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                          CHAPTER FOUR

                    OLD DOMINION UNIVERSITY 
                       MAKING CONNECTIONS 


Old Dominion University examines four areas for the assessment of
program goals--knowledge base, critical skills, feminist pedagogy,
and personal growth--asking the following questions: What are the
key concepts in women's studies? Are learning skills developed in
women's studies any different from learning skills developed in
other disciplines? Are students' voices heard and respected in the
classroom? Is personal growth different for women's studies
students? Finally, a fifth area of assessment was established: How
has participating in women's studies influenced faculty members?

Old Dominion University is a state-supported institution with
seventeen thousand students in Norfolk, Virginia, the site of the
nation's largest naval base and a bustling port. These two factors
assure that many local residents, in fact, may have spent part of
their lives in other locations. The university is largely
nonresidential, with an undergraduate student body whose average
age is twenty-three. A high proportion of students hold part- or
full-time jobs while going to the university; 17 percent of
undergraduates attend ODU part time. Typically, 30 to 40 percent of
the students in the introductory women's studies course are married
and/or have children. All these factors mitigate against student
involvement in campus activities and intensify the responsibility
of courses to embody the institution's educational mission.

In women's studies specifically, student engagement with or
attachment to the program has ebbed and flowed over the years,
depending largely upon fortuitous combinations of students. It is
always a struggle to make incoming students aware of a program that
exists only at the 300- and 400-level in time for them to plan to
become women's studies minors. At the time of this assessment, and
perhaps aided by it, student involvement in women's studies was
once again on the rise, with about thirty-five students enrolled as
minors. Some of the same centrifugal forces exist for faculty
members involved in the Women's Studies Program. They are spread
among nine or ten departments or programs in four of ODU's
colleges. Because there are no institutional incentives or rewards,
those who serve on the Women's Studies Advisory Council (WSAC) do
so purely out of interest and feminist solidarity.

We decided to participate in "The Courage to Question" for two
basic reasons. Since we had a loosely structured minor, we wanted
first to find out just what we were teaching our students and what
they were learning. Second, we wanted our participation in the
assessment project to create stronger connections among the WSAC.

Founded in 1977, with its first director appointed in 1978, Old
Dominion University's Women's Studies Program is well established.
The administration of the College of Arts and Letters, where the
program is located, firmly supports women's studies; in fact, the
college's contribution to the university emphasis on urban issues
is interpreted to mean a focus on gender and ethnicity. Many
women's studies and women's studies cross-listed courses fill
university-wide, upper-division general-education requirements.

Nonetheless, the resources put into the program are modest: the
director is still its only permanent faculty member. In recent
years, however, the provost of the university and the deans of the
relevant colleges have contributed funds to permit release time for
a visiting half-time faculty person lent, on a rotating basis, from
other departments in the university. The director, this annual
joint appointee, and an occasional adjunct instructor teach the two
core women's studies courses. Instructors usually are lent to the
program from the English department to cover two other popular
women's studies courses. The remainder of the twelve to fifteen
courses that we offer each semester are cross-listed from other
departments--mostly within the College of Arts and Letters--where
the majority of feminist scholars on campus is located. In addition
to the one women's studies required course, students have a choice
of about thirty other courses to apply to a fifteen-credit
(five-course) women's studies minor. While this wide selection
bespeaks a strong interest in feminist scholarship, especially
among arts and letters faculty members, it does highlight the
director's lack of formal control over the content of the courses
from other departments. It also contributes to a smorgasbord
education in women's studies, a situation we will rectify as we
plan for a baccalaureate degree in women's studies.

                         SETTING GOALS 

From the beginning, assessment of the Women's Studies Program at
ODU was a collaborative and hands-on learning project. Those
women's studies faculty members and students willing and able to
participate, numbering about twenty-five over the course of the
project, were involved at all levels: deciding whether or not to
engage in assessment, setting goals, defining goals, developing
assessment tools, using those tools (administering questionnaires
and tests, conducting interviews), and interpreting results of data
collected. Only this final report can be said to be the work of a
few rather than many. While inclusiveness can be cumbersome, its
virtues are the richness of diverse opinions and perspectives and
the commitment of the participants.

Having decided to assess the Women's Studies Program, we faced the
initial question of what to assess. "The Courage to Question" grant
suggested four areas: knowledge base, learning skills, feminist
pedagogy, and personal growth, with the proviso that we could
delete, add, modify, or substitute according to our institutional
and programmatic needs. Although we used these four as a framework
for establishing specific assessment program goals, we established
a fifth area to assess: women's studies impact on women's studies
faculty members. This target acknowledges the reflexive nature of
teaching women's studies--or any academic discipline. The
assumptions, methods of inquiry, and styles of discourse of a
discipline, as well as the social relation- ships established
around a common purpose, affect faculty members, their teaching,
and, consequently, student learning.

With five areas to assess we established five subcommittees to
develop specific objectives for each area. The meetings of these
subcommittees result- ed in lively conversation and debate.
Critical questions were raised. Is there a canon in women's
studies? "No, let there not be!" most of us said, but we did agree
that there is a knowledge base. Are or should learning skills
developed in women's studies be any different from learning skills
developed in other disciplines? We concluded that even though
making connections be- tween personal experience and academic
knowledge is to be expected in most disciplines, this skill has a
special significance in women's studies. What is feminist pedagogy
anyway? We are still investigating this question but have gained
some valuable insights. Is personal growth different for women's
studies students? We decided to look particularly at students'
friendships. Finally, how has participating in women's studies
influenced us as faculty members?


We were determined that our goals and objectives not be
method-driven. Whenever anyone said, "But how will you measure
that?" someone always answered, "We don't need to worry about that
yet." Eventually, of course, we did have to choose methods to
measure our objectives. 

