Since the 1970s, womens studies has been offered at The University of Iowa as a minor. Since 1998, its been offered as a Ph.D. program. But until last fall, it wasnt on the list of undergraduate majors. Now it is, thanks to students who made sure the administration knew they wanted it.
The major was organized in response to popular demand, says Ellen Lewin, department chair. Weve received constant letters, even petitions. Some students managed to fashion a de facto major, designing their own programs as an interdepartmental studies major.
Interdepartmental studies is an individualized degree program offered by the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences in which students develop majors with an advisers help, often in an interdisciplinary area that does not exist as an academic department.
Other students elected womens studies as a minor, but in their hearts it was a major, Lewin says. Now it is a major.
Its too soon to gauge how many students will elect to major in womens studies, Lewin says.
The odd development of the womens studies major has to do with the Board of Regents, State of Iowa, seeking not to duplicate offerings at the three state universities, Lewin says. Since Iowa State University had a womens studies major in place, the Regents were comfortable with it remaining a minor at Iowa.
As demand grew,
however, it became obvious that we needed a womens studies major
here, as well as at Iowa State, Lewin says. After all, you
dont say that because Iowa State teaches English, The University
of Iowa cannot.
Features of the Major
Womens studies brings the perspective of gender as well as class, race, and ethnicity to bear on intellectual problems and issues of current concern. Womens studies questions taken-for-granted ideas about both women and men, and encourages critical thinking across the disciplines, with particular reference to womens contributions to art, history, politics, family life, science, literature, and other cultural domains. Students investigate challenges women face all over the world in areas such as the environment, culture, the media, health, violence, and the economy. Then they consider implications of these studies in order to devise solutions to pressing problems both at home and abroad.
Classes are usually small and encourage discussion. Writing, research, and communication skills that are necessary for students careers are emphasized.
Students take courses in a concentration area, which can be the same courses that count toward a second major. The concentration areas are feminist anthropology, international and development issues, literature, culture and media, womens history, U.S. womens issues, and gender and sexuality.
It is designed to have a strong international focus, as is true of the graduate program in womens studies. Forty percent of the students enrolled in the Ph.D. program are from other countries, Lewin says.
The department also hopes to fashion courses that qualify to become part of the UI General Education Program, so students will be able to fulfill requirements by taking them.
Students shouldnt see the new major as the only way to take our courses, Lewin says. They also can choose them as elective courses. Issues of gender affect many different levels of knowledge and have ramifications in any field of interest. In our courses, students will be able to think about the effects of gender issues, as well as race, nationality, and other factors.
We encourage students to question all of the most important bases of their lives, she continues. Sexuality, culture, all the things they take for granted. We dont ask them to throw them out, just to think about them in a logical way. Question the things you really think you know, both males and females.