In 1989, the Women’s Studies program proposed an undergraduate minor in Women’s Studies for IUP students. The Women’s Studies Curriculum Committee members included Maureen McHugh and Imogene Moyer, cochairs, as well as Anita Henry, Carol Caraway, Karen Dandurand, Carolyn Thompson, Dorothy Vogel, and Don Woodworth. The minor program received Senate approval in May 1990. Below is an excerpt of that program proposal.
The American Council on Education (ACE) has called for a “new agenda” for women in higher education. The rationale for the new agenda is their observation that
One of the twelve items on the ACE’s new agenda for women in higher education is “make a permanent institutional commitment to women’s studies.” (Shavlik, Touchton & Pearson, 1987, p.8) According to the ACE report, women’s studies and efforts to gender balance the curriculum “should be the goals of faculty and administration on every campus.”
This agenda is being reviewed and discussed across the country and within the SSHE system. IUP has made significant progress on many of the agenda items, including the establishment of the Women’s Studies program in 1985. In order to establish the institution’s permanent commitment to the Women’s Studies Program and to allow the program to fulfill its own mission and the university mission, it is necessary to establish a regularly offered series of courses and an undergraduate minor.
The university’s mission is to “preserve, expand, and transmit knowledge in all its forms.” In order to fulfill its mission, the university must include scholarship on women. Women’s studies is “an academic program committed to the preservation, expansion, and transmission of knowledge about women and gender.” Thus, fulfillment of the university mission is related to and dependent on the ability of the Women’s Studies program to complete its mission. Offering a minor consisting of a scheduled series of courses in a variety of disciplines and an introductory interdisciplinary course is essential to the program’s mission.
The formal inclusion of Women’s Studies in the curriculum supports the integrity of IUP’s offerings as “a body of knowledge about the universe and about people, their nature, behavior, and values.” A university without women’s studies offerings typically is only presenting limited forms of knowledge about half of human nature.
The minor will help the program to meet the university’s mission of stimulating intellectual excellence and growth for faculty and students. Further, by helping students and faculty address gender-related issues and concerns, the Women’s Studies program helps IUP to “serve the evolving needs of society.” Women’s studies nationally and at IUP is committed to the university mission of “working for educational equity” and to “creating a community free of sexism, racism, homophobia, and other forms of discriminatory treatment.” Women’s Studies acknowledges the connection between the classroom and academic knowledge and the experiences of the individual and the larger community.
The discovery, and in some cases the rediscovery, of knowledge about women has been cited as the most important and most exciting academic frontier of the century. This explosion of new information has been generated and disseminated primarily within women’s studies. Women’s studies has served as a corrective and a challenge to the content, the method, and the underlying assumptions of the academic disciplines.
Recognizing, supporting and encouraging this new knowledge is of critical importance to the advancement of knowledge and culture. We have an intellectual as well as a moral obligation to be actively engaged in this process. (Shavlik, Touchton, and Pearson, 1987)
In order to maintain its reputation as an institution devoted to the “generation and transmission of knowledge in all its forms,” IUP must include the new scholarship on women. The establishment of a Women’s Studies minor is one way the university can demonstrate its ability to keep abreast of contemporary scholarship.
The inclusion of the scholarship on women is and will increasingly become an issue for professional accreditation of academic programs. For example, in the recent review of the IUP Psychology doctoral program, the American Psychological Association advised the Psychology Department to include information about women and gender in its curriculum. This advice is based on the principle advanced by APA that mental health professionals providing services to women clients need to receive training in the specialized needs of women and to be sensitized to the ways that gender impacts on mental health. Other professional accreditation processes are being similarly influenced to examine programs under review for inclusion of scholarship on women.
Support for Women’s Studies is itself a long-term goal of the university (Goal 1–11). Further, a minor in Women’s Studies can assist the university in the attainment of the following other goals.
No longer can education be primarily involved with preparing men and women for traditional, sex role stereotypic, or gender segregated roles and careers. Students attending college now and in the future must be prepared for the dual career families and the gender-integrated work place of the new millennium. Offering a body of courses which can specifically explain gender biases can help women and men challenge and overcome such prejudices in their own lives.
Some students educated at our university may be the social change agents who move society or societal institutions towards social equity. Women’s Studies is one aspect of the curriculum that addresses social equity issues and encourages students to perceive themselves as capable of transforming society.
A series of empirical studies conducted over the last decade have demonstrated the positive effects that can be achieved in women’s studies courses. For example, courses have been found to increase students’ self esteem, raise students’ consciousness regarding women’s status, increase students’ appreciation of women’s contributions to society, improve students’ relations with other women, enhance students’ career aspirations, and contribute to students’ beliefs that their efforts can make a difference (Culley and Portugues, 1985).
These positive effects on students’ personal and societal awareness can be an asset in one’s personal life and in one’s professional life. There are several employment opportunities for which a Women’s Studies minor would be an asset. A minor indicates to the prospective employer that the applicant has an awareness of and sensitivity to women’s problems and gender issues. This awareness may be needed in the following positions: personnel specialist, affirmative action officer, crisis intervention specialist, family and youth service providers, and legal advocates. A minor in Women’s Studies can contribute to success in a variety of fields, including but not limited to the following: communication, counseling, criminology, education, health, journalism, law, military, politics, psychology, and social services.
A number of students enrolled in Women’s Studies courses have expressed an interest in a minor. The Women’s Studies program receives numerous inquiries each semester regarding the possibility of minoring in Women’s Studies. Some students may decide to specialize in Women’s Studies and pursue advanced training. Since its inception in 1985, the Women’s Studies program has supported the application of three students for graduate training in Women’s Studies. Women’s Studies provided these students with a career direction. After the establishment of a minor, more students with such interests will be reached.
Although women are the majority of students at IUP and across the country, the campus and classroom climates continue to be detrimental to the needs of the female student (Hall and Sandler, 1982). That female students have daily encounters with prejudicial treatment is well documented. Faculty attitudes and behaviors—such as sexualizing female students, minimizing women’s contributions, or failing to provide feedback to female students—inhibit the intellectual development of women on campus.
The project on the Status and Education of Women of the Association of American Colleges has called attention to these issues:
As greater numbers of women students enter the higher education system, the postsecondary community has become increasingly concerned about such issues as the continuing low enrollment of women in “traditionally masculine” fields, the fact that women undergraduates feel less confident about their preparation for graduate school than men attending the same institution, and the surprising decline in academic and career aspirations experienced by many women students during their college years. These concerns take on a new significance given current and projected enrollment patterns; although higher education has traditionally been associated with the educational and professional preparation of men, women students are the “new majority” of undergraduates. The education of women is literally central to the postsecondary enterprise (Hall and Sandler, 1982).
Women’s Studies can be a catalyst for change on campus, helping to create an educational environment that is conducive to the personal and academic development of female students, staff, and faculty members.