We were guided by the National Assessment Team to use data that we
already collected (journals, papers, finals) and measures that can
be used for multiple purposes (interviews, questionnaires). We
found, too, that others had developed measures that we could use.
Thus, the questionnaire sent to ODU graduates who minored in
women's studies and the exit interviews with seniors graduating
with a minor were adapted from an alumnae questionnaire used by
Wellesley College. For some objectives, we developed our own
instruments. Although it was tempting to limit our research
subjects to the manageable number of women's studies minors, we
decided ultimately to use some instruments that would enable us to
learn something about all students in women's studies, including
many who were minors. The objectives for each area and the methods
used to measure them are reviewed in the next

                         KNOWLEDGE BASE 

To define our objectives for the first area, knowledge base, we
asked instructors of women's studies or cross-listed courses to
identify five key concepts that they attempted to convey to
students. These were summarized as: the systematic, interlocking
oppression of women; women's varied relations to patriarchy; the
social construction of gender; the social construction of
knowledge; and the redefining and reconceptualizing of women's
power and empowerment. To ascertain change in knowledge, each
instructor was asked to develop and administer a short, ungraded
test at the beginning of the semester (pre-test) and then give the
same test at the end of the semester (post-test). Instructors then
compared answers and prepared a report describing ways in which
student knowledge had and had not changed. The tests, used in
fifteen classes representing nine different courses over two
semesters, were given to 630 students for the pre-tests and 525
students for the post- tests. Thirty-six of these students
identified themselves as women's studies minors. With the exception
of the short answer test given in four sections of one course, the
tests were multiple choice in nature. The courses were: WMST 301
Women in a Changing World (offered twice), WMST 460 Feminist
Thought, WMST 495 Gender and Ethics (offered twice), PSYCH 323
Psychology of Women (offered twice), CRJS 325 Women and Crime, ENGL
463 Women Writers (offered four times), ENGL 477 Language, Gender
and Power, HIST 495 Women in Latin American History, HIST 495 Women
and Work in American History.

Many of our conclusions from these tests about student knowledge
are based on the entire class. However, "Women in a Changing
World," "Feminist Thought," "Women and Work in American History,"
and "Women Writers" had sufficient numbers of women's studies
minors to enable us to make meaningful generalizations about the
knowledge base of minors as opposed to non-minors in those classes.

While these tests were the most efficient way to take a reading of
students' awareness of some key points for each course, they were
not a refined instrument for ascertaining what students understood.
It was not always easy to distinguish between wrong answers based
on students' lack of knowledge and those that were a function of
imprecise or confusing questions. Sometimes wrong answers were a
product of a little knowledge, rather than of no knowledge, but it
was difficult to tell from the results exactly where the gap lay in
transmission. For instance, in "Psychology of Women," on the basis
of the first semester's post-tests, the instructor attempted
(throughout the following semester) to correct a widely held
misconception; nonetheless, the test results were virtually the
same the second semester.

Much more time-consuming, but more useful, was the analysis of
final exams for a few courses. In retrospect, this may have been
the single most valuable instrument for knowledge-base objectives.
Perhaps we would have benefitted from having each instructor design
one compulsory exam question for the final exam that would test
students' mastery of one key concept. The portfolio of papers from
women's studies courses submitted by graduating minors was another
good means of gauging student comprehension of important ideas.

Finally, graduating minors (twelve) and alumnae (fifteen) were
asked in an interview or by questionnaire to identify the three
most important concepts that they had learned in women's studies
courses (see pages 107-108). The open-ended nature of this request
yielded somewhat general answers that were only moderately
instructive. Furthermore, our alumna questionnaire called for a
considerable investment of time and thought on the part of the
respondent. Despite our suggestion that alumnae answer as little or
as much of it as they wished, we probably would have gotten a
better return with a shorter questionnaire. We turned to our
students and asked them what was most critical about how they are
taught.... Without hesitation or qualification they said having
their voices heard and respected

                        LEARNING SKILLS 

Our objectives for the learning skills area were to assess
connected learning as well as students' ability to examine the
assumptions underlying culturally accepted work, studies, and
literatures; and their ability to redefine and de- fend questions,
problems, and issues. We used course papers and exams and students'
submissions to the annual Women's Studies Student Essay Contest.

                       FEMINIST PEDAGOGY 

To decide on objectives for assessment for feminist pedagogy, we
turned to our students and asked them what was most critical about
how they are taught. Without hesitation or qualifications they said
having their voices heard and respected. We designed a
questionnaire to ask simply, "Was your voice (that is, your
questions, concerns, and opinions) heard and respected in this
class?" and distributed it to students in women's studies and
cross-list- ed courses. We also asked questions concerning "voice"
in the minors' exit interviews and the alumnae questionnaires.

                        PERSONAL GROWTH 

Our objective was to measure the sense of "we-ness" students feel
in the women's studies classroom. We designed a questionnaire
asking students to estimate the number of female and male
acquaintances, friends, and close friends they had in their
classes--both women's studies and non-women's studies (see page
106). The questionnaire was administered at the beginning and the
end of the semester, and changes in friendships over time were
analyzed. Questions also were asked in the minors' exit interviews
and in the alumnae questionnaires about changes in friendships that
occurred as a result of participation in women's studies.

                       IMPACT ON FACULTY 

We assessed how the women's studies program has affected the
teaching and scholarly lives of women faculty members associated
with the program. To accomplish this, we interviewed one another;
this process served both to encourage us to examine our own lives
as they are affected by participation in women's studies and to
explore and discover how women's studies has influenced our



We should make clear at the outset that we were not measuring the
information that our students had acquired but rather the
distillation of that information into a series of complex concepts
with which to interpret the world. For example, when students learn
from lectures, readings, and research projects how little reliable
knowledge we have on diseases and physical conditions specific to
women, we wish them also to understand the larger point about the
devaluation of women in our culture and about the social
construction of knowledge. If we convey to students that domestic
service lost its place as the primary occupation for African
American women almost forty years after it ceased being the most
common job for white women, we want them to realize that not all
women experience a patriarchal system in the same way. It was
student understanding of the larger concepts that we had defined as
the desired knowledge base.


