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                           CHAPTER ONE


Students say:  "It changed my life." 
Critics say:   "It's propaganda." 
Students say:  "It expanded my mind in every direction." 
Critics say:   "It's unintellectual, touchy-feely stuff." 
Students say:  "It gave me a voice." 
Critics say:   "It silences everyone who disagrees."

These contradictory and intense responses to women's studies
courses have typified the debate about this fast-growing discipline
since the late 1960s, when women's studies courses began to emerge
spontaneously on campuses around the country in response to the
women's movement. The criticism about women's studies was rarely
generated by students who took classes but by people responding to
what they thought was going on in women's studies classes. Women's
studies programs, especially in their first decade, often were
established despite an atmosphere of hostility, suspicion, or
indifference to their enterprise. Women's studies faculty members,
on the other hand, were sustained both by their own intellectual
and political commitment to the discipline and by the intellectual
and personal transformations they consistently witnessed in their
students. "It gave me courage," explained one student. To
understand more about how that learning process occurs, we
undertook a project that has resulted in The Courage to Question:
Women's Studies and Student Learning.

If women's studies develops in students the courage to speak their
minds, can women's studies faculty members display a similar
courage in asking tough questions of our programs? Having done
that, do we have the courage to go public with what we find? Even
though in many respects women's studies has come into its own as it
moves into its third decade, the political context once again is
reminiscent of the acrimonious attacks of the early 1970s. 

The power and production of feminist scholarship as an intellectual
enterptise usually is ignored by conservative critics, who dismiss
and trivialize women's studies as "oppression studies" or "a
grievance industry." With inflammatory attacks against women's
studies, ethnic studies, and other academic efforts that advocate
a more diverse curriculum, small but influential organizations such
as the National Association of Scholars or the less significant
Accuracy in Acdemia have generated a frenzy of emotionally laden,
wildly distorted representations of women's studies.1 Such critics
suggest that by including women and gender analysis in the study of
human culture and history, women's studies - rather than the
curriculum that mad women invisible in the first place - is guilty
of threatening other people's academic freedom. In such a
politicized and polarized climate, equity and excellence have been
posited as diametrically opposed; critical thinking has been
labeled as "anti_american"; and the study of two-thirds of the
human race has been characterized as "special interests." In the
midst of such misinformed and dangerous polemics, The Courage to
Question seeks to bring light where there has been only heat,
clarity where there has been deliberate obfuscation of the facts.

The national assault on women's studies has a special urgency
precisely because women's studies has affected almost every
discipline, secured a foothold within academia, and continued to
attract students in ever-increasing numbers. The first women's
studies program was formally approved at San Diego State University
in 1970. When the National Women's Studies Association (NWSA) was
formed in 1977, there were already 276 programs. Ten years later,
the total topped 500; and in the most recent NWSA national survey
published in 1990, 621 women's studies programs were listed.2
Within those programs, 425 offer a minor, certificate, or area of
concentration; 235 offer a major. In the 1984 American Council on
Education survey, Campus Trends, Elaine El-Khawas noted that
women's studies courses could be found at 68.1 percent of
universities, 48.9 percent of four-year colleges, and 26.5 percent
of two-year colleges. At the graduate level the number of
institutions offering women's studies work has expanded rapidly
from 23 in 1986, to 55 in 1988, to 102 in 1990.

The increased institutionalization of women's studies has been
accelerated by the explosion in feminist scholarship. In 1984 alone
there were reputedly more than four thousand books published on
women. There are more than thirty journals in women's studies and
dozens of feminist presses, and most university presses publish so
many titles in women's studies that they have special sections in
their promotional materials. More than 170 professional
associations for academic disciplines have instituted a women's
caucus or women's division, thus guaranteeing a forum within
mainstream disciplinary conferences for new feminist scholarship. 

