Academic journal article Women's Studies Quarterly

Teaching What We're Not: Using Videos to Diversify the Women's Studies Curriculum

Academic journal article Women's Studies Quarterly

Teaching What We're Not: Using Videos to Diversify the Women's Studies Curriculum

Article excerpt

Over the more than thirty-year life of women's studies as an interdiscipline, there has been a growing commitment in the United States to diversifying the curriculum-an effort certainly still in progress. Both the integration of the experiences of the diversity of women in the United States and the globalization of the curriculum have progressed with more or less success in programs with offerings ranging from an undergraduate minor or concentration to a Ph.D. Often the impetus for curricular diversity comes from the demands of the students or the interests and expertise of the faculty. In metropolitan areas with diverse populations, colleges and universities draw both international students and students of color from within the United States. They often (but not always) have a faculty reflecting such diversity. However, institutions in more rural areas, especially in northern-tier states with less racial diversity and with fewer international faculty and students, face challenges. More well developed women's studies programs with their own tenure lines can choose to hire faculty with a wide range of diversity, but women's studies programs without tenure lines have had to find other ways to offer a racially and ethnically diverse international curriculum.

The University of Maine, the largest and most comprehensive university in the state, certainly epitomizes that problem. The 2000 census identified Maine as the whitest state in the United States, and while the university is somewhat more diverse, the percentage of international students and students of color is still very low. Our students often come from towns smaller than the university in population, are often in the first generation of their families to go to college, and have not usually traveled much outside the state, let alone outside the country.

Our women's studies program offers an undergraduate major and minor as well as a graduate concentration but has no tenure lines. The director's position, although full-time, is defined as that of a faculty member with tenure in a department. The program offers its own Women's Studies (WST)-designated courses, cross-lists other interdisciplinary courses, and maintains a list of approved departmental electives. Cross-listed courses include American Indian Women and Franco-American Women's Experiences, taught by women from those areas. Jewish Women in History and Culture and Introduction to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Studies are offered in women's studies, pending the development of programs in Jewish studies or LGBT studies. A travel-study course taught by a German faculty member in family studies takes about a dozen students to Germany and the Netherlands every year during the two-week March break with whatever financial help we are able to provide them.

While occasionally U.S. women of color or international scholars can be recruited to teach the rest of the WST-designated courses, the bulk of the teaching has been done by white faculty. Since our women's studies program grew out of a curriculum transformation project aimed at decentering the male experience in the whole university curriculum, the language and conceptual frameworks to diversify and globalize the women's studies curriculum were part of at least some faculty members' consciousness; this time diversity was considered as the courses were being developed. Mindful of what Linda Alcoff (1991) has identified as "the problem of speaking for others," the faculty have chosen texts that integrate a variety of women's experiences into the discussion of each topic, have assigned extra readings to reflect diversity, and have invited guest speakers to their classes. And they have chosen videos from our program's collection to show in their classes. (We use the term "video" throughout this article although some of the titles we will mention are available as films as well. All are available as videos, which our faculty find much easier to use. …

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