Based on our evaluations, it is apparent that students come to
understand that gender is socially constructed. Over the course of
the semester, students move from a reliance on individual or
biological explanations to sociocultural ones. Hence, students in
"Women in a Changing World" were less likely to agree by the end of
the semester that women mother because of a maternal instinct;
women's studies minors were even less likely to think so than their
classmates. Students also came to see workforce jobs as a
reinforcement of gender identity rather than as a natural outgrowth
of feminine abilities. In "Gender and Ethics,'l an increased
percentage of students ceased accepting individualist
justifications ("I meant no harm" or "She chose this freely") in
favor of understanding how choices are constrained by less visible,
and less conscious, structural barriers. Several minors who had
taken the sociology of sexuality course taught by a feminist
instructor retained as a key concept the realization that
sexuality, too, is socially constructed. In "Psychology of Women,"
students switched to sociocultural as opposed to biological
explanations of gender-related behaviors. The troubling exception
to this was the persistence in the belief that violence against
women is best explained by the pathological impulsivity and
aggressiveness of some males.

Students ordinarily come into our classes convinced that all
impediments that stand in women's way are a result of restrictive
socialization of both male and female children. The degree of their
passionate interest in this subject can be demonstrated by which
questions students chose to answer on a midterm in "Women in a
Changing World." Ninety percent selected an essay question that
asked them, on the basis of the course reading they had done on
socialization, to describe how they planned to socialize their
daughters. The instructor saw her task as deepening their
understanding of how lifelong this process is and how pervasive the
gendering of our culture. Students' capacities to analyze gendered
cultural messages increased by the end of the course. Most of those
with children, for example, wrote of looking at children's cartoons
and television shows with new eyes. In analyzing what they had
learned from committing an assigned gender role violation, the vast
majority of women students marvelled at how deeply they had been
socialized as females despite their initial belief that they were
free individually from the confining aspects of femininity.


When it comes to the more challenging issue of the systemic
devaluation and subordination of females, of the interlocking forms
of oppression of women, we do see a difference in understanding
between minors and non- minors. For instance, most students come to
understand that rape and sexual harassment are crimes of violence,
not of uncontrollable desire, and represent an attempt to subjugate
and control women. On the "Women and Crime" post-test, 100 percent
of students understood correctly that rape victims are less likely
to be believed by the police and prosecutors than victims of other
crimes. They are less clear, however, on how society encourages and
perpetuates such violence.

Minors are more likely, judging from their final exams and their
exit interviews, to see patriarchy as an overarching framework, a
system, as opposed to a series of random discriminations against
women. One minor, in analyzing her gender violation for "Women in
a Changing World," observed wryly that given the power of males in
our social system, even her attempt at role reversal (she offered
to buy a male stranger a drink) resulted in his still wresting
control of the situation from her. "I find that male-dominant
societies are everywhere," observed a minor in the "Women Writers"
course, while one of her classmates indicated that she was
completing the course with an increased awareness of power
relations illustrated in literary works. In their exit interviews,
seven women's studies minors, including one male, identified the
existence of a patriarchal system as one of the three most
important concepts they had learned. They commented on the
"extensiveness of male domination--far beyond what is noticeable to
the eye" and on "law as an expression of patriarchy." The alumnae
in the questionnaires also referred expressly to patriarchy as an
important concept or wrote of recognizing "power inequalities and
their impact on our lives."


As we anticipated, instructors have made differential progress in
emphasizing women's varied relations to patriarchy. We are
gratified to learn, however, that students in at least four courses
not focused exclusively on minority women all indicate strong
interest in African American women and show marked increases in
their knowledge by the end of the semester. Of the thirty white
students in "Women in a Changing World" during one semester,
twenty-four chose to answer at least one short-answer (100-120
words) question on the final exam on African American women; most
did well. On the other hand, when they were asked in an essay
question on that same exam to integrate the history of African
American women into their summary of the his- tory of the American
feminist movement, every student ignored that aspect of the
question. In addition to telling us something about their learning
skills, this tells us that our students are not yet mainstreaming
their knowledge of minority women into the overall picture they
have of American women. Corroborating our belief that minority
students, like women in general, are eager to see their individual
or group experiences reflected in the curriculum, four of the five
African American students in that same course answered an essay
question that gave them the option of comparing the situation of
African American women with women in the developing world.

The courses in which the subjects of sexual orientation and
homophobia are raised also produce apparent changes in student
knowledge and attitudes, as evidenced in class discussion and
written assignments in "Women in a Changing World." Students are
wrestling with the general homophobia that pervades this geographic
area but are open to understanding lesbians' points of view or
answering exam questions with knowledge and empathy on the
historical experience of lesbians. Our female students' commitment
to non- coercive socialization of children makes them receptive to
criticisms of homophobia because they see it as imposing rigid
gender guidelines on children. Letty Cottin Pogrebin's article on
this topic, "The Secret Fear That Keeps Us from Raising Free
Children" (Ms. October 1980, 51-54), was selected by 90 percent of
the students in "Women in a Changing World" for discussion in their
journals in the year previous to our study. 


Virtually all our women's studies and cross-listed courses
emphasize the social construction of knowledge. Most of our
students begin to grasp this fundamental concept. They understand
that what they learn in women's studies classes has been excluded
knowledge. "Why haven't we been taught all this before?" is the
most common query in the introductory women's studies class. Quite
a few alumnae mentioned as one of the key concepts they had learned
that important women had been unfairly hidden from history, a
perspective voiced by both male and female students in every
women's history course we have ever offered.

