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                           CHAPTER 5

                       WELLESLEY COLLEGE 
                      COUNTING THE MEANINGS


Wellesley College's overall query for the project was: what makes
women's studies at a women's liberal arts college different?
Comparing women's studies and non-women's studies courses,
Wellesley focuses on three questions: Did the courses change or
affect students' personal lives, their intellectual lives, and
their political beliefs? Did students feel pressure to give
politically correct answers and identify only with feminist ideas?
And, was the pedagogy different?

Wellesley College, founded in 1870 and opened in 1875, is one of
the traditional "seven sister schools" dedicated to the education
of women. Located in a suburb just outside of Boston, it has a
diverse student body of more than 2,200 women who came last year
from every state in the U.S. and from sixty-one different
countries. Nearly 70 percent of the students receive aid from some
source, and the college admits on a "need-blind" basis. -2 The
college also has had a traditional commitment to gender equity on
its faculty. The male/female ratio on the faculty is about 50/50,
even at the tenured level and the president of the college has
always been a woman. The college in recent years also has made an
effort to hire more faculty members of color with "target of
opportunity" hiring positions and other incentives to departments.

Somewhat ironically, Wellesley, like most women's colleges, was
somewhat slower than larger coeducational universities in making a
firm commitment to women's studies. Throughout much of the first
century of the college's existence, Wellesley built and supported
what Bryn Mawr's first president, M. Carey Thomas, labeled a "male
curriculum." Wellesley, as with many of its sister institutions,
was dedicated to proving that gender did not matter in education
and that women could do the work thought only appropriate for men.

When the first stirrings of women's studies began in other colleges
and universities across the country in the late 1960s and early
1910s, a 1971 report to the college's trustees entitled "Committee
on the Future of the College" considered, among other issues, the
question of women's studies. At that time, the report's faculty
authors concluded that specific courses on women in the
coeducational schools "seem intended to provide counseling services
as well as factual information to students often in desperate need
of advice and moral support." They unanimously rejected the idea of
a special institute on women and referred interested students to
courses in the existing curriculum "that dealt in large measure
with women's problems." At that time, a survey showed that students
could find such coverage in 3 courses, with women as sub-units in
4 other courses, and receiving some thematic mention in 9 others
out of a total curriculum of 493 courses. -3

Despite other similarly inhospitable pronouncements, the elements
necessary to create a women's studies program coalesced in the
interstices of the college. The availability of outside funding and
support from the college's president and dean led to the founding
in 1974 of a Center for Research on Women, a mile away from the
main campus (although in a college-owned house) and staffed with
researchers almost all of whom were not members of the faculty. But
as interest on the part of students and faculty members for courses
in women's studies grew, a small group of intrepid faculty members
created the beginning of a coherent program and voluntarily
directed its early students. These respected women faculty members,
both junior and senior and drawn from the humanities and social
science departments, were able to give the initial program
intellectual substance.

The program's viability became less problematic after 1981 when a
well-respected feminist scholar, Nannerl Keohane, became the
college's president. In 1982, it became possible for students to
major in women's studies without special petitioning, and the
president authorized hiring one junior faculty member (part-time
the first year, then full-time and tenure track from then on) with
an appointment solely to the Women's Studies Program. In 1986,
another half-time faculty appointment was made available, which
became full-time in 1989. A year later, another half-time faculty
member (with a joint appointment in another department) became part
of the program. -4

Ten years later, the program is still small in terms of control
over faculty lines but large in terms of student interest, course
loads, and majors. There are now nine overcrowded core courses,
two-and-a-half faculty members whose appointments are to the
program (including one tenured), more than sixty cross-listed
courses, and more students majoring in women's studies than in half
the departments at the college. More than 40 faculty members (out
of approximately 225) teach the cross-listed courses and consider
themselves part of the broader women's studies community. Women's
studies at Wellesley functions as a department with faculty
members, separate office space, majors, budgets, a secretary, and
a director who is treated administratively as a department chair.
In March 1992, Academic Council, the college's
faculty-administration governing body, voted to make de jura what
was de facto: the Women's Studies Program became a department after
trustee approval on April 8, 1992.

