Writing about the usefulness and relevance of liberal arts in today’s world, Martha Nussbaum argues that the value of a liberal arts training is to create “informed, independent and sympathetic” citizens “who can think for themselves, criticize tradition, and understand the significance of another person’s sufferings and achievements.” As a field of inquiry, Women’s Studies has historically embodied and practiced these very goals, and at Wheaton College the Women’s Studies Program actively pursues these ambitions through both its curricular offerings and faculty research.
Women’s Studies pedagogy teaches and promotes civic engagement that deepens student learning in the classroom setting, teaches students how to contribute to the community and world in meaningful, productive ways. Core courses in our Women’s Studies 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. To reach these aims, our core courses combine theoretical readings with activist and empirical work.
In all of our courses, students learn to develop cross-disciplinary ways of thinking about women’s lives throughout the world, and develop improved skills for identifying and restating arguments both orally and in writing. Beyond these intellectual skills, students are required to participate in a project that demonstrates a commitment to civic life and leadership.
Women’s Studies majors in our Senior Seminar receive training in practical skills that are associated with engaging in feminist politics, and which will help them find success in the complex contexts in which they will live and work. For example, our seniors attend training sessions on nonprofit program development and grant writing. They participate in a workshop on op-ed writing, which trains them to use their critical thinking and writing skills to influence the public sphere. For example senior seminar participants wrote grants to: support a Legislative Fellowship program to be implemented by Rhode Island NOW, to develop a permanent residential program at Sojourner House, a domestic violence aganey in Rhode Island, and to expand the sexual health training and advocacy work also at Sojourner House. Each year students in the Senior Seminar participate in a fundraising campaign to benefit the Women’s Health and Education Fund in Rhode Island.
Linking rigorous academic study to learning outside the classroom is both central to Women’s Studies Program and the mission of the College, and we have found great success in furthering this goal.