Judging by their responses to the short-answer questions on the
post-test, a modest minority of students in the "Women Writers"
course took the next step as well in understanding that human
beings create knowledge. They were especially drawn to the concept
of the resisting reader: identifying the subjective element in the
supposedly universal; situating famous authors as writing from
their gender, race, and class; and learning not to acquiesce as a
reader in what Judith Fetterley has called "the endless division of
self against self.''1 In one "Women in a Changing World" class, all
eight minors chose to answer the question on the final exam that
asked students to indicate how feminism has taught us to rethink or
redefine rape, the generic pronoun, sexual intercourse, or domestic
violence. Not only were they more likely to answer that question
than the other students in the class, they also gave more
sophisticated answers, some of them focusing on the relation
between world view and resulting change in definition.

While our students see that feminists might organize or define
knowledge differently than non-feminists, they often do not
assimilate the fact that feminists themselves construct a view of
the world in a variety of ways. In "Feminist Thought," minors did
significantly better on the post-test than did other students in
the class in differentiating the main ideas among varieties of
feminism, possibly because these other students were still simply
pitting a monolithic feminism against non-feminism. Based on what
we discovered about students' developmental needs intellectually,
the Women's Studies Program now requires at least one previous
women's studies course as a pre-requisite for "Feminist Thought."


The redefining and reconceptualizing of women's power and
empowerment come throUgh in a number of ways. Many of the pre- and
post-tests asked students to define feminism. One of the shifts
over the course of the semester in those definitions, among a
minority of the respondents, was the move away from a strict equal
rights perspective (feminism as women's efforts to be treated
equally with men) to one that was more woman-centered (an
appreciation of women's distinctive attributes, contributions, and
perceptions). This insistence that women should not have to be
identical to men to be valued was especially evident in the minors'
exit interviews. About half of them spoke of the importance of
validating one's own perceptions as a woman, of not needing to see
women as just like men, of the desirability of reorganizing the
public sphere to accommodate the place of childbearing and child
rearing in women's lives.

                        LEARNING SKILLS 

We set out to assess two things about students in women's studies
or cross- listed courses. First, do they become connected knowers,
individuals who use self-knowledge and empathy to learn? Second, do
they acquire the ability to examine and evaluate assumptions
underlying culturally accepted "fact" and theory?

A brief review of Belenky, Clinchy, Goldberger, and Tarule's
exposition of "women's ways of knowing" will help in the discussion
of our results.2 Along the path to constructed knowledge, and just
past the positions of silence and received knowledge (listening to
and learning from authorities), is subjective knowledge. According
to Belenky et al., "The subjective knower...sees truth as
subjectified and personal. The subjectivist discovers that each
person's life experience gives a different view of reality from
that of any other person. What is more, truth is necessarily a
private matter and, at least from the point of view of these women,
should not be imposed on others."3

Beyond subjective (or received) knowledge is procedural knowledge,
the understanding that there are procedures, skills, and techniques
for obtaining knowledge. A person can acquire procedural knowledge
through separate knowing (learning directly about the rules,
standards, methods, and logic used to "know" something) and/or
connected knowing (learning by becoming familiar with and
understanding other people and their ways of thinking). Finally,
constructed knowledge is reached when knowers attempt "to integrate
knowledge they felt intuitively was personally important with know-
ledge they had learned from others. They told of weaving together
the strands of rational and emotive thought and of integrating
objective and subjective knowing."4 The constructivist knows, "All
knowledge is constructed, and the knower is an intimate part of the

Our emphasis on connected knowing and the ability to examine
assumptions highlights essential ingredients of constructed
knowledge: the empathic connection with others and the objective
analysis of the bases of knowledge. Although we did not identify
these criteria to the judges of the annual Women's Studies Student
Essay Contest, which draws entries from all over campus, all six
winning entries in 1990 displayed evidence of learning these
skills. Some of the undergraduate essayists attempted to see the
world through the eyes of their subjects (as in the case of the two
papers based on interviews with contemporary local women), and
others used conventional forms of scholarship to ask unorthodox
questions of their material (for example, a study of the discontent
with the female sex role expressed in the poetry of an Argentinean
woman poet).

Connected learning is an implicit goal in many women's studies
classes. It is a common practice in the introductory women's
studies course to ask students on take-home exams to describe the
world view of someone mentioned in a course reading--for example,
a lesbian in Buffalo in 1940 or a Southern black domestic servant
in the 1950s. At other times, students in that course have been
asked to compare their mothers' options and ambitions with their
own. These are assignments on which students generally do well if
they are asked to do a narrative or recreation. Given information
about the circumstances in which other women live, students can
empathically place themselves with others and describe what other
people's thoughts and feelings would be.

It is likely that many of our students are subjective knowers as
described by Belenky et al.6 As subjective knowers they are
thrilled at the opportunity provided in women's studies classes to
express their personal feelings and opinions and to hear those of
others. As subjective knowers, however, they understand "point of
view" to be an opinion or perspective based on personal life
experience and, therefore~ not open to examination (without being
intrusive) or criticism (without appearing hostile). They do not
readily see that "point of view" represents a model or theory that
can be understood in terms of its internal logic and the external
forces that influence it.

Based on a careful reading of final exams in both "Women in a
Changing World" and "Feminist Thought," we conclude that some
students also find it hard to apply the ideas or insights of an
analytic article to a description of personal experience for
example, exploring whether Chodorow's insights about
mother-daughter relations might apply to their mothers and
themselves. If a descriptive phrase or example used in the analysis
is similar to their own experience, then this may be seen as
validating the analysis. If however, their own experience appears
to contradict the analysis, they are unable to use their experience
to form an alternative analysis or to place their experience along
a continuum to which the analysis might apply. In other words,
these students do not consider how or why they or others have
certain feelings or opinions.

