Women's Studies Program debuts name change

Now called Gender, Sexuality and Women's Studies, the name reflects the wide variety of topics the program covers

· March 25, 2011, 1:15 am   ·  Updated March 25, 2011, 12:00 am

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For the Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies Program — recently changed from the Women’s Studies Program — what’s in a name is the essence of the program.

The name change, which has taken effect for fall semester advanced registration, was designed “to make the fields of study that go on in our program clearer and more explicit,” GSWS Co-Director Demie Kurz said.

Prior to this change, students enrolled in the Women’s Studies Program would graduate with a major or minor in Gender, Culture and Society. Now, the entire program — including the major and minor — will fall under Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies.

“There was so much confusion around the program name versus the name of the major and the name of the classes,” GSWS Associate Director Shannon Lundeen said. The name change aims to streamline the program and more accurately reflect the array of topics covered in the classes, she added.

The GSWS major offers four concentrations — Global Gender Studies, Gender and Health, Sexuality Studies and Women’s Studies.

“It’s not one of the big majors, but there is always interest in the subject,” Kurz said, adding that there are about 1,300 enrollments in GSWS classes, many of which are cross-listed with other subject areas, such as English and Sociology.

However, Lundeen said that because the new name makes the wide variety of courses offered by GSWS more explicit, “there will likely be more people interested in taking the courses.”

Calling the program Women’s Studies, she added, deterred a lot of men from taking courses. With the more inclusive name — as well as two new courses in Sexuality Studies that will be offered next spring — the program hopes to appeal to a variety of students.

“It’s very recent that we can even study these fields,” Kurz said, adding that when she first came to Penn as co-director of the program in 1988, “somebody told me that this women and gender stuff was just a fad.”

Now, however, it’s not “how it was 20 years ago, when Women’s Studies was seen as a soft major,” Lundeen said.

“It really gives you the skills for critical analysis and critical thinking,” said College junior and GSWS major Meg Hlousek, who plans to pursue a doctorate and teach gender and sexuality studies after college.

“Studying gender makes you really aware of the kinds of interactions you study in class and how they apply to the real world,” said College junior Melissa Elfont, who plans to study sociology with a focus on gender in graduate school.

“Many people who take GSWS are often looking to go into gender or family studies and are more geared toward an academic career,” said College junior Corinne Rich, the chair of the Lambda Alliance — Penn’s umbrella organization for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

However, the major “has a strong disciplinary grounding,” Lundeen said. It provides a “broad understanding of the nature of gender and social organizations.”

She added that many students use the major as “a career builder for anything from pre-med to law school to working in policy.”

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