Women's studies also has been involved in hundreds of curriculum
transformation projects around the country since 1980, when the
first project at Wheaton College began. Wheaton's project has been
imitated and modified on many campuses, clustered in regional
approaches such as the Western States Project out of the Southwest
Institute on Research on Women, and adopted as a statewide strategy
as represented by the New Jersey Project funded through the New
Jersey Department of Education. Typically designed to incorporate
the new scholarship on women throughout the curriculum, though
often particularly in general-education courses, curriculum
transformation not only has brought the new scholarship to a far
broader student constituency but also engaged a wide range of
faculty members in the scholarship, pedagogy, and curriculum
development so central to women's studies. The most recent national
project, "Mainstreaming Minority Women's Studies," sponsored by the
National Council for Research on Women and funded by the Ford
Foundation, attests to ways that ethnic studies and women's studies
have begun to combine their powerful analyses about the social
construction of knowledge. The national call for academic
institutions to rethink their curriculum to reflect the knowledge
produced by a diverse human culture over time was represented most
recently in the title of the Association of American Colleges' 1992
national conference, "Recentering," and many of the curricular
innovations generated by AAC's project, "Engaging Cultural
Legacies," funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

In 1989, as executive director of the National Women's Studies
Association, I was planning an invitational conference, "Women's
Studies: The Third Decade," for women's studies directors to
celebrate the achievements of two decades of women's studies
programs and to determine the agenda for the 1990s. It was within
this context of celebration and attack that our project, "The
Courage to Question," was born. The first workshop funded by the
grant was attached to the "Third Decade" conference and underscored
the purpose of the grant: to assess student learning in women's
studies classes in order to make more informed decisions about
program development in the 1990s.

While women's studies was under attack, students were painting a
different portrait about their experiences in women's studies
classes. For two decades, women's studies faculty members knew
something was causing students to become intellectually and
personally engaged in ideas and issues raised in women's studies
courses. Certainly, women's studies set out to do something that
had never been done before. Although inspired by black studies
programs before them, women's studies stood out as an academic
anomaly by virtue of its focus on material about women and gender
that previously had been excluded from study, its explanatory
critique of the construction of knowledge and unequal arrangements
of power, and its determination to offer a pedagogy of student
empowerment commensurate with feminist theory. Most professors who
have taught women's studies could expound anecdotally for hours on
the students whose minds and lives were changed by women's
studies--students who felt personally and intellectually affirmed
in women's studies as they did nowhere else on campus.

However, we had no systematic explanations for these
transformations; no fuller, sustained explanations of exactly what
was happening or how. We had many studies on the transformation of
the curriculum both inside and outside of women's studies,
information about how faculty members shifted intellectual
paradigms, and some research about students' attitudinal changes.
But we had no national study that probed the learning process
itself, that turned to the students to hear in their own voices a
description of what was happening to them as thinkers, as
inquirers, as people. "The Courage to Question" sought to do just

We sought to do that for our own benefit in terms of improving our
programs. But we sought to do it for the benefit of a larger
national public as well. Our study comes in the wake of a number of
national reports elucidating crises in education and suggesting
avenues for reform. The University of Colorado chapter discusses
these reports in more detail. Some reports expressed concerns about
a fragmented curriculum without coherence; a faculty more concerned
with its research publications than its teaching, and a passive
student population, uninvolved in academic questions and reluctant
to embrace values. In women's studies, we saw a dramatically
different student profile. Women and gender as a centralizing
concept for student inquiry provided overall coherence for
students, whatever their discipline; within women's studies itself,
teaching was as central to our mission as our research. Students we
observed in our classes were passionately engaged in the subject
matter, spurred to voice by the dynamics of feminist pedagogy. Our
two decades of experience suggested that women's studies offers
students a dynamic, interactive environment that encourages
critical thinking, empowers students as learners, enriches their
sense of civilization's heritage, connects their knowledge from
other courses, and challenges them to become actively engaged in
shaping their world. We hope our three-year research project, then,
will be an important contribution to the conversation as we in
higher education jointly seek solutions for crises on our campuses
and in our classrooms.