Similarly, students' abilities to identify with the subject of
study is related to how well they acquire and/or retain
information. For example, in the pre- and post-tests for "Women and
Crime," the instructor discovered that of the three categories of
questions--employment, victimization, and female
criminality--students did best on the first category, in which the
"relational distance" was the smallest. Students identify with
trying to work in the criminal justice system; hence, by the
post-test, 100 percent of the respondents correctly answered the
question dealing with the relatively low percentage of women
working in criminal justice. If, as we suspect, connecting with the
subject matter enhances learning, then stimulating students'
empathic skills also will enable them to learn more about subjects
distant from their own experiences .

Summarizing information, identifying point of view, and applying
the information or perspective to another source are all skills
that come hard to a majority of our students. Short-answer
questions on exams in several courses revealed that more
students--a bare majority--are able to focus on key bits of
information than can master the second two skills.

Not surprisingly, the identification of the assumptions underlying
a piece of literature, research, or scholarship is difficult for
our students. Also, they often are unable to compare points of view
or apply the insights of one writer to another. In "Feminist
Thought," very few students, whether women's studies minors or not,
chose to answer questions on the final exam that asked them to link
the ideas in any two pieces of assigned reading. Our impression is
that in many majors, students are required only to pluck
information--not point of view--from the course readings. It is
possible that we in women's studies may be insisting to students
that the identification of point of view is important but that our
courses by themselves are inadequate to teach students the skill of
reading critically. On the other hand, our very best students do
learn these skills. In an oral summary of an assigned piece of
reading in a sociology course cross-listed with women's studies,
one graduating minor (sociology major) explicitly incorporated
readings done for a women's studies course in a previous semester.
In a paper for a history course taken in her last semester, another
women's studies minor synthesized paradigms from both women's
studies and political science (her major).

Our challenge as instructors is to use students' abilities as
subjective knowers to appreciate the diversity of points of view
expressed in class and to encourage their curiosity about why such
differences exist. The analytical material can then be presented as
hypotheses about these differences and about where points of view
come from. Further, we might use their empathic skills to help them
understand not only the feelings and thoughts of others but also
the historical, social, and intellectual contexts that influence

The minors' exit interviews indicate that we are meeting this
challenge with about 25 percent of the students. One student
remembered being "asked to think about why an author chose to write
about this subject, why she had the perspective she did, how her
work connected with her life." Another said, "In other courses,
ideas are posed to us as 'this is the way it is,' but in women's
studies courses an idea would be given to us to evaluate. I learned
to question things I read for the first time.... You gave your
opinion, but you were also asked for evidence. It's a good thing.
You have a tendency to spit it out without thinking much about it."

                       FEMINIST PEDAGOGY 

Our goal was to assess whether students feel able to speak when
they want to in women's studies classes and whether their voices
are heard and respected. Despite the fact that we originally
formulated a much more complex goal about shared authority in the
classroom, the student members of our assessment committee were
adamant that, to them, the ability to speak freely and confidently
in class was the key element of feminist pedagogy. To assess
"voice," we used a short questionnaire in women's studies classes
and questions on the minors' exit interviews, and the alumnae

The results were reassuring. All the minors, without
exception--both African American and white--indicated that they
felt welcome to speak in class and that various points of view were
respected. "Discussion, not confrontation" was the way one minor
described the exchange in the typical women's studies classroom. "I
talked more than I've ever talked," commented another. "It's not
that I was restricted in my expression in other classes," observed
yet another student, "it's just that I knew that my opinions would
be welcome in women's studies classes." Two-thirds of the alumnae
also remembered women's studies classes as those in which their
voices were heard and respected. Although some of them felt male
students to be scornful at times, the alumnae commented that the
instructors were always supportive. "My point of view was as
important as the teacher's," reflected one graduate certificate
holder. Another student observed that she found herself and found
her voice through the kind of supportive criticism offered in the
women's studies classroom.

Since the majority of our students are subjective knowers, they
revel in the opportunity to express what they know from their own
experience and have that understood and validated in the classroom
(as opposed to being told what to know and being expected to
express only that received information). They also are willing to
hear others and acknowledge that what others have to say is equally
important. They are most likely to criticize other students when
they speak about things they have not personally experienced (males
talking about women; women talking about men; whites talking about
African Americans; an individual talking about rape survivors if
she/he has not experienced or been threatened by rape). Some
students are able to discuss the process or background from which
these personal views arise; in other words, to address how
subjective knowledge is constructed-- and this certainly is the
level at which instructors hope to bring the discussion. We
believe, however, that both students and instructors are cautious
about "analyzing" a view whose expression and validation is a
personal victory of sorts for the student.

We asked the "voice" question of students enrolled in women's
studies courses at the end of the fall 1990 term: "Was your voice
(your questions concerns, and opinions) heard and respected in this
class?" In three of the nine classes surveyed, all of the students
responded "yes." Positive responses in the other six classes ranged
from 78.5 percent to 97 percent. In all of the classes, students
remarked that questions and comments were encouraged and that
diverse opinions were respected. Sample comments were:

The class fostered participation and personal stories from everyone
in relation to the works being examined.

I never felt judged or criticized, although frequently I
encountered disagreement as well as agreement.

The instructor was very tolerant of opinions. While a popular
misconception is that a women's studies class is an alienating
environment for males, our data suggest that men form new and close
friendships with females in women's studies

Students expressed appreciation of the willingness of the
instructor and other students to listen to many perspectives.

In the few instances where students felt their voices were not
heard, they offered their own explanations in terms of the size of
the class (one had an enrollment of 150), their lack of interest in
the class, and their own unwillingness to speak out. In some cases,
students expressed the feeling that the class atmosphere was not
conducive to their voice being heard.

