What is Women and Gender Studies?

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March is Women's History month and thus, I thought I would post some thoughts about Women and Gender Studies. Since 2007 we have had a major and a minor in Women and Gender Studies at Luther College. Our herstory began however, in 1992 as a certificate in Women's Studies.  Faculty started the program to honor women's contributions to society, to create awareness about inequalities, and theorize how to change it. Students were instrumental in moving to a minor in 1998 and a creating a major in Women and Gender Studies in 2007. Today we have over 26 faculty who teach more than 32 courses in Women and Gender Studies. A major requires 10 courses including Intro, Theory, Internship and Senior Seminar. A minor requires only six courses.

Institutional commitment has also changed over time. At one time we had four course releases for faculty. One for directing the program and one each for teaching Intro (130), Senior seminar (485) and Gendered Activism (350). Currently we have no release for directing and we may have only two stand alone courses in WGST in any given year. However we do now have one faculty who is officially devoted to offer 1.5 courses a year in WGST. This year, for the first time ever, we taught two Intro sections, one in the fall semester and one this spring. Some gains, some losses.

We also are engaged in campus programming, including many activities for Women's History month like chapel, brown bag discussions, lectures and more. We also have two endowments specific to women that fall under our guidance; the Price lecture on women and leadership and the Sihler lecture on women and music in the church. Depending on the year and the composition of the Board we may do film screenings and discussions, brown bags or spotlight series (note upcoming panel on civil discourse). We have been instrumental in the past in bringing artists, sponsoring Take Back the Night marches and Clothesline projects, etc. Some years we partner with LC Fems and Active Minds, for example. We support campus counseling and anti-violence and sexual assault advocacy organizations in the community. We add significantly to campus conversations about gender and women's issues.

In addition to academic courses, staffing and intellectual pursuits we are often the "go to" people when students and faculty have issues surrounding gender inequalities. We are consulted on gender discrimination complaints, sexual assault cases, housing issues, free speech and safe spaces... and the list goes on. Why is an academic program asked to also do advocacy—beyond what we all might be asked to do in support of individual students? This academic and advocacy dilemma has long a part of the history of Women's Studies. It has to do with wanting to claim or prove the legitimacy of the discipline of Women's Studies as well as confront the institutional failure of the academy to combat patriarchy.

Gender bias and discrimination still happens. The curriculum is still androcentric. Misogynist assumptions of ability, commitment, leadership and achievements of women are still plagued by ideology and biological essentialism. While we have made progress, for example, in hiring and promoting women into the upper ranks, etc., it is less clear that we have achieved equity in these processes. Is there a motherhood penalty in promotions and assignments? Why the exodus of women of color faculty? Are ghettoization of gender content and people still problematic? A few years ago a proposal for a center was granted to focus on women's leadership and equity. The Women and Gender Equality Center now exists at the corner of campus but has no staffing or budget to fulfill the dream.

Even with a woman as President of the College, gender discrimination and sexism are alive and well at Luther College, as they are in every institution, the nation and world at large. Patriarchy works at every level of the academy. I look forward to a Dean of Institutional Equity and Inclusion wherein the hope is that an institutional voice with power may not only ask the equality question at every turn, in every aspect of the institution, but make lasting change in recruitment and retention of students and faculty, hiring and assignment of staff, campus life, housing and sports, equity in (STEM) majors and faculty, committee and departmental assignments, curriculum and programming, finances, facilities,development and marketing, etc. Until then, Women and Gender Studies will continue to be both an awesome academic program and a place where advocacy is essential.

Charlotte Kunkel

Charlotte Kunkel

Charlotte Kunkel has been a professor in the sociology department since 1995, focusing on the topics of gender, stratification and visual sociology. She also serves as the director of Luther's Women and Gender Studies program. Some of her course topics include Introduction to Sociology; Constructs of Race and Racialization; Social Psychology; and Seminar: Gender, Globalization, and Development. She is active in community anti-bias education and has been a long time volunteer for diversity education and the elimination of domestic violence. Her current research interests include the intersections of immigration and systems of race and gender stratification. Check out one of her current projects: The Stories webpage.

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