Women’s and gender studies major to incorporate multiple departments

Women’s and gender studies has grown from a program to an official major. The major will offer classes taught by various interdisciplinary faculty, as no faculty have been hired specifically for women’s and gender studies. Classes range from sociology to English and philosophy, but will all share a common theme.  (Izzy Graziano/knights’ life editor)

Geneseo’s women’s and gender studies program has expanded to become a major this academic year. Previously, the only options for students were either doing a minor or concentration as part of the education program. 

“We’ve been working hard for a long time, and there’s a lot of excitement … every time I get to talk to a new student and tell them there’s a major, that excitement grows,” professor of music and English and Coordinator of the women’s and gender studies program Melanie Blood said. 

Blood started the process of turning the program into a major four years ago and is very happy the process is finally complete. 

“Everyone was extremely supportive on-campus going through Commitee on Undergraduate Curricula, the dean’s help, going through the Senate—everyone was really helpful, the slow part was submitting it to the state,” Blood said.  

One aspect unique to the program is that it is interdisciplinary. There are no faculty members who are solely hired to teach women’s and gender studies, although assistant professors of philosophy Heidi Savage and Amanda Roth were hired both for the program and to teach philosophy. Other classes that count toward the program are taught by professors from other disciplines. 

“I feel that I’ve learned so much and received such a different outlook on life. It’s given me more tools to be a better person … Learning about women in different places and not just here is so interesting to me,” English major senior Shannon Walsh, who also has a minor in women’s and gender studies, said. 

One professor who frequently teaches classes that count for electives for the program is professor of English Caroline Woidat. Woidat will teach one of the core classes for the major for the first time during the fall 2018 semester: Race, Class and Gender.

“Most of the classes I teach in literature do end up counting for the women’s and gender studies program,” Woidat said. “I’ve been contributing electives a lot, but I haven’t taught the required courses with that prefix until now.”    

Another professor who is very involved in the program is associate professor of English Alice Rutkowski. Rutkowski has been instrumental in the “gender” part of women’s and gender studies, having introduced the first transgender studies class. 

“I started teaching transgender studies because there wasn’t anything else like it at the college,” Rutkowski said in a phone interview. “It’s so important for talking about identity—it was really important in giving legitimacy to identities not academically acknowledged before.”  

Rutkowski teaches many of the core-required classes for the program, as well as many electives. One of her favorite classes to teach is on pornography. 

“What I found was that lot of students tended to be either anti-porn or on the other side the viewpoint was that it’s always liberation,” she said. “It seemed like there needed to be something in the middle. Students seemed really desperate for tools, because porn is something everyone watches, but no one has the critical tools to evaluate.” 

“What I’d like to do next is partner with one of the social science programs and start another joint line,” Blood said. “I’ve been really happy with the way the program has grown, but becoming popular means we need to grow it a little bit and we need to pay attention to how we’re reaching out to students earlier in their Geneseo careers.”