In its early years in the 1980s, the program's goals were to make
women's studies appear "intellectually respectable" at the college
and to build faculty, student, and administrative support for its
offerings as well as tenure for its key junior faculty members. The
program always had a commitment to multicultural education and made
this a requirement in its major in 1983, long before any other
department in the college. The program has grown in a college that
over the last ten years has had a liberal feminist ethic and the
continued historical belief that its mission is the empowerment of
women. If one phrase sums up what makes women's studies at
Wellesley different from the rest of the college, it is our saying
that "if Wellesley teaches our students that they can do anything,
women's studies helps them to understand that if they cannot, it is
not their fault."


As a liberal arts undergraduate college, Wellesley traditionally
has taken special pride in its teaching and small classes.
Discussion, even in the lower-level courses, is an expected part of
the classroom experience. By the time students are juniors and
seniors, they participate in small seminars that constitute the
core of their majors. Thus, as a women's college with small classes
Wellesley prides itself on giving "voice" to women. Speaking,
discussion, and student participation in various forms are to be
the hallmark of a Wellesley education.

While in recent years publications have become important to tenure
and promotions, teaching remains, at least rhetorically, the heart
of the college's mission. Students say they come to Wellesley over
other Ivy League institutions because they will have more contact
with faculty members who are expected to serve as exemplary
teachers, role models, and citizens. Besides laboratory assistants,
Wellesley has no graduate students serving as teaching assistants
or graders. -5 Thus, much of the commitment to student
learning--considered the core of women's studies elsewhere--is seen
as central to both Wellesley's mission and its teaching practices.
The institution publicizes and capitalizes on this seemingly unique
commitment to quality teaching over "renting" the scholarly
reputation of its faculty members to entice students to enroll.6

Despite the emphasis on teaching, what counts as "good teaching" at
Wellesley is supposed to be normative but is often ill-defined.
"Good teaching" is one of the things everyone knows when they see
it but still can be elusive. Wellesley does make an effort to make
its elements clear by requiring senior faculty members to visit
classes of junior faculty members and by annual meetings that
focus, in part, on a junior faculty member's teaching. Associate
professors are again visited in the classroom when they are up for
promotion to full professors. These visit reports serve diagnostic,
but primarily evaluative, purposes. Teaching seminars and some
support for innovative teaching is supported by the dean's office.
In the last few years, a move to emphasize teaching has again
grown. A Center for Learning and Teaching has now been proposed and
an invigorated committee on educational research has been holding
"shop talks" on pedagogy and providing "quick fix" grants for
teaching purposes. Faculty members also are encouraged to meet
students outside the classroom and to facilitate individual student
interests through tutorials.

Students are required to fill out an evaluation of the teaching
that is numerically quantified by the institution and used for
tenure and promotion. The medians for departments, divisions, rank
of the faculty, and the institution as a whole are distributed on
a regular basis. However, unlike at Swarthmore and Bowdoin, for
example, written letters about faculty members' performance are not
solicited by promotion committees, which rely heavily on the
statistical evaluations; students, however, are encouraged on their
own to write about teaching.

The evaluation forms that Wellesley has used for most of the last
decade (currently under review) involve three major questions: "Was
the instructor in command of the subject taught in this course?
Does the instructor convey his or her knowledge of the subject in
ways that facilitate learning? Did your instructor demonstrate an
ability to deal effectively with student work?" -7 As at many
colleges, there has been continued concern at Wellesley about these
questionnaires. Aside from the usual questions about how the
numbers are tabulated and used, discussion has focused on how the
questionnaires stifle pedagogical innovation. In thinking about the
"in command" question in particular, one women's studies faculty
member quipped: "The correct answer in women's studies' courses
should be 'no'. But if the students say 'no,' I won't get tenure!"

Many of these questions were raised by a faculty Feminist Pedagogy
Group, organized through women's studies as part of this FIPSE
study. In response, the dean's office has reported that at least
the "in command" question will be changed. Thus, our consideration
of teaching and learning in women's studies had to be made in the
context of the kind of evaluation that is ongoing at Wellesley.

