New women's studies major and upcoming women's center address gender issues
Oct. 31, 2005
By Anita Martin
Thirty-five years ago, Beverly Jones transformed the role of women at Ohio University. Soon after the alumna and recent campus visitor submitted her 1970 report on gender equality at Ohio University, women joined the ranks of men in the marching band and in the business school. The women's athletic budget and the number of women on faculty both increased.
But other issues took some time. Jones' report called for more women's studies programming and a women's center. Her voice echoed through the years, as enterprising young women formally repeated these requests: in 1987, in 1990, in 2002 and again last year.
Though women's studies curricula have grown steadily over the years, we now see a more definitive response to that call. Starting this quarter, undergraduates can declare a women's studies major, and by 2007, the new student center will house the university's first women's center.
The women's studies major took more than four years to finalize and the women's center mission still awaits definition. According to Provost Kathy Krendl, it's about time for both.
"Most of our peer institutions have a women's center," Krendl says. "It's important that we do the same, as an indication of a stronger commitment to women's needs and in recognition of the value of a visible meeting point for students, faculty and the community."
Krendl calls the decision to create a major, "a product of popular request. There was always a lot of interest in the women's studies classes. When they did a survey, many students said they would declare a major."
A major development
"I'm elated that the women's studies major is in place," said David Descutner, dean of University College and associate provost for undergraduate education. "I'm hoping to see a women's studies department in the future."
Others may not share this enthusiasm. Some skeptics suggest that creating a discipline called "women's studies" excludes men and contradicts the goal of equality.
Lynette Peck, associate director of women's studies, urges critical students and faculty to consider the historical context.
"Education has been historically male-focused," Peck says. "In order to bring women into the curriculum, we've had to uncover women's history, to re-imagine political and social theory in context of gender. We needed a theory of gender from the ground up."
Peck believes that women's studies courses today are more about examining gender in all forms. "Increasingly, we engage in masculinity studies," she says.
Two hundred ninety-two male students enrolled in women's studies courses last academic school year, 2004-05. Five male students are now earning a certificate in women's studies.
"I think women's studies courses have been very inclusive here," Descutner says. "For years male students and advisees have been telling me that (women's studies) classes challenged their thinking and redefined their ideas about gender."
Anita Martin is a writer with University Communications and Marketing.