The number and quality of positive responses indicate that women's
studies instructors accomplish their goal of letting students'
voices be heard in the classroom. Students find that their own
opinions and feelings are respected and that the opinions and
perspective.s of others are instructive. Among the courses
surveyed, smaller classes and classes that focused more on class
discussion and students' participation were the ones in which the
high- est percentage of students felt they had a "voice."

Another indication of the emphasis on student voices in women's
studies classes comes from the results of the "Friendship
Questionnaire." Students in women's studies classes were asked. in
addition to information about friends, to describe their women's
studies class and other classes that they were taking concurrently
in terms of number of students~ style of teaching (lecturel lecture
plus questions/comments, lecture and discussion, mostly
discussion), and whether group projects were recommended or
required. Even considering only classes with fifty or fewer
students, women's studies classes still were less likely to be all
lecture (2 percent versus 15 percent), more likely to be lecture
plus discussion (55 percent versus 26 percent), as opposed to
lecture plus students' questions/comments (34 percent versus 53
percent), and more likely to be mostly discussion (9 percent versus
6 percent). These results demonstrate that there is a greater
structural emphasis on student voices in women's studies classes.
Women's studies courses also were more likely to recommend or
require group projects (72 percent versus 41 per- cent), suggesting
that students also are more likely to learn in these classes that
they have something of value to share with one another.

                        PERSONAL GROWTH 

Our initial goal here was to measure the sense of "we-ness"
students felt in the women's studies classroom. We were especially
interested in how women's studies affected students' friendships.
Because ODU has essentially a commuting student body and its
students are older, often with family and job responsibilities, it
is difficult for students to create friendship networks. In the
minors' exit interviews and the alumnae questionnaires we asked,
"Did women's studies courses change your friendships or social
network (make friends, lose friends, change nature of friendships)?
If so, how?" Seventy percent of the minors and 73 percent of the
alumnae answered "yes". Several mentioned making new friends:
"Women's studies enlarged my circle of friends just by the nature
of the open, honest classes"; "I found kindred souls whom I could
associate with in a comfortable atmosphere"; "It gave me a new and
different network of friends who fuel my intellectual pursuits."
Others mentioned that the quality and depth of their relationships
had improved. One minor stated, "It has changed the nature of all
our [old friends'] friendships. [They are] at a deeper level now.
It's almost like a spiritual bond." Two minors stated that they had
made "lifelong" friends in women's studies classes. Others found
that some old friendships suffered. One male minor said he was
"weeding out old friends" but also that his friendships were "not
so superficial now." A woman minor said, "I now have more women
friends and fewer men friends. Before it was just the opposite."

Students in women's studies courses were also asked at the
beginning of the semester and then again at the end of the semester
to estimate their number of female and male acquaintances, friends,
and close friends in their women's studies classes and in the other
classes that they were taking concurrently. At the end of the
semester, students were asked to indicate the extent of their
interaction with their best friend in class. Whatever classes they
take at ODU, students in general report knowing more students in
class, at all levels of friendship, at the end of the semester. The
results, however, indicated that both female and male students show
a greater increase in the number of close female friends from the
beginning to the end of the semester in women's studies than they
do in other classes. Interestingly, male students (but not females)
also show a greater increase in the number of female friends (as
opposed to close female friends) in women's studies classes than
they do in other classes. It may be that a women's studies class
provides a context in which men are freed from any heterosexual
incentive to pursue women and are allowed to view them as friends.

Since the teaching styles characteristic of women's studies classes
may encourage students to get to know one another, additional data
analyses (analysis of covariance) were done to compare friendship
patterns while con- trolling for teaching style. Even then, women's
studies classes continued to enhance and alter friendships more
than non-women's studies classes did.

The results suggest that the friendship process that distinguishes
women's studies classes from other classes is the deepening of
friendships with women (that is, more close female friends). While
a popular misconception is that a women's studies class is an
alienating environment for males, our data suggest that men form
new and close friendships with females in women's studies courses.
Although the style in which women's studies courses are taught (for
example, more discussion) might have accounted for these findings,
covariance analyses indicated that it did not. This suggests that
something else about women's studies classes--the content, the
opportunity to share personal information (not just opinions), or
the discovery that others have similar points of view on important
issues--encourages the development of close female friendships and,
for males, new female friendships.

Although our initial goal was to focus on friendships, the data we
received from the minors' exit interviews and the alumnae
questionnaires encourage us to speak more broadly of the changes
women's studies produced in students' lives. Among the minors, the
student who spoke most forcefully about this indicated that
feminism is a way of life for her, that women's studies and
feminism focused not only her academic life at ODU but her plans
for future education and for employment. In her interview she said
that women's studies courses had affected "every aspect" of her
life, making her rethink her "cultural, religious, family values,
friendships, romantic relationships, every relationship I have and
the decisions I make. As far as intellectually, it's focused my
academic career--the questions I ask in class, the perspectives I
use on the material, what I agree and disagree with." Other
students also indicated that women's studies affected their work
plans. One student now knows that she wants to work more closely
with people, another wishes to work specifically with women, and
yet another has switched her field for prospective graduate studies
from psychology at ODU, with its limited number of women's studies
courses, to sociology, with its numerous feminist scholars.

The alumnae responses to the questions asking whether women's
studies affected their personal, professional, and intellectual
lives were even more pronounced. They had more to say on this
subject than on any other that we asked. Women's studies affected
everything about them, three women indicated, from the way they
thought to the nature of their livelihood. Another woman declared,
"What I learned in those classes will never cease to affect every
aspect of my life." Yet another said that the program completely
changed her life, and without women's studies, she would not have
developed her writing and expertise about women. "I sometimes felt
as if I had a completely new brain," declared a graduate.