                         KEY QUESTIONS 

Given Wellesley's emphasis on teaching, women's "voice," and the
respect accorded the intellectual content of women's studies in the
institution, our overall query for the FIPSE project became: What
makes women's studies at a women's liberal arts college different?
We felt that Wellesley's Women's Studies Program would be no
different than any other discipline at the college if we only
"conveyed knowledge" or heard women's voices in the classroom. We
wanted to know if women's studies was different: Did it change or
affect students' personal lives, their intellectual lives, or their
political beliefs? Did students feel pressure to give "politically
correct" answers and to identify only with "feminist" ideas, as
women's studies often is charged with in the media and by
conservatives? Finally, we also wanted to know whether the pedagogy
was different in women's studies classes and in what ways, given
Wellesley's emphasis on student participation in particular. We
were interested in the quality of debate among students and whether
or not discussion and learning continued outside the classroom, and
if so, with whom. -8

                      METHODS AND SAMPLING 

In the early spring of 1990, we wrote an open-ended questionnaire
that tapped various aspects of these concerns (see pages 130-131).
After a pilot test of the questionnaire in two classes, we
administered the revised version to students by using a selected
sample of courses taught in the spring of 1990. We waited until the
last two weeks of the semester to administer the questionnaire,
assuming that students would be in a better position to answer the
questions at this late point. Since we were interested in examining
whether women's studies courses differed from non-women's studies
courses, we used a matched sample of courses offered in the social
sciences. -9

Courses were selected in the following way: Women's studies courses
were defined as those courses listed through the Women's Studies
Program. All courses (five) taught as part of the women's studies
curriculum were included in the sample for a total of 135
questionnaires. Also included in this category were a sample of
cross-listed women's studies courses (seven) in other disciplines
for another 166 questionnaires. For the purposes of analysis, we
will treat all the core and cross-listed courses as women's studies
courses for a total of 301 women's studies' questionnaires (68
percent of the sample).

Non-women's studies' courses were those courses that were not
cross-listed, but were in the same discipline as the cross-listed
courses. In order to pull a matched sample for each cross-listed
course selected, we selected a course (at the same level of the
curriculum, where possible) that was not cross-listed with women's
studies. We surveyed five control courses for a total of 140
questionnaires (32 percent of the sample).

We telephoned faculty members who taught all the courses chosen for
the survey and asked for their participation. All solicited faculty
members were very cooperative (only one cross-listed women's
studies faculty member did not participate). Faculty members were
asked to distribute the survey during the last twenty minutes of
class and to designate one student to collect the questionnaires
and drop them off in a designated box.

This sampling strategy yielded a total of 441 questionnaires; 32
percent were control surveys and 68 percent were either core
women's studies or cross-listed women's studies courses. Students
in both groups were similar with regard to race and ethnicity,
though students in women's studies were slightly older than those
in non-women's studies classes. This may reflect the fact that
students wait to take women's studies courses as electives when
they are in their later years in the college. At the time of the
survey, only 4 percent of the students in either women's studies or
non-women's studies' classes were women's studies' majors. This is
important because what students report to have learned in women's
studies classes is not a reflection of their a priori choice of
major. -11

The responses to questions were coded. A student assistant tallied
the responses of each question and provided in-depth quotes in
order for us to understand what the percentages meant.

We also wrote a separate open-ended interview guide to use with the
majors and alumnae of the program. A random stratified sample of
alumnae was interviewed by telephone, and all graduating majors in
1990 were interviewed on site. In the latter case, interviews were
tape recorded and then transcribed. Questions were similar to the
course questionnaire with the addition of queries about how women's
studies affected their career decisions and lives. While this data
is very interesting, time constraints did not allow us to analyze
this material quantitatively for this report. However, we have used
some of the qualitative comments.

These questions were shaped by the two central investigators for
the project: Rosanna Hertz in sociology and Susan Reverby in
women's studies. These ideas were discussed in a Feminist Pedagogy
Group that met for three semesters to discuss multicultural
education, the institutional barriers to women's studies teaching,
and problems with teaching evaluations. We also discussed the
questionnaire with faculty members on the Women's Studies Advisory


* Does women s studies affect students' lives? There was little
difference between women's studies and control courses on how
students perceive the effects on their intellectual lives and
political beliefs. Most students say that their courses affected
them in positive ways. In the women's studies courses, however,
students tend to see the change as making them more critical
learners and participants in social change.

