BY LINDLEY ESTES
The University of Mary Washington has approved women’s and gender studies as a major for declaration starting the Fall semester of this year.
This is the third attempt in 22 years to make women’s and gender studies an official major, but the administration did not consider the major until now.
“Previous administrations were not interested,” Dr. Allyson Poska, program director, said. “We asked for a women’s center a few times. They said that in a predominately female college it was unnecessary because all spaces were women’s spaces.”
The current administration was very supportive, she said. Poska said that President Judy Hample and the Faculty Senate were encouraging.
“This round was not a battle at all,” Poska said.
The major will focus on gender and the experiences of women, emphasizing the construction of femininity and masculinity, interactions of gender, class, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and race. It will be interdisciplinary and require 33 credits.
Professor Constance Smith of the English department will be teaching Introduction to Women’s Studies.
“I think this class is very eye-opening,” she said. “Younger people think things used to be bad but everything is ok now. Everything is not fine. There is still a persistent wage gap between women and men at every level of education.”
Smith’s class will cover a broad spectrum of topics pertaining to the treatment and experience of women including race, class and age.
Prospective women’s studies majors will be expected to double major, due to the low amount of credits needed to complete the major. Last year the faculty who started the major surveyed 300 students. The response was overwhelmingly favorable for the women’s studies major.
The majority of those intending to declare the major said they would double major. Many students cited psychology or sociology as their prospective other major.
In the past, women’s studies has been available as a special major for the committee for the Bachelor of Arts and Sciences to approve.
Every year, an average of three students graduated with a special degree in the major, according to Poska. Past majors have become teachers, poets, professors and nonprofit workers.
Junior art history major Melody Ain hopes to declare women’s studies as her second major in the Fall. However, her time at UMW is now limited and she is worried that the major has come too late for her to finish it in time.
Those involved feel that the major will be beneficial to the UMW community.
“We have hopes that the interdisciplinary nature will get the faculty and students to work together,” Poska said. “We also hope to build connections with the Fredericksburg community through internships and nonprofit work.”
Some students, however, do not think the women’s and gender studies major is necessary.
“I think it puts women down to have a women’s major, rather than helping them to ‘rise above.’ And with this new major, what else will spawn?” junior Amanda Keller said. “I’m sure there are already majors that deal with race. There will be sexuality majors and a million other identity majors. We should be focusing on our similarities, not our minuscule differences.”
Most schools that offer the major, like Yale University, are celebrating the 30th anniversary of their women’s studies departments this year. UMW is the sixth university in Virginia to have an official women’s and gender studies major. Other Virginia schools include the College of William and Mary, the University of Virginia, and Washington and Lee University.
“[The major] is in line with the 21st century,” Smith said.
Info in chart from collegeboard.com