Faculty from various departments at Augustana are coming together to revitalize a decade old minor: gender studies.
Gender studies, one of the 43 minors offered at Augustana, is a multidisciplinary minor with the goal of providing “students with knowledge and understanding of gender as it relates to contemporary life,” according to the official university academic catalogue.
Susan Schrader, a professor of sociology at Augustana, believes that it is important to “embrace the realities” of gender’s impact on culture and society. She also prefers the study of the impact of gender as the expression of masculinity and femininity, rather than just sticking with the traditional “women’s studies” approach.
“Gender studies looks at the impact of inequality or privilege for women and men,” Schrader said.
That “cross-section” of comparison is part of what intrigued sophomore Elizabeth Petersen to pursue a gender studies minor.
“I’ve always been interested in how gender affects how we see things and how we go through our lives,” Petersen said. “I see it as a big, integral part of who we are and what we decide to do.”
An advisory board made up of faculty members from various departments, such as communications, history, English/journalism, sociology, business and education, is focusing on how to make the minor more accessible and appealing to students.
“I think it grounds men and women in terms of being more aware of what might be culturally present in terms of advantage,” Schrader said. “That can be the grounds of a catalytic approach to change in how we respond to those sorts of things.”
In recent years, student interest in the minor has been dropping, something that Schrader attributes to its former inflexibility and the lack of leadership since the passing of professor Glenda Sehested who was the program coordinator for many years.
The lack and infrequency of course offerings is what prevented senior Cassi Lamb from pursuing the minor.
“I almost transferred because [gender studies] was so much what I wanted to learn about and they just didn’t have that here,” Lamb said.
Lamb says that while there was a course here and there that touched on gender, the lack of a concrete program made it difficult for her to pursue it.
Petersen echoed the lack of course availability and expressed doubt that she will be able to complete the 18 credit hours minor if something doesn’t change.
“I have not taken a single [class],” Petersen said.
Petersen said that she was halfway through her freshman year before she realized there were not any gender studies classes available, which she brought up to members of the sociology department.
“I even kind of got a shrug from them like ‘Yeah, I do not know what you should take or how you should pursue that minor,’” Petersen said. “I sought out advice from them and they were like ‘You could check out this board or this board, maybe check this person but I don’t know.’”
Schrader acknowledges the frustrations many students have and contributes it to the lack of leadership for the program.
“It hasn’t had a shepherd,” Schrader said. “So, what we have done this semester is invited faculty to identify if they had interest and to see if someone would take that leadership role.”
History professor Margaret Preston will be acting as the new program coordinator for the next two years when the position will then be rotated to another faculty member for the following two years.
Petersen feels that the student outreach should be focused on freshmen and incoming students.
“For the upper-class students we’d take the classes but we kind of lost the chance to get that degree but they should look to get feedback from freshmen and people applying here to see if there is any interest there,” Petersen said.
While the minor is getting a second look, the intent of the courses will remain the same. The advisory committee is instead giving their attention towards offering a more flexible scheduling options and a wider variety of qualifying courses to meet student interests.
Gender studies currently offers courses on sexuality, the role of gender in the family and a look at the impact of gender in Irish history. Some of the new courses being planned by the faculty include a wider array of topics such as the biology of sex, discrimination in the workplace and the role of gender in voting.
While there are no plans to expand the program to a major, Schrader is positive about the direction of the minor.
“I am just so pleased that it’s feeling like it’s going to be revitalized,” Schrader said.
While she said it is “a bit of a bummer” that it is happening during her senior year, Lamb is glad that the minor it is getting revamped. She believes will contribute to the liberal arts atmosphere at Augustana.
“I think topics of gender are becoming more and more prevalent in today’s society,” Lamb said. “I think having those topics to study in more of an academic setting is a cool opportunity, it fits well with liberal arts of just understanding things from a critical thinking perspective.”
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