In addition to ways our research might enhance our understanding of
how to improve the quality of undergraduate learning as a whole, we
also hoped the project would benefit women's studies itself. Many
realized we needed a vehicle that would allow us to pause and
reflect about what we had created over the span of two decades.
Even though women's studies programs increased dramatically over
that period, growth was uneven, and the majority of programs were
underfunded and understaffed.3 It was all some faculties could do
simply to maintain their programs. Others worked overloads to
develop new courses, plan cocurricular activities, and increase
institutional support. Many complained of having too little control
over which courses were offered, when, and by whom. Few had time to
take stock either of where we were conceptually and pedagogically
or where we needed to go next. A grant from the U.S. Department of
Education's Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education
(FIPSE), along with some important internal institutional support
given to several of the programs in our project, provided us with
that much needed opportunity.

Gerda Lerner, pioneer feminist historian, has said that assessing
the impact of feminist scholarship on the way we view the world
would be "like trying to describe the Renaissance--ten years after
it began." While it may be premature to attempt to measure the
transformative effect of feminist scholarship, it is appropriate
and timely to begin to listen attentively to what students tell us
about how women's studies is affecting what and how they learn.

                    THE DESIGN OF THE GRANT 

To ensure a textured sample, ten women's studies programs
representing a wide variety of institutions were invited to
participate in "The Courage to Question." They included both public
and private; large and small; urban, suburban, and rural;
coeducational and single sex; and research universities and liberal
arts colleges spread geographically from one coast to the other.
The sites also were selected so the project as a whole represented
a diverse student population that included variables such as sex,
race, ethnic background, class, and age. Two persons from each
program were to be part of each institutional team; most typically
they were the women's studies director and a women's studies
faculty member. Everyone was expected to consult widely and
regularly with the students and faculty at their home institutions.
The ten women's studies programs invited to participate included: 

O University of Colorado 
O Oberlin College 
O University of California-Los Angeles 
O Wellesley College 
O University of Wisconsin 
O City University of New York-Hunter College 
O Bennett College 
O University of Missouri-Columbia 
O Old Dominion University 
O Lewis and Clark College

Of the ten, nine referred to their programs as "women's studies."
The tenth, Lewis and Clark, calls its program "gender studies." In
gathering national data for NWSA's 1990 women's studies directory,
a similar ratio of 9:1 held; the overwhelming number continue to
name their programs "women's studies." Lewis and Clark makes a
strong case for the institutional appropriateness of its linguistic
choice. Since its founding in the nineteenth century, Lewis and
Clark always has been committed to a single curriculum for men and
women; in this latter part of the twentieth century, the gender
studies faculty members specifically are aiming to involve male as
well as female students in the program. At the same time, Lewis and
Clark makes it clear that feminist inquiry and theory are at the
center of their program. Its title thus represents a strategy, a
curricular theoretical framework, and historical continuity with
their institution.

To provide the necessary assessment expertise, a national
assessment team was created to work closely with the women's
studies programs and function as an advisory board to the project
director. The five members of the National Assessment Team and the
external evaluator for the project are nationally and in some cases
internationally recognized experts in assessment; they also have a
familiarity with feminist scholarship and women's studies. Their
range of expertise was deliberately diverse, both in terms of their
methodologies and their focus. Some were most facile with
quantitative analysis, others with qualitative. Collectively they
had done research in feminist pedagogy, curriculum transformation,
faculty development, student development, and institutional
evaluations. Their task was to give the sites an overall
perspective on the assessment movement, train the women's studies
faculty in a variety of assessment methods, assist in developing
assessment plans for each institution, and make site visits as
needed. Each member was assigned a program, designated its
principal source of expertise on assessment, and evaluated a
preliminary report made at the end of the second year.

In the first year of the grant, the programs were asked to define
the learning goals of their respective women's studies programs in
four key areas: knowledge base, learning skills, feminist pedagogy,
and personal growth. By mid-year, after several months of
campus-based consultations with faculty members and students, each
program submitted its program goals; these became the basis for the
questions most campuses eventually posed about student learning in
women's studies at their campus. Having established their program's
learning goals, faculty members were introduced to the various
assessment methods, established at least three focused areas of
inquiry, and created by the end of the first year what we came to
call "An Institutional Research Design Assessment Plan."

