Academic journal article The Canadian Geographer

Integrating Gender into Mainstream Teaching. (Focus: Equity for Women in Geography)

Academic journal article The Canadian Geographer

Integrating Gender into Mainstream Teaching. (Focus: Equity for Women in Geography)

Article excerpt

Equity for women in Canadian geography can begin by introducing gender awareness into undergraduate course content. This paper proposes that of the two approaches available, the introduction of gender geography courses and the integration of gender content into traditional courses, the latter is more feasible. Three reasons can be suggested to support this. Implementation of a new course requires additional financial and faculty resources that may not be available, especially to a small department. Second, if a new course is going to be required as part of a degree program then either the number of electives must be reduced or an existing course has to be dropped. Conversely, a Geography of Gender course added as an elective may only attract those already interested in the topic. Third, from a pedagogical standpoint, it may be better to integrate gender content into a variety, if not all, traditional courses rather than place it in isolation. As Kobayashi (this issue, 247) points out, there is a need to critically examine "the range of courses taught, the parts of the world that receive greatest attention, the kind of questions that are asked". Indeed, as Hall et al. (this issue, 238) put it, we need to pay attention to "what counts as geographic knowledge".

Creating a New University

When the University of Northern British Columbia was established, five mandated areas of interest were identified: Environmental Studies, First Nations Studies, International Studies, Northern Studies, and Women's and Gender Studies. These areas of interest were further defined in a series of guiding principles or values including gender and social equity. A Women's Studies Program was established as one of the twenty-five original academic departments, as part of the university's commitment to `interdisciplinarity', and `pedagogical and curricular innovation' (University Planning Committee 1997, 3). The current Calendar states that the women's studies degree program looks at women's "social and cultural contributions, contemporary roles, and the structures and processes of gender differentiation" (Office of Associate Vice President of Student Services 2000, 82). It makes sense then to choose to introduce gender into mainstreem geography courses instead of singling out gender as a course topic.

A geography program was designed for the university and it was left to the institution's first geographer, Dr. Ellen Petticrew, to make modifications. As other members were appointed, a program evolved that fitted the new geographers' skills. When these founding members, two females and four males, developed the degree requirements, in addition to the standard geography courses, they wanted to comply with the five mandated areas identified by the university. Thus, courses included Geography in a Changing World (environmental), Aboriginal Geography, International Geography, and Geography of the Circumpolar North. However, faculty size and workload became a limiting factor in offering courses in all five areas. The faculty decided that rather than offer a gender geography course, all B.A. majors in geography would be required to take at least one course from the women's studies program. Kobayashi and Berg (both in this issue) make the point that gender is marginalized in the university and in course curricula. This is not the case at UNBC, Gender issues are central to the establishment of all the programs at the university. Yet because of constraints in teaching resources, the geography program at UNBC was not able to accommodate all of the five significant interest areas identified. Our intentions were not to purposefully exclude gender. As is often the case, students in geography programs have opportunities to learn about gender in other disciplines, women's studies included.

After operating in this manner for a number of years, geography faculty members found that students of both sexes often complained about the women's studies requirement. …

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