberfeminism, romantic-era feminism and transnational feminisms,” she said. “… Our goal is that students who take courses in the department learn the history of feminist movements and gain an understanding of the relationships between gender and other identity categories (race, class, sexuality, etc.) and how those relationships affect people’s lives, both positively and negatively. Students can then use their knowledge to speak and write clearly about issues and topics surrounding women, sexualities and gender identities and decide what contributions they want to make in the ongoing struggles for gender and sexual equality.”

Sophomore Kylie Garabed is the first intended GWS major at the College.

Garabed said the GWS major appealed to her because she is passionate about combating social injustice and wants to acquire the tools necessary to understanding social issues in society.

“[GWS] gives students an opportunity to learn about social issues and hopefully become passionate enough to want to make a change,” Garabed said. “Even though it may not be possible to change the whole culture, it is possible to change the people around you … and solve problems.”

Davis said she hopes the department continues to be a place that nurtures both faculty and student development.

“It is exciting for me that the number of course offerings and affiliated faculty continues to grow,” Davis said. “Over the last several years, we have graduated a healthy number of [GWS] minors from a variety of majors, from art to nursing.

“That gives us confidence that we will be able to attract majors to our department. I think any student who is interested in the history of women and gender, plans to work in a social service field or wants to change the world will find a GWS major useful and empowering.”

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About Kelly Konya

Kelly Konya is an English major bred on Catcher in the Rye and Roman cornettos.

Contact Kelly