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.
The Women’s Studies Program outcomes are consistently and intentionally aligned with the four areas of AAC&U’s essential outcomes for liberal education: focus on and engagement with the knowledge of human cultures; a progressive practice of intellectual and practical skills; the development of personal and social responsibility; and integrative and applied learning demonstrated through the application of knowledge, skills, and responsibilities to new settings and complex problems.
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. Transnational feminist theory represents the cutting edge of the field of Women’s Studies, and centers the study of intersecting experiences and oppressions of women world-wide. To reach these aims, our core courses combine theoretical readings with activist and empirical work.
In Introduction to Women’s Studies, Feminist Theory, Black Feminist Theory, and Transnational Feminisms, 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.
Likewise, students 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. Perhaps most importantly, our seniors receive professional training in grant writing, and partner with a local feminist organization for which they write a professional grant. A number of our graduates have written to tell us that this specific assignment and skill benefitted them directly in graduate school or the work force. And 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.
Upon completion of the Women’s Studies major, students will be able to:
- To critically reflect on what they have learnt in the field of Women’s Studies and to be able to communicate their knowledge, understandings, and critical thinking orally and in writing.
- To demonstrate competency in high-level research, writing, and oral presentation skills, and to use these skills to produce original research and writing, and to speak persuasively.
- To understand the varieties of feminist theorists and theories, together with major debates in the field.
- To understand the evolution of Women’s Studies as a field, the relationship of Women’s Studies to other disciplinary areas of study, and the nature of interdisciplinary research.
- To critically consider what it means to practice feminism in the public sphere.