The second year's work was campus-focused. Each program began to
create specific questions for its surveys and assessment
instruments, gather data, and write a preliminary report of
findings by the year's end. A project workshop at the end of the
year gave participants the opportunity to read one another's
reports, consider modifications, and exchange information about
programmatic changes that were taking place on their campuses as a
result of their discoveries.

During the third year, some programs collected additional
information and analyzed data, and each site revised its
preliminary report to serve as a case study for The Courage to
Question: Women's Studies and Student Learning the most
comprehensive of three publications evolving from the FIPSE grant.
The Courage to Question contains the heart of the research
discoveries about how and what students learn in women's studies
courses. A synopsis of key findings about student learning can be
found in the Executive Summary of The Courage to Question, which is
funded by the Association of American Colleges and designed to make
the information easily accessible to a wider population.

Because how we went about assessing student learning became almost
as revealing a process as what we actually discovered, we have
produced a third publication from the FIPSE grant, Students at the
Center: Feminist Assessment. As most people agree, methodology and
content cannot be severed neatly from one another. The Courage to
Question chapters, then, describe assessment designs and
methodologies and include the most relevant questionnaires at the
end of each chapter. Foregrounded in The Courage to Question,
however, are the results. Students at the Center foregrounds
assessment: what we came to call "feminist principles of
assessment"; innovative assessment designs; how our project fits
into the spectrum of assessment approaches nationally; and
practical advice about how to do a productive assessment project on
a campus. Students at the Center contains a more expansive sample
of questionnaires, scoring sheets, and interview questions. It also
includes a directory of consultants and a selected bibliography on
assessment. We hope Students at the Center will serve as a catalyst
for assessment projects in women's studies but also in many other
disciplines as well.

                       QUESTIONS GENERATED

                     ABOUT STUDENT LEARNING 

Over time, the project created a series of institutionally specific
questions around which each women's studies program designed its
assessment plan. To prepare, each participant in the initial grant
workshop generated a series of what we called "passionate
questions" about women's studies and student learning.4 Our lists
were very long. At that point, we did not seek to create a common
set of questions or reduce the diverse voices and concerns.
Participants then went back to their individual campuses, where
they initiated a series of extended conversations and consultations
with faculty members and students. On the basis of those extended
dialogues, we met again as a group midway through the first year
and created a set of eight key questions that we agreed all of our
programs had in common.

The eight questions covered developmental, disciplinary, and
pedagogical issues. Does women's studies cultivate personal
empowerment and social responsibility? How successfully does
women's studies support students as they express their feminism on
campus? Is the authority of experience legitimized and are students
urged to comprehend the experience of others? Does women's studies
foster connected learning (see page 77) ? Are students introduced
to the constructed and situated character of disciplinary
knowledge? Are students encouraged to reconstruct knowledge from
multidisciplinary and cross-cultural perspectives? How do programs
navigate tensions between creating safe but challenging classroom
space? Finally, how do we shift and make explicit the power
relations both in the classroom and the institution? All these
questions were understood to be posed within the larger framework
in which gender, race, class, sexuality, and other categories of
analytic differences intersect.

These eight questions were not created as controlling questions for
the project, nor were participants compelled to include them in
their particular institutional assessment design. Nonetheless,
these questions acted as a common background for the project
against which other questions were posed. They also led some
campuses to explore issues in common with other programs; as a
result, we have a collection of case studies that are both
particular and general, unique and widely applicable.

                   CONTEXTS FOR CASE STUDIES 

The more we met as a national group, the clearer it became that
institutional context was very important. Feminist theory argues
persuasively that positionality and particularity influence what we
know. Our exchanges bore that out. As a group, we were also wary of
aggregate statistics and generalizations that too often erase
significant insights or particular groups of people. We were
convinced that universalizing students would distort their distinct
realities and therefore be less useful in efforts to improve
undergraduate education. We decided not only to write a series of
case studies, therefore, but to offer an institutional and student
profile in each report so readers would have a more accurate
context for understanding the research results. Almost every report
begins, then, by orienting the reader to a specific academic
institution and student population. The concluding chapter of The
Courage to Question does offer a national picture of student
learning but one that is rooted firmly in the particular student
experiences generated in the research findings of participating

