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The Faculty of Arts and Sciences voted at yesterday’s full Faculty meeting to change the name of the Committee on Degrees in Women’s Studies to reflect the field’s increasing common ground with gender and sexuality studies.
The change to the Committee on Degrees in Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies will take effect next fall. At least one new course will be in place by then, but broader changes will depend on the concentration getting more resources.
Afsenah Najmabadi, chair of women’s studies, presented the proposal to the Faculty yesterday, stressing the changes that have taken place within women’s studies.
“Women, gender and sexuality are each their own domain of intellectual challenge,” said Najmabadi. “Each continues to pose questions, encourage fresh scholarship and inform one another.”
Yet the two are intertwined enough, she said, that “they cannot be studied one without the other.” It is for this reason, said Najmabadi, that the committee wants to combine the fields of women, gender and sexuality studies, rather than beginning a new committee to address the latter two.
“We do feel the proliferation of another committee is not a wise thing for Harvard,” she said. “Instead of dispersing faculty resources, we believe in bringing together our faculty in one place.”
The committee, which has about 12 concentrators per year, is planning several short-term changes, but further expansion will be dependent upon receiving more money and faculty, Najmabadi said after the meeting.
“Looking very closely at our full curriculum, we’ll have to see what we want to do to strengthen, change, develop and hopefully expand the program,” she said. So far, the committee plans to add a new junior-level seminar on theories of sexuality. Existing faculty also plan to develop new electives.
The Faculty’s approval left members at all levels of the women’s studies community excited and looking forward to the future.
“I’m delighted that it was unanimous approval,” said Professor of Romance Languages and Literatures Bradley S. Epps, who last year convened an unofficial faculty committee to discuss developing gender and sexuality studies at Harvard. He said the renamed concentration, complete with the changes planned for the near future, will “meet the need and demand of the students for greater structural coherence.”
Margaret C.D. Barusch ’06, a women’s studies concentrator who has been involved with discussion among the committee members regarding the proposal for the name change, said she hopes Harvard will follow through and provide the concentration with the means to grow and develop.
“I personally am very excited and I hope they will move other resources to support this change beyond just the name change,” she said. “I’d like to see a commitment to hiring faculty to teach about gender and sexuality. They’ll need to have more resources in general because they’ll have more concentrators.”
Though there were no negative replies when the proposal went to a voice vote, one faculty member did express concern beforehand.
“Women are not a community that can be studied by themselves,” said Professor of Government Harvey E. Mansfield. “It’s not really a self-standing subject.”
“Why not call the subject more straightforwardly?” he continued. “Why not Women’s and Men’s Studies?”
He also said he took issue with what he said was a dearth of study of anti-feminist thought within the concentration.
“The women’s studies department has no conservative or anti-feminist scholars,” said Mansfield. “It has invited no anti-feminist speakers.”
He added that the classes for which he had seen reading lists likewise contained no anti-feminist authors.
In an interview later, Mansfield said the change of name would do nothing but “make obvious what they were all along, which is a department of feminist studies.”
“Women’s studies is a neutral name, it could be from any point of view,” he continued. “But when you say gender and sexuality, you get a lot more of a feminist tinge.”
The name change had been discussed in both the Committee on Undergraduate Education and the Faculty Council during the past month.
—Staff writer Laura L. Krug can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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