Academic journal article Honors in Practice

Women Shaping Their World: An Honors Colloquium

Academic journal article Honors in Practice

Women Shaping Their World: An Honors Colloquium

Article excerpt

Because gender maintains a significant influence on our education, careers, decision-making, families, and everyday lives, honors programs that wish to explore issues of social justice and equality should include coursework that illuminates historical and contemporary issues from a gendered perspective. In spring 2011, the South Dakota State University Honors Program offered an innovative three-credit honors colloquium entitled "Women Shaping Their World." This multidisciplinary course focused on examining the ways that women's lives are structured in cultural, social, religious, economic, historical, political, and scientific contexts; it also explored the potential of women to transcend these barriers and shape their own lives. The colloquium attracted honors students from a wide variety of majors and offered them unique academic and personal opportunities. The three professors who taught the course hope to offer ideas for honors administrators and faculty members who wish to develop classes highlighting women's studies. In order to suggest possibilities for other honors programs, we explain how our class was designed and implemented and how its various facets--including guest speakers, texts, assignments, and poster presentations--worked together to meet the course objectives.

THE IDEA TAKES SHAPE

(Julie M. Barst, Assistant Professor of English)

At SDSU, the honors educational experience requires students to take at least one multidisciplinary honors colloquium focused on a topic of contemporary interest. Faculty associated with the women's studies program first proposed the idea of offering a colloquium highlighting women's studies early in spring 2010, and several professors from various disciplines expressed interest in designing, teaching, and/or guest lecturing in the course. Timothy Nichols, Dean of the SDSU Honors College, chaired a subcommittee of these professors that met once a month for the two semesters leading up to the implementation of the colloquium. During these meetings, Dr. Nichols and the committee brainstormed possible texts, assignments, guest speakers, and course goals. In fall 2010, Julie D. Lane and I were chosen to team-teach the course, and we designed the course goals and student outcomes, narrowing down the texts and assignments from a multitude of useful suggestions. We committed to a strong multidisciplinary content, believing, as Kathleen Black writes in Honors in Practice, that a strong honors program should encourage students to "see the commonalities as well as the distinctions among disciplines," helping them become less likely "to isolate themselves within their own particular major" (197). Therefore, because Lane and I had expertise in the fields of English, political science, and women's studies, we scheduled guest speakers who could bring their gender-related expertise, wisdom, and experiences into the classroom in other fields of study such as health, agriculture, art, and religion.

In addition, we incorporated a final course project that required students to build upon the major concepts and themes of the course by exploring the ways they (or a woman they know) have shaped their world; this project was a creative nonfiction essay directed by Christine Stewart-Nunez, Assistant Professor of English, who specializes in creative writing. Accordingly, we scheduled four class visits during the semester in which Stewart-Nunez would introduce the expectations of the assignment, guide the students by examples and in-class discussion, and answer any questions they posed about this genre.

After many fruitful discussions about desired student outcomes, Lane and I determined that during our course honors students would:

* enhance written and oral communication skills, accomplished via short papers and an oral presentation;

* enhance creative and artistic expression, accomplished via a creative writing project and a poster presentation that incorporates both visual and oral elements;

* demonstrate an understanding of some basic concepts of feminist theory, accomplished via class discussions and short essays;

* become familiar with the gendered contexts through which women's lives are shaped, accomplished via exposure to feminist theoretical perspectives and application of these perspectives to course readings;

* enhance awareness of the challenges women encounter in other cultures, accomplished via reading three texts that draw on this theme and various written responses to the texts;

* increase their understanding of the interconnections between gender and race, accomplished via reading three texts that draw on this theme and written responses to the texts, and

* relate their own experiences to those of women in other cultures, accomplished via writing a comparative reflection essay on a text and giving a presentation on a woman who is a member of a different identity group. …

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