The University of Colorado set its assessment project in the larger
social context of the decade-long educational reform movement. The
Colorado program then went directly to students with the questions:
"From your standpoint, what do we in women's studies actually do?
What actually happens to you as a learner in women's studies
courses? What do you learn and how do you learn it?" The students
articulated from their own experiences three components of women's
studies courses--course content, course structure, and classroom
dynamics--which Colorado explored in more depth for the next two
years. Primarily through an ethnographic methodology, Colorado's
study compares women's studies and non-women's studies courses to
define what accounts for the active engagement and sense of
empowerment and difference students claimed typified their learning
experiences in women's studies. By examining what they refer to as
personalized learning and the influence of student culture on that
learning, they suggest future areas of research.

By contrast, Lewis and Clark linked its questions directly to
specific program goals for its Gender Studies Program. Wanting to
pose some questions about the construction of gender studies as a
discipline, the project coordinators asked, "How effectively do our
students learn and apply gender analysis?" In answering this
question, they sought to define a knowledge base or what they
referred to as "knowledge plots" in women's studies, investigating
whether there might be some developmental logic to leaming one plot
before another. They also compared gender studies and non-gender
studies classes and sought to explore some of the distinctions
between courses where gender is the central focus of inquiry and
others where gender balancing is considered when a course is
constructed but is not necessarily foregrounded. The second
question had to do with gender studies' impact in the classroom and
on the institutional climate as a whole. Finally, coordinators
asked of both alumnae/a and current students, "What impact, if any,
has gender studies had on your personal growth?"

As at Lewis and Clark, the participants at Old Dominion University
(ODU) were interested in trying to define some key concepts in
women's studies and asked, "How well do students leam the knowledge
base of women's studies?" They followed up questions about the
knowledge base with questions about learning skills: "Do students
become connected knowers, individuals who use self-knowledge and
empathy to learn?" Paralleling that concem about how students leam
as opposed to what students learn, ODU participants also asked, "Do
students acquire the ability to examine and eval- uate assumptions
underlying culturally accepted fact and theory?" Because ODU
students were insistent that the most defining experience for them
as learners was related to finding and using their voice, a third
question became part of ODU's assessment study: "Was your voice
heard and respected in the classroom?" In examining how a sense of
community, or what ODU called "we-ness," affected students'
personal growth, they investigated whether women's studies affected
friendship pattems in and out of class. Adding a fifth category to
the grant's original four about knowledge base, critical skills,
pedagogy, and personal growth, ODU asked a question that reminded
us that faculty members were learners, too. They asked, "How did
women's studies affect the teaching and scholarly lives of women
faculty members associated with the program?"

Unlike program participants at the coeducational institutions,
those at Wellesley College wanted to ask what makes women's studies
at a women's liberal arts college different. To answer that
question as they compared women's studies and non-women's studies
courses throughout their study, they focused on three questions.
The first involved students' growth: "Did the courses change or
affect students' personal lives, their intellectual lives, and
their political beliefs?" Their second question was pedagogical and
went directly to the most frequently repeated accusation by those
unsympathetic with women's studies: "Did students feel pressure to
give politically correct answers and identify only with feminist
ideas? If so, where was the pressure coming from?" Finally, their
third question, which led to some fascinating insights about the
debate generated by women's studies courses: "Was the pedagogy
different? If so, how?"

Reflecting both the political commitment of its women's studies
program and the richly diverse student population, project leaders
at Hunter College wanted to know if the women's studies program
fostered an awareness of multiculturalism and, if so, where one
might begin to learn how to do that. What appears at first glance
to be a relatively simple second question-- "Does women's studies
foster critical thinking?"--became more complex as Hunter's project
participants suggested that to think critically students first
needed to have confidence and a sense of self through which to
voice their critical judgments. Echoing a concern of project
participants at Old Dominion about connected learning, Hunter's
participants' third question was, "Do students learn how to
integrate knowledge they acquire in women's studies ?"

