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A Committee of Their Own

Gender and sexuality studies, while worthwhile, should not fall under women’s studies

By The CRIMSON Staff

Last Wednesday, the Faculty Council voted to approve a proposal that could change the name of the Committee on Degrees in Women’s Studies to the “Committee on Degrees in Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies” in an effort to reflect the trends in student interest and to broaden the scope of the committee’s primary inquiry. The larger proposed scope would likely allow the committee to justify future requests for additional faculty and resources in the longterm. But while all these areas of inquiry are clearly deserving of more support, creating a less-focused and larger committee is at odds with its worthwhile pedagogical aims.

The committee explained that its proposal was in response to a shift in student interest since the 1980s towards gender and sexuality studies, a shift that is reflected in the available courses offered in women’s studies, which touch on issues of sexual orientation and gender identity.

While the Faculty Council’s intention might be to accommodate this student demand, the proposal has the potential to dilute the focus of the Committee on Women’s Studies and give short shrift to the emerging fields of gender and sexuality studies that deserve their own independent focus. While women’s studies deals with issues confronting the female gender, sexuality and gender studies focuses on studies of identity and sexuality for both men and women. As we have argued in the past, sexuality studies are so vital to our academic goals that the development of a new and distinct committee would better serve both students and faculty. By pressing the idea that these two separate fields can be amalgamated into one, however, the committee is undercutting this ultimate goal.

The proposal to rename the committee incorporates a restructuring of the women’s studies concentration that would include additional tracks, or “foci,” for undergraduates to pursue. But placing these two new tracks, “Gender” and “Gender and Sexuality,” in an already existing women’s studies concentration, the department is effectively downplaying the inherent differences between women’s studies—which focuses primarily on feminist theory and women’s history, and the study of gender and sexuality. While the prospect of increased future funding seems attractive, at present, the committee has limited resources, and any further burdens upon it would weaken both programs—undermining their effectiveness as well as their academic goals. Both these fields are equally, and independently, relevant. While they undeniably feature areas of overlap, each area deserves to be treated and supported with full committee status in the University.

The issue will now be put to a vote before the full Faculty at its Nov. 18 meeting. We hope that the Faculty will recognize the promising future of the emerging field of gender and sexuality and move to develop the area of study in its own right.

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