Two other alumnae specifically indicated that they apply what they
learned to the workplace and volunteer activities. Several women
stressed that the program helped them to empower themselves, to tap
what was inside, with one woman remarking that women's studies
satisfied a longing she did not realize she had. Another noticed
that she had become less intimidated by male authority figures:
"Awareness leads to growth," she commented, "and so I grew." A
Japanese graduate certificate holder, now wrestling with the role
demands of marriage and motherhood, asserts her determination to
make her domestic life egalitarian and to treat her daughter and
any future sons the same. The one alumna who declared the program
to have had minimal impact on her--merely reinforcing what she
already knew and believed--is now getting a graduate certificate in
Jungian studies, focusing on perceptions of men's and women's
roles. "Not everybody is discontent as a woman," she reminds us.
Others used their acceptance of the feminine to in- crease their
self-confidence and to help empower other women. For many alumnae,
political beliefs were not changed by women's studies as much as
they were sharpened and firmed up.

In addition to learning about themselves and shaping their life
choices students and alumnae told us that they had learned about
others, especially other women. One minor indicated that having
heard other students talk about their lives in women's studies
courses, she is now more sensitive to the needs, thoughts, and
feelings of others. Another student, an African American woman,
thought that women's studies courses stand out in their aware- ness
of the variations among human beings. On the alumnae questionnaire,
three women wrote that they learned tolerance and patience in
women's studies classes because they realized that not everyone's
life experiences are the same.

                       IMPACT ON FACULTY 

Because a number of us had come into feminist scholarship through
our participation on the Women's Studies Advisory Council, and
others of us viewed the WSAC as an oasis from exasperating
departments, we decided to examine the impact of women's studies on
ourselves as faculty members. Our method was to pair off and to
interview each other. All but one of the ten who participated had
taught at least one women's studies or cross-listed course.

Each of the remaining nine faculty members interviewed mentioned
the exhilaration of teaching women's studies courses. For many of
us, these are our favorite courses because they touch on the
subject matter of our research; they offer a respite from a heavy
diet of service courses; students are more engaged in women's
studies courses; or we are able to experiment with teaching
techniques. We find that teaching women's studies courses
inevitably influences what and how we teach in other courses. We
bring more material about women into our standard courses, and we
often introduce more discussion or joint student projects into
those courses as well. One faculty member observed that teaching in
the ODU Women's Studies Program had stimulated her interest in the
theory and practice of feminist pedagogy, while another commented
that she had garnered material for her mainstream philosophy
courses from her women's studies courses. "And when I teach logic,"
she added, "I move beyond the traditional approach--logic as
criticism, and usually negative criticism--to its constructive and
creative role." Another faculty member attributed the dramatic
shift in her linguistics courses to the women's studies faculty
development sessions on minority women. These resulted, she said,
"in valuing (verbally and nonverbally) contributions of women and
gay students. No more chilly climate in my classes."

Involvement in women's studies also has had a positive effect on
re- search and scholarship. Two faculty members commented that they
had not really enjoyed doing research until they began doing
feminist research. Women's studies "made me actually want to
publish," one woman observed, while another recalled that the first
time she submitted a feminist paper to a conference, shortly after
she arrived at ODU, she did "the first draft in a single weekend,
on a topic I'd been hoarding notes on for years.... That may have
been my first experience of joy in writing. I now find writing my
most rewarding professional activity." Still another faculty member
concludes that it was her respect for the bravery of a former
director of women's studies who, through mentoring, gave her the
courage to do feminist research. She added, "My growing familiarity
with feminist scholarship has given me more realistic, less
inflated expectations of what is involved in doing that and more
conventional scholarship. Now I am more willing to give an
interesting project a try rather than assuming that much more
knowledge and experience would be required on my part."

Another woman first encountered the now-influential feminist
scholarship in her discipline through agreeing to teach a women's
studies cross-listed course in her department because no one else
was available to offer it. Two faculty members, neither in fields
where this is customary, undertook joint hook-length proJects with
graduate students, one of which has been published. One of those
faculty members also has used our annual Work in Progress
conference on feminist scholarship to spur herself into doing re-
search, giving a presentation and submitting an article on a topic
new to her.

A majority of those interviewed indicated that involvement on the
WSAC, in combination with participation in the ODU Women's Caucus,
had been significant socializing forces into the political climate
of the university. As one woman put it: "I feel that I have
benefitted from watching other feminist women maneuver as
academics, after trying unsuccessfully myself to find role models
among male professors.... This has given me the opportunity to be
more myself in academic settings, rather than maintaining a low
pro- file, as I had done at other institutions where I had taught."
Another, who characterizes her department as "almost oblivious to
university politics," maintains that "whatever I have learned about
the political life of the university has come from my women's
studies friends." A third remembered her early days at ODU, before
there was a comparable organization for black faculty members, when
participation on the WSAC introduced her to a core group of
sympathetic faculty members.

Finally, everyone cites the importance of the friendships they have
formed with other women's studies faculty members. Often our
closest and most significant university friendships are with one
another. While we also have university friendships based along
departmental lines, the combination of shared values (if not
disciplinary interests) and absence of intradepartmental
competitiveness among WSAC members gives our relationships a
distinctive sunniness. Like our students, we find that our shared
feminist perspective yields true and lasting friendships.


Participating in "The Courage to Question" has permitted us to
accomplish our two initial overriding goals: to determine what we
are teaching our students and what they are learning and to
reinforce bonds among members of the Women's Studies Advisory
Committee. Because the project required us to articulate our
educational goals and objectives, we were obliged to meet as a
committee (plus additional faculty and student representatives)
repeatedly. Although the Women's Studies Program has sponsored
excellent colloquia and faculty development workshops throughout
its history, this was the first time we had faced one another and
asked, "What are our goals?" Also, for the first time we have on
paper a comprehensive and clear statement about Many of us needed
to be reminded that there often is a difference between what is
said by the instructor in the classroom, no matter how clearly, and
what is heard by students what we are doing in women's studies, a
description of our women's studies program goals that we can share
with others interested in developing women's studies courses in
their departments. It was a validating and reassuring experience to
discover that each of us does have a clear picture of what she is
trying to communicate to students and that, when put together,
these individual views reveal a shared vision of what the Women's
Studies Program is about. We have found words to describe what we
are trying to do in our classroom, and we have discovered in one
another resources, knowledge, and skills that previously we may
have overlooked.