Project representatives at Oberlin College wanted to explore
whether students in their program were gaining a sense of the
multiplicity of women's lives understood to be complicated by such
markers as class, race, and sexuality. They explored that question
by asking, "Does student learning entail self-empowerment?" This
allowed them to take a closer look at the process through which
students came to an understanding of the history of their own group
by understanding the histories of other groups. Empowerment of the
individual was defined in Oberlin's women's studies program goals,
as it was in the other six programs, as inseparable from a sense of
social responsibility to others. Their second question was
pedagogical: "To what extent does collaborative learning occur, and
how effective is it?" Threading the notion of difference throughout
their three questions, the Oberlin participants wanted to gain more
information about how collaborative learning becomes a vehicle for
helping students mediate differences as they work with diverse
groups in their classes. Finally, the Oberlin participants asked
students directly whether specific women's studies courses
"fostered a relational understanding of race, ethnicity, class,
gender, and sexuality."

Sharing similar concerns about personal transformations, pedagogy,
and difference, participants from the University of
Missouri-Columbia wanted to find out what kinds of personal
transformations occur in students who take women's studies courses.
Because a commitment to teaching united women's studies faculty
members in their program, the Missouri survey also asked, "Do
students think women's studies courses are taught differently than
other courses and if so, how?" Their third question echoed those of
Hunter and Oberlin Colleges: "Do students in women's studies gain
a new understanding about the connection between gender, race,
class, and sexual preference?"

While there was, then, no externally imposed uniformity in the
questions each campus examined, these seven sites do speak back and
forth to one another when their case studies are read as a group.
The concluding chapter of The Courage to Question draws together
some of the cumulative findings from the seven discrete reports and
reflects upon the configurations and potential national
implications that emerge when the seven are seen in relation to one



Although ten institutions originally had been invited to
participate, by the third year there were seven programs remaining
with the project. After the initial grant workshop in October 1990,
the University of Wisconsin withdrew because the project
participants felt the commitment of time and staff outweighed other
pressing priorities. There also had been a change in personnel
within their program. While a team from Bennett College
participated in part of the October workshop, team members were
unable to attend the winter workshop or complete any of the initial
descriptions of women's studies program goals. By the end of the
academic year, both project representatives had left Bennett and no
one was designated to replace them. The team from the University of
California-Los Angeles had been active throughout the first year
and completed the description of program goals and established
questions to pose for the second year's research. Just before the
second year began, however, the program's research assistant, who
had taken responsibility for producing documents for the FIPSE
project, left the university; UCLA consequently withdrew from the

While the three programs had institutionally specific reasons
guiding their choices, their reasons for withdrawing reveal
something about the challenges of administering women's studies
programs nationally. The institutional culture at larger research
universities does not tend to value assessment research as highly
as other kinds of academic research projects. Such institutions
also give fewer rewards for the kind of curricular, programmatic,
and attention to teaching so important to women's studies programs
and so central to this specific FIPSE grant. Although research
universities often have access to graduate student research
assistants to help in such instances, those students usually are
attached to a project for only a year at a time. By contrast, for
smaller institutions like Bennett, the loss of one or two key
women's studies faculty members can have a significant impact on a

The kind of institutional support for the participating programs
varied almost as widely as it does among women's studies programs
nationally. Some received internal grants for faculty development
workshops, others had research assistants at the graduate or
undergraduate level attached to the project, and still others were
allocated some institutional money for photocopying, typing, and
postage; none were given release time, and some programs stayed
with the grant by virtue of their own energy, commitment, and
overtime investment, again reflecting the national profile of many
women's studies programs.

