September 12, 2002

Women's Arts Department Changes Name

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The department formerly known as Women’s Studies has changed its name.

It is now officially the department of Feminist, Gender and Sexuality Studies (FGSS).

The new name is meant to reflect a change in women’s studies as a discipline.

“Gender and sexuality are best understood when examined in relation to one another, in relation to the oppression of women and sexual minorities and in relation to other structures of privilege and oppression, especially racism and exploitation both in the U.S. and globally,” wrote the program’s director Prof. Sandra Bem, psychology, in a letter explaining the shift to department alumni and donors in June.

After much debate, the Women’s Studies Steering Committee passed a resolution to change the program’s name in May 2001. The faculty of the College of Arts and Sciences followed suit almost a year later in April 2002.

“Originally, I proposed Gender and Sexuality but that was too much of a split from the past for a lot of people. So, then we talked about ‘Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies,’ but that was too narrow. So in a way, FGSS was a compromise but one that worked well. It kept the [historical] link,” Bem said.

Prof. Lourdes Beneria, city and regional planning, was one of the professors involved in the program’s decision.

“One advantage to this change is that it responds more to what is going on in the Women’s Studies program. Gender makes it seem more pertinent to men as well. The disadvantage is that by dropping ‘women’ out, we have lost a lot of the connection to the women’s movement. Some women don’t identify with feminism,” Beneria said.

Students also see advantages and disadvantages to the change.

“I think taking ‘women’ out of the name is a [failure to recognize] the fact that many women’s issues are still in discussion and it’s not time to forget about it publicly yet,” said Kyessa Moore ’04.

However, other students think the change is a positive move.

“I feel that the restructuring of the department to include gender and sexuality studies is large step towards creating equality,” said Beau Brinker ’05, a student in Human Development.

Some view the change on a more intellectual, rather than political, level.

“I think it was a very appropriate move because the issues surrounding hegemony are not exclusive to women’s rights. Furthermore, when you’re studying a subject, you want to have a breadth of knowledge. This move accomplishes that,” said Christopher Dial ’04.

Nevertheless, the department’s change is not just a cosmetic one.

Students coming into the women’s studies major and concentration as first and second year students now have new requirements. The program previously did not have any specific course requirements.

Now students in the major have to take Introduction to FGSS, Introduction to FGSS Theories and a Senior seminar in FGSS. In addition, there are three distribution requirements.

One class must be in Lesbian, Bisexual and Gay Studies, one must be in intersecting structures of oppression and one must be in global perspectives. Students in the concentration must take the two introductory courses, one course from any of the three distribution areas and two electives for a total of five courses, as opposed to the four courses that used to make up the concentration.

Those distribution courses can be in any discipline.

Students were, “very enthusiastic” about the change, according to Bem.

“The students believe that there is a coherent body of knowledge in the field which doesn’t fit with there being no requirements,” Bem said.

Dial, however, worries that the new requirements may be more prohibitive than helpful.

“Requirements tend to help the ignorant and burden the self-directed,” he said.

Bem remains excited about the shift.

To celebrate their new look and curriculum, the department is working in tandem with the Women’s Resource Center to bring the legendary Guerilla Girls to campus on Oct. 4.

Archived article by Freda Ready