On an individual level we already have planned alterations to our
courses based on which ideas or concepts students are not grasping
and which skills students still need to develop. Many of us needed
to be reminded that there often is a difference between what is
said by the instructor in the classroom, no matter how clearly, and
what is heard by students. Without being negligent about the
content of the course materials that we so carefully put together,
we must nonetheless pay more attention to whether and how students
are processing lectures, discussions, and reading assignments. In
some classes this has resulted in more group discussion or more
feedback from students. In general, we are talking much more about
classroom dynamics, for the FIPSE project revealed just how starved
we were for discussion about teaching. We have built upon the
project's assessment of teaching by sponsoring a feminist pedagogy
workshop each of the last two springs, during which we refined
teaching strategies and extended our investigation of the
connection between teaching and learning.

Another new shared activity initiated by the FIPSE project is the
annual WSAC retreat. In 1990, we met for a few days late in the
spring to talk about assessment tools. That meeting, which produced
our institutional research design, also produced a new cohesiveness
in the faculty and renewed our spirits. As a consequence, we held
our second annual retreat the following spring, extending its
length by two days. That time we talked over the preliminary
findings from the assessment project, planned the next year's
women's studies activities, and started some long-range planning
for the program. At this year's retreat, we will discuss the
findings from this report and share ideas about both knowledge base
and learning skills. We have focused on ourselves as participants
in a women's studies program more than ever before in our history,
and, as a result, we feel we have achieved a sense of identity and
community as women's studies faculty members. Participation in the
project also has led to closer ties with students. We do not think
it a coincidence that a women's studies student group started up
again last year after a several-year lapse. Its network is
expanding all the time. In addition to women's studies minors, it
now includes those who have graduated, current graduate students,
and friends from the community. Their activities even extend to
occasional student-faculty potlucks. Spurred by updating our
alumnae mailing list for our alumnae questionnaire, we held a
women's studies reunion a year ago and plan to hold a second one to
commemorate the fifteenth anniversary of the program.

The amount of voluntary labor to accomplish this project was
enormous. At times it seemed to WSAC members that they would drown
in assessment materials. Nonetheless, our involvement has made us
a more cohesive faculty and, at the same time, has initiated a
period of critical reassessment of what we are teaching, how we are
teaching it, and what students have gained from the whole

1 . Judith Fetterley, The Resisting Reader: Feminist Approach to
American Fiction (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1978). 

2. M. F. Belenky. B. M. Clinchy. N. R. Goldberger, and J. M.
Tarule, Women's Ways of Knowing (New York: Basic Books, 1986). 

3. Belenky, et al., Women's Ways of Knowing, 69-70. 

4. Belenky, et al., Women's Ways of Knowing, 134. 

5. Belenky, et al . Women's Ways of Knowing, 137. 

6. Belenky, et al., Women's Ways of Knowing. 106


Social Security Number: 
Women's studies major/minor: 
Course name and number:
Number of students in the class:

1. Style of teaching: 

all lecture 
lecture and students' questions/comments 
lecture and discussion
mostly discussion

2. Does the instructor recommend or require group discussion or
group projects?

3. Currently, how many students do you know in class (including
acquaintances and friends) ? number of female acquaintances and
friends number of male acquaintances and friends

4. Currently how many students in class are friends? female
friends/male friends

5. Currently how many students in class are close, personal
friends? female close friends/male close friends

6. Think of the person whom you know best in this class. Check all
of the following activities that apply to your interactions with
this person:

see her/him only in class
see her/him before and/or after classes but only at ODU
see her/him for social occasions away from ODU
I talk with her/him outside of class about course assignments
I talk with her/him outside of class about topics mentioned or
discussed in class

7. How did being in class together change (if it did ) your
relationship with this person?

                      ALUMNAE QUESTIONNAIRE

INTRODUCTION: In order to learn more about Old Dominion
University's Women's Studies Program and its impact on students, we
ask that you respond to the following questions. We are interested
in anything and everything that you have to share with us about
your women's studies experiences, hut feel free to skip questions
that are not relevant to your sitUation. Women's studies include
all cross-listed courses, not just WMST courses.

Backgrounf Information

1. What year did you graduate?

2. What is your age?

3. What is your race/ethnicity?

4. What was your major?

5. After leaving ODU did you earn any advanced degree(s)? In what

6. Are you currently earning any advanced degree? In what field?
Please provide us with an employment and volunteer activity

7a. First job (since graduation from ODU); number of years at the
7b. Second job; number of years at the job 
7c. Third job; number of years at the job 

8. List volunteer activities since graduating from ODU

9. How were the learning environments structured in your women's
studies courses (e.g., lecture, small group discussions, group

10. Did the size of the class make a difference? If so, how? 

11. Were the learning environments different from non-women's
studies courses? If so, how?

12. Was there much discussion in women's studies classes? Did
students debate or argue with each other? Did you feel that your
voice was heard and respected? If not, why not?

13. Did you discuss course readings and lectures outside the
classroom? If so, with whom? (specify relationship: roommates,
female friends, male friends, family)

14. Were different points of view encouraged by the instructors in
your courses? If so, how did instructors teach you about different
points of view? (give examples)

15. Did you participate in women's studies activities other than
courses? If so, describe these and their impact on you.

16. How did your participation in the women's studies program make
you feel about yourself?

We are interested in all of your thoughts and feelings about
women's studies courses and the women's studies program at ODU.
Please share any that have not been addressed by these questions.