Gender and Women’s Studies major approved

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November 1, 2006

Beginning in spring 2007, students at the College of Saint Benedict in St. Joseph and Saint John’s University in Collegeville can graduate with a major in Gender and Women’s Studies (GWST).

While many colleges have had Women’s Studies majors for some time, the new program at CSB/SJU is quite “unusual,” according to Martha Tomhave Blauvelt, director of GWST at the two schools.

“It includes a significant component that looks at men as gendered beings, and in that sense incorporates the cutting edge of academic scholarship,” Tomhave said. “This also increases the interest to students, so SJU students understand that their experience is gendered, just as women’s is.”

CSB/SJU has offered a GWST minor since 1994. The new program will include 50 professors from 15 departments.

The new major, the 37th offered by CSB/SJU and the first major added since environmental studies in 2003, continues a history of curriculum changes brought about by transformations in society.

In the 1800s, social science classes such as psychology and sociology were added as urbanization, industrialization and immigration changed society; similarly, the civil rights, anti-war, environmental and feminist movements created ethnic studies, peace studies, environmental studies and women’s studies in the 1960s.

“In devising peace studies and environmental studies majors, CSB/SJU continued that tradition of providing students analytical tools so they can understand these significant subjects and be effective leaders,” Tomhave said. “Our Gender and Women’s Studies major is part of these much larger social and academic trends, and this subject has become the academic norm for American colleges, just as the social sciences did a century ago.

“GWST is not a novel subject anymore, but has become an essential academic area. We would be doing our students a disservice … if we did not have this major,” Tomhave said.

She pointed out that the schools’ missions have emphasized the importance of gender, and gender is often the subject of discussion in class. In addition, guest lecturers and programs like the Controversial Conversations program (funded by the Teagle Foundation of New York City) make students realize “that the subject of GWST is not theoretical but very practical – businesses expect gender awareness, as do health services, education and many other professions,” Tomhave said.

“Appeal often starts with students wanting to understand gender as a basic component of their own lives, and then going on to see the role of gender in politics, the economy, the distribution of power, emotions, social structure and so on,” she said. “In other words, they discover an organizing principle that makes sense of the whole world, and in that sense empowers them. The appeal is also quite practical in terms of jobs.”

In August 2005, GWST program members met to develop major requirements and learning goals. The major was approved by the CSB Board of Trustees and the SJU Board of Regents Oct. 13.