Not enough time, not enough staff, and not enough money were
persistent comments from most program participants. While they were
excited about the project, they wondered how they were going to fit
it in with their other women's studies responsibilities. Students
at the Center explores in more detail how we sought to resolve some
of these dilemmas. With long experience administering programs
without sufficient support, the women's studies faculty members and
administrators in the project drew on that history to create
assessment instruments that were embedded in what they already do;
weave data analysis into student research projects; create methods
that could also have a life beyond the grant such as alumnae/a
questionnaires and interviews; and make use of the project to
further women's studies programmatic goals. Still, their commitment
to the project meant some people spent midwinter vacations writing
drafts of their reports or summers analyzing data rather than
finishing a book or an article. It is just that sort of dedication
that is most responsible for the creation, stability, and growth of
women's studies programs nationally, but it is just that sort of
overload that threatens to exhaust faculty members unnecessarily
and impose constraints on the institutional impact of the program.

To create an academic program dependent on such volunteer efforts
by its faculty members is like creating a hospital emergency room
staffed with doctors and nurses who already have spent a full day
on the ward and in the operating room. It is imperative that
institutions find ways to support women's studies programs, invest
in improving teaching and curriculum, and value the kind of
research that helps all of us understand how students learn. 14

One Hunter College student explained, "[women's studies courses]
open with questions... that's really the biggest difference... you
question all the time, all the time"

These institutional tensions are not unique to women's studies, but
they characterize the experience of most women's studies faculty.
To solve the problems of understaffing and underfunding in the
1990s--when most institutions will have to do the same or more with
fewer resources--will be a challenge indeed. Institutions need to
be sure that in making the difficult choices about allocating
scarcer resources that those groups who historically have not been
invited to the table will not find themselves disproportionately
scrambling against each other for the leftovers. It is a decade in
which we will have to rely on the imagination and energy of the
entire academic community and place student learning at the center
of our common commitments. Women's studies has much to contribute
to this discussion, as The Courage to Question testifies.

We expect our research to be a watershed for women's studies and
dispel many misconceptions now circulating in the highly
politicized attack on educational reform movements, especially
those that call for diversity and multiculturalism in the
curriculum. While critics of women's studies characterize the field
as imposing a rigid, monolithic ideology on its students, the
research in our three-year study presents a dramatically different
picture. Capturing the complexity of student learning, one
Wellesley student describes women's studies as generating "learning
that does more than fill your brain. It fills your body, it fills
your heart, [and] it makes you grow." According to our research,
instead of reducing intellectual and political options, women's
studies expands them. In differentiating between women's studies
and non-women's studies courses, one Hunter College student
explained, women's studies courses "open with questions...that's
really the biggest question all the time, all the

In that spirit of questioning, we offer some of what we discovered
about student learning through our FIPSE project. We hope it begins
a fruitful dialogue between a broad community of educators and
students committed to generatmg both the yearning and the courage
to question.

1. For an overview of the more general hostility to women and the
women's movement, see Susan Faludi's Backlash (New York: Crown
Puhlishers, 1991), especially chapter 11, "The Backlash Brain Trust
From Necons to Neofems." For examples of specific attacks on
women's studies, see reports of the National Association of
scholars' (NAS) 1988 conference as reported in the New York Times,
November 15, 1988, A22, and in The Nation, December 12, 1988, 644;
see also a full page ad from the NAS in The Chronicle of Higher
Education, November 8. 1989. A23, or an article on pages 8-10 in
the July 20, 1990, issue of Washingron, D.C.'s City Paper, on the
Accuracy in Academia conference. Most recently, these efforts to
discredit women's studies and other educational reform efforts have
been collapsed into one catch-all and misleading phrase, "political
2. NWSA Directory of Women's Studies Programs, Women's Centers, and
Women's Research Centers (College Park, Md.: NWSA, 1990), ii.
Subsequent statistics on the number of majors and minors as well as
the graduate programs in women's studies are taken from pages
ii-iii in that same volume. 
3. See the report and recommendations about the women's studies
major in Reports From the Fields (Washington, D.C. Association of
American Colleges, 1990), 207-24. 4. Our language was inspired by
Jill Mattuck Tarule, a member of the National Assessment Team and
one of the authors of Women's Ways of Knowing (New York: Basic
Books, 1986). In Women's Ways, they refer to "passionate knowing"
as "a way of weaving. . .passions and intellectual life into some
recognizable whole" (p. 141 ).