Though the program has faced challenges, it continues to grow. As the Women's Studies Program prepares to celebrate its 25th anniversary today, students and faculty will commemorate a program which has fought for acceptance while struggling to cope with changing times. The battle for acceptance has been a difficult one, but one that many Women's Studies faculty say has largely been won. Faculty and organizers cite the popularity of the program as an example. Currently, the program offers more than 50 courses a year with a total enrollment of 1,600. That figure, though, does not make note of the fact that many Women's Studies majors take more than one of the program's classes per semesters, likely reducing the total number of individual students in the program. "The [Women's Studies] Program is just another indicator of how timely and important women's studies are," Women's Studies Program Co-Director Demie Kurz said. And according to many professors and administrators, the future looks even brighter. "I think personally, there will be for a long time a place for Women's Studies along with Gender Studies," said the program's Acting Director Ann Matter, a Religious Studies Professor. Several Women's Studies majors, meanwhile, said they find the program to be of significant academic value. "We learn critical thinking, and I think those skills are second to none in the job markets and in one's personal life," said College senior Melissa Holsinger. But the program is not without its share of controversy. Some women's studies majors, for example, say they are still forced to defend their course of study. "People generally raise their eyebrows, not in a negative way, just in surprise," Holsinger said, adding that a friend once sarcastically remarked, "'Oh you're a Women's Studies major? Would you like fries with that?'" Other students say they are reluctant to take the classes because they believe they would feature an overly feminist agenda. "I think it would be a little biased," said David Franklin Smith, a Wharton graduate student. "People in the class would want to have that [feminist] bias." Engineering senior Wade Bennett added that a Women's Studies class "would probably be pretty feminist. It would probably be a great place to meet girls." The program has also had to adapt to changing interests and changing times. One major change in the program has been a shift to an examination of issues facing men, as well as Third World cultures. According to History Professor Kathleen Brown, who is currently teaching a course cross-listed with the Women's Studies Program, such a transformation was a matter of course. "I think one reason is that if you treat women as if they're the only ones with gender, you kind of lost the story, so people have realized that men have gender too," she said. Kurz stressed that while the program's name hasn't changed, the scope of its study has. "Gender issues are what is studied now? for the time being, the name of our program is Women's Studies, but it is the study of gender," she said. But while the program may still have more work to do before it gains the acceptance of the entire Penn community, program organizers say it has come along way since students first fought to establish a Women's Studies program a quarter of a century ago. In the spring of 1972, two undergraduate members of Women for Equal Opportunity at the University of Pennsylvania, an early campus feminist group, sent a proposal to then-President Martin Meyerson asking for the creation of a Department of Female Studies. Meyerson responded to the proposal by urging the petitioners to undertake survey of Women's Studies work being done elsewhere in the country. A subgroup of WEOUP, known as the Penn Women's Studies Planners, wrote the report Meyerson had requested that summer. The report, now hailed as a classic by Women's Studies scholars across the country, claimed that under traditional curricula, women were not being taught necessary information about other women. Such a deficiency deterred women from seeking advanced training in the work place, the report noted. Then, after a rash of campus rapes, WEOUP staged a sit-in at College Hall in April 1973 to protest the University's inaction. Although the creation of a Women's Studies program wasn't included in their demands, it ultimately was a direct outgrowth of the protests. According to Executive Director of Women's Law Project Carol Tracy, "It wasn't a direct demand, but it was an outcome to be sure." Shortly thereafter, PWSP organized a dozen undergraduate seminars through the College of Thematic Studies focusing on the study of women. "It was a revelation, because we had never really talked about this stuff," said History Professor Drew Faust, who sat in on the first women's history seminar. Later that fall, PWSP convinced the College for Women to set up a Women's Studies Governing board and to fund two full-time positions devoted entirely to Women's Studies. That same year, PWSP and the Penn administration elected Elsa Greene as the program's first director. During her tenure, Greene created new courses and enabled undergraduates to earn a degree in the field. By 1977, Women's Studies had over 40 distinct courses as part of the program. Despite these advances, it took time for the established academic community in the U.S. to take Women's Studies seriously. "Scholarly fields had their established ways of looking at things? that tends to happen when new information comes into a field.? Some embraced it, and some rejected it," Kurz said. In 1976, the Women's Studies program received a year-long grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. This grant allowed the program to design interdisciplinary undergraduate concentrations linking the study of women in the humanities with preparation for non-academic careers in medicine, law, communications and government. This grant also funded workshops for faculty, graduate students and community members. In addition, the money allowed for the creation of an experimental one-semester visiting professorship in Women's Studies. During this period, the Women's Studies Program sought to reach out into the surrounding community. In conjunction with the College of General Studies and the Graduate School of Education, a summer institute for high school teachers was founded. The institute helped the teachers to present the latest Women's Studies material to their students. By the close of the 1970s, the Women's Studies Program had an established place in the University. The next decade brought several significant changes to the structure, scope and mission of the Women's Studies Program. The rapid growth of the program led to a split in two distinct areas, curriculum and research. It was then decided that the director of the program would focus on research, while the associate director would concentrate on curricular issues. As a result, the Alice Paul Research Center was established in 1984 to encourage scholarship on how society affects the lives of men and women. During the 1983-1984 academic year, the Individualized Major committees decided that the Women's Studies Program could supervise its own majors. Although the program has changed over time, many said its importance has not diminished. "I feel that we should keep it around. It's hard to argue with success," Brown said.Comments powered by Disqus
Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The Daily Pennsylvanian.