The next few steps

Jaclyn Moses

Looking toward the future of the Women and Gender Studies Program

With Lafayette’s ongoing celebration of the Women’s and Gender Studies Program’s 30th year at the college, there are high expectations for the program’s future. While the program has improved since it began, there are still opportunities for growth.

“When I arrived at the college in 2009, some people said to me, ‘Lafayette students won’t be interested in gender,’” said Women’s and Gender Studies Program Chair Mary Armstrong. “’We’re too conservative and don’t like to think outside the box,’ and I have found that to be patently not the case.”

But Armstrong said she thinks not all students feel like they can take WGS classes.

“I think there’s a strong cohort of students here who think WGS is a course for a certain kind of person and no course is just for a kind of person,” Armstrong said.

Armstrong and the other members of the program have tried to prove just that. The program works to demonstrate its interdisciplinary nature, and is hoping to expand upon that component in the future.

“We have a few gaps that we would like to fill so that Lafayette students can study across all the divisions and majors,” Armstrong said.

One of the ways those gaps will be filled is through a new course that Armstrong is developing in the coming year. The course will be called Gender and STEM—or science, technology, engineering and math.

“The idea is to give students an opportunity to think about science and technology through a gendered lens,” Armstrong said. “We’re hoping that that will be the first step into what will be even more STEM oriented thinking about gender and diversity in the curriculum.”

In addition to an increase in STEM programs, the WGS class offerings don’t have enough of a presence of law and policy, according to Armstrong. The absence of these courses makes it difficult for students to complete their distribution courses, which are courses in other departments that are looked at through a gendered lens.

“It’s hard to fulfill that when the options are limited,” WGS Major Nicole Harrison ‘16 said. “I think there are so many more classes that could be offered.“

As the program’s courses continue to expand, meeting the needs of this growth becomes difficult.

“The one thing that would help is if we had more faculty who could teach our core courses so we could offer a broader array,” Armstrong said.

Armstrong teaches four courses a year, two of which are Introduction to Women’s and Gender Studies. Teaching this 101 level course prevents Armstrong from teaching other, more specific courses.

“I would love if there was more faculty who were strictly WGS,” Harrison said. “I know professor Armstrong is going on sabbatical next semester, and she’s the only fulltime faculty member.”

Armstrong said she wishes that the students who still feel WGS is for a “certain kind of person” saw that it “would be to their intellectual and personal empowerment if they took the jump and gave it a try.”

Many new students have jumped in, as the intro course has had more men, and an overall more diverse makeup of students.

“It reflects that we’re doing a good job helping people understand that gender is something that everybody needs to think about,” said Armstrong.

With an increase of students who are interested in taking WGS courses, the amount of students in the major is not incredibly high. But Armstrong does not think that the number of students in the major should measure a program’s success. Of the students who take 101, many return to take more courses in the department, or decide to become a minor.

“Even if we don’t have a hundred majors, we have hundreds of students every year taking 101 who just have skills around gender analysis,” Armstrong said. “That’s a measure that’s very meaningful. You can change a campus academic culture if you can do that.”