Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts
Wheaton College

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Women's Studies name change

Faculty voted this spring to add ‘gender’ to program title

Wheaton’s Women’s Studies Program now has a new name: Women’s and Gender Studies.

After three years of discussing the possibility of a name change, the Women’s Studies Advisory Committee recommended the update this spring, and faculty affiliated with the program voted overwhelmingly to support the new title.

“The name change updates our program to reflect current approaches and trends in our field,” explained Associate Professor Kim Miller, Women’s and Gender Studies coordinator and currently the only faculty member appointed to the program. “More specific to Wheaton, keeping ‘women's’ in the name preserves our continuity with our previous program identity and with the historic, feminist-inspired development of the Women's Studies Program here. Adding ‘gender’ recognizes the expansion of our program to include gender studies, which includes (when possible) queer studies, the study of multiple genders, including masculinity studies, and trans studies.”

Founded in 1977, the college’s Women’s Studies Program offers both a major and minor and involves more than 40 faculty members from across the disciplines. Along with introductory and Feminist Theory courses, students may choose from more than 70 related courses such as Gender Inequality, Sex and Work, Human Sexuality and Transnational Feminism.

“Women’s and Gender Studies pedagogy teaches and promotes civic engagement that deepens student learning in the classroom setting and teaches students how to contribute to the community and world in meaningful, productive ways,” Miller wrote in a program description online. “Core courses in our curriculum focus on teaching students how to think critically and analytically about gender and its intersections with race, class, and sexuality in a global context.”

Economics Professor John Miller, a member of the advisory committee who teaches the course, Sweatshops in the World Economy, said the new name does a better job of describing what the program is about.

“It’s not just the study of women but about the role of gender in our society and what gender has to do with power relationships and the way the world works,” he said. “It tells the students and people outside of Wheaton what we’re doing, and it’s more in concert with what gender-focused and women’s studies programs are across the nation now.”

Associate Professor of Anthropology Gabriela Torres, who teaches a course on violence against women and is a member of the advisory committee, said the alteration is not meant to detract from the value of studying women's issues.

"The name change benefits students because it allows us to more explicitly incorporate student interest in gender and sexuality into women studies courses and incorporate courses which focus on gender and sexuality into the WGS course offerings," she said.

Students also are pleased with the new title. Katherine Kowal ’16, a double major in women’s and gender studies and economics, said the change is “extremely important” because it recognizes the breadth of her studies.

“As a student, it is important to me that when I tell people what I major in, they understand that it is applicable to each and every person,” she said. “The idea that this major only applies to women has traditionally kept it in the margins. I believe this name change will lead to much more interest in the program over the coming years.”

This summer, Kowal is interning at 85 Broads, a professional networking organization that works to empower women economically, across the globe. Kowal’s post-graduate career interests involve working to change corporate inequality and helping women become financially independent and successful.

Alexandra Natale ’16, a double major in women’s and gender studies and film and new media studies, said the program has taught her to be a critical thinker and an advocate. She is an active member of the Feminist Association of Wheaton and this summer is interning at Bust, a feminist magazine.

“I love women's and gender studies because we are constantly evolving as a field and imagining new ways we can become even stronger and more accessible to a wider group of people,” Natale said. “I think the name change is important because it goes beyond the gender binary and is a better reflection of what we study. We study sexism as a system of oppression that impacts everyone, and the ways in which it compounds on other systems of oppression.”

Along with having a new name, the Women’s and Gender Studies Program at Wheaton has experienced growth in recent years, with an increase in chosen majors from just one six years ago to nearly 30 in 2014. The program encourages experiential learning through on- and off-campus activities. This year, for example, majors received training in writing grants and crafting op-eds for newspapers and participated in workshops led by women from the nonprofit and business world on gender and negotiating.

Students are encouraged to become involved with campus, local, national and international organizations and have participated in internships at Women for Women International, the ACLU, the National Organization for Women, New York Civil Court and many other locations. Recent graduates have landed jobs with Homeland Security, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, YWCA, Big Sister Association and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, to name a few.