Politics and Pedegogy: The Creation of a Gender Studies Minor at a Jesuit College

By Vann, Barbara H.; Gallman, J. Matthew | Transformations, September 3, 1992 | Go to article overview

Politics and Pedegogy: The Creation of a Gender Studies Minor at a Jesuit College


Vann, Barbara H., Gallman, J. Matthew, Transformations


Politics and Pedegogy: The Creation of a Gender Studies Minor at a Jesuit College

In late April 1992 about a dozen Loyola College colleagues met to celebrate the passage of an interdisciplinary minor in Gender Studies. In one sense the group that assembled that night was remarkably diverse, including faculty from Sociology, Political Science, English, History, Writing, Modern Languages, and Business. But we were certainly not a cross section of our College. Only two of us were men; only three were tenured (two of those by a matter of weeks); all but one had been hired in the previous six years, nearly half in the last two years. As the wine flowed, this ad hoc group reconstituted itself into an official college committee and began to plan for the future.

Although every school has its own peculiarities and each program its own history interesting only to the participants, there is something to learn from each experience. Recently two scholars surveyed the history of Women's Studies Majors and concluded that:

sifting through evidence of the debates, compromises, decisions, and consequences that shaped a program's development could be an excellent project for collaborative feminist research. Students could discover the complexity of reconstructing a recent past of feminist institution building. (Westkott and Victoria, 1991, p. 435)

Our story perhaps contains some indicators to show how the next generation of minors may emerge. We begin with a brief discussion of the traditional roots of Women's Studies programs and the more recent debate over Women's Studies vs Gender Studies. Next, we turn to our own journey from conceptualization to passage of Loyola's Gender Studies minor. With this context in place we will suggest ways in which our experience may not necessarily be typical.

I. SO YOU WANT TO LAUNCH A MINOR?

1. Preconditions

Hundreds of colleges and universities have launched women's studies programs in the last two decades 1; the retrospective literature on the origins, goals and design of these programs has almost as long a history (Boxer, 1988; Stimpson, 1986). If we pool the evidence from individual programs with the broader messages from this reflective literature, certain clues for successful development emerge (Harding and Magistro, 1992; Regis College, 1991; Van Dyne, 1990). Some or all of the following have generally been present at the birth of a new program:

1. Political Commitment

The earliest Women's Studies programs developed as an outgrowth of the Women's Movement. Their architects stressed the importance of a feminist political agenda that did not stop at the classroom door.

2. Grass Roots Enthusiasm

Most success stories seem to include a vocal body of interested students who joined with a committed core of faculty members to push for a formalized program.

3. Administrative Support

The passage of new programs has generally profited from allies, and even instigators, among the ranks of the administration.

4. Existing Curricular Models

As an explicitly interdisciplinary pursuit, Women's Studies challenges familiar academic structures that emphasize boundaries between disciplines (Aiken et al, 1988).

Success may have come most easily where more familiar programs, such as African-American or American Studies, have paved the way.

5. Curricular Reform Movements

In some instances Women's Studies initiatives have been able to successfully "piggy back" on larger institution-wide reform processes.

In short, those who turn to the past for guidance in creating Women's Studies programs will discover that success depends on some combination of forces "pushing" for change and an institutional setting that is receptive, if not encouraging. We will argue that our recent experience does not quite match that model, perhaps suggesting the evolving political and academic context as well as the peculiarities of our academic institution.

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