April 23, 2010
Photo by Colleen MacPherson
By Colleen MacPherson
“All growth requires risk,” said Marie Lovrod, a faculty member in the Department of Women’s and Gender Studies, but the upcoming move of the department’s program into the College of Arts and Science’s Interdisciplinary Centre for Culture and Creativity (ICCC) appears to be a risk with more up side than down.
For the past three years, there has been much discussion and careful consideration of the July 1 move that, according to the current department head, will open the door for the small program to do what it does best – interdisciplinary teaching and research. “We saw an opportunity in the ICCC,” said Joan Borsa. “For us, the idea of being a part of this new formulation of an interdisciplinary centre really appealed,” in part because women’s, gender and cultural studies is relevant is all disciplines.
“No one is ever just one identity or role,” added Lovrod, “so there isn’t any reason why a mathematician or an engineer or an environmentalist couldn’t view their work through an intersectional gender-based lens.”
Borsa, who will step down as department head July 1 when Lovrod becomes program co-ordinator, said women’s and gender studies (WGST) has had a long and successful history at the U of S. That history stretches back to 1985, when a group of scholars initially discussed WGST program options. The first undergraduate programs were taught in 1991, followed in 1996 by the formal establishment of the department.
Over the past few years, she said, “there has been a concerted effort within the Division of Humanities and Fine Arts to develop more interdisciplinary programs.” At the same time, the division has been examining “how smaller departments handle their administrative activities. If you look at WGST, the same questions have been asked, questions about not enough faculty and not enough resources to create opportunities for growth.” Since it was established, the department has operated with a core group of four faculty.
Many possible options were discussed, said Borsa, including locating the WGST undergrad program within another department or combining WGST with another department. “Our program has always been vital,” she said, but the department, which has always envisioned expanding into graduate programming, continually faces structural and resource issues, “and we couldn’t pretend those issues would resolve themselves.” The opportunity to move into the ICCC offers the chance to eliminate the small department barriers “while bringing in others whose teaching and research creates connections with WGST.”
“For us, the advantage of the move (to the ICCC) is that we get to pull on a larger pool of faculty to plan curricular innovations and think ahead to grad studies,” said Lovrod. “The colleges gets WGST faculty participating in the ICCC who have a lot of experience in interdisciplinary programs.”
In preparation for the move, the department members have done an overhaul on the program, eliminating eight courses that “are covered by offerings in other departments,” Borsa said. Another five courses now have revised titles to reflect updated contents, and eight new courses are in the works including masculinity studies, a feminist and queer cultural texts offering and several that will examine transnational feminisms. A graduate program will is set to begin in 2011.
Students will continue to be able to take a WGST course for either a humanities or a social science credit, and all program options will still be available except degrees with a specialization in another discipline.
Council has approved the move of the program into the ICCC but work continues on finding new academic homes for the WGST faculty within other departments. And ultimately, the department will cease to exist.
When asked if there was any sense of loss involved in the move, Borsa replied no, “but if you’d asked us in the first year of the discussions, you would have got a very different response. This has been a three-year soul searching exercise. We’ve asked questions, we’ve explored the options, and we’re realists. Like particular points in anyone’s life, one comes to a place where a new direction presents itself.”