For instance, in the control group, in response to a question on
how the course affected their intellectual lives, student responses

     It helped me think in a more orderly manner and logically.

     This course has just inspired me to learn more about the world
     and to maybe even become part of the system that is now
     deciding what future outcomes will be.

     I am more knowledgeable and can contribute more to various

In the women's studies courses, the student responses were more
critical about thinking and about social change. It appears that
the students in the women's studies courses felt they were active
learners rather than passive recipients of received knowledge.
Rather than "closing" the American mind, women's studies' courses
seem to have "opened up" our students to critical and different
ways of thinking and valuing knowledge. Sensitized to human
diversity in her women's studies course, one student explained that
it "will help me be more open-minded in dealing with people and
situations in the future." Students in these courses answered the
query on intellectual change by saying, for example:

     It helped me to be more open-minded in terms of analyzing
     ethnic and racial issues. It also in some ways steered my
     point of perspective toward a more feminist--(Asian)--oriented

     It has given me a chance to write papers about things I care
     about, and it has given me "ammunition, " for lack of a better
     word, against those who try and beat me down.

     It has expanded my mind in every direction. I am more deeply
     affected by any form of racism or discrimination because I am
     so much more aware of it.

     Powerful stimulant to exploring old territory in new ways,
     taking note and sharing with others what I have discovered
     about history--who and what is left out and included and was great fun to try and sort things out.

Women's studies courses appear to make it possible for students to
center what they are learning intellectually upon their own lives
and experienCes. But in this regard, self-emancipation through
learning becomes something larger than self-aggrandizement or
simply "empowerment." The self becomes rooted in an intellectual
agenda. This is a far cry from the focus on "women's problems" that
worried the Wellesley faculty two decades ago. While these comments
are about "personal changes," they are clearly rooted in
intellectual considerations, demonstrating William Blake's dictum,
"for a tear is an intellectual thing." For instance, students
wrote: has brought into question many aspects of my life which
     I had never before questioned or viewed as political or
     philosophical--it has opened up awareness of questioning which
     has prompted me to actively pursue personal answers.

     This course really has affected my personal life in the sense
     that I am more aware of the way gender/class has played a role
     in my life. Now if a male says something that I find
     offensive, I can I feel.

     It's a liberating feeling to look at my world through a
     different/non-sexist perspective! I'm taking charge of my life
     more now because of this awareness.

In contrast, this answer in the control courses was much more
narrow and instrumental. Students saw the courses as helping them
read the newspaper better, make moral decisions about unemployment,
renew their interest in a particular topic, or direct their job
searches. It appears that in the women's studies classes, critical
engagement is rooted in an internal or self-understanding of the
world, while in our control courses this engagement is more
external and pragmatic. -12 On many of the women's studies
questionnaires students spoke about making future commitments to
social change in practice, such as doing work in communities or
becoming politically active. -13 They saw their lives as connected
to others in a globally linked way.

The effect of women's studies on our students' lives was most
poignant in the comments from the majors and alumnae. By making the
decision to major in women's studies, these students were
acknowledging that their commitment to this field was different
from those of students just taking a course or two. Many of the
majors and alumnae saw the applicability of the women's studies
courses both in their senses of self as well in their daily lives:

     "It's hard to fight the enemy with outposts in [your] head,"
     we were quoted in class. Women's studies is a friend in my

     I think it's given me a bit of more confidence that. . .books
     aren't al- ways the key; that sometimes the answers are right
     inside of you.'s learning that does more than fill your brain . It
     fills your body, it fills your heart, land] it makes you

Other majors and alumnae spoke eloquently of the way women's
studies had changed their awareness of the world. Phrases like "it
changed the questions I asked myself," "it's made me sensitive to
obstacles faced by other disadvantaged groups," or "my life will be
devoted to women's's my life's mission" pepper their
responses. Many of the alumnae discussed how it had shaped their
career choices or guided their "intellectual and professional
life." The effect seems clearest when one student, asked what she
can do with the major, replies, "Oh, I can do anything, I just have
a broad base of humanity, and I can just stem [off] from that." As
one student concluded, "that's the big difference in women's
studies [from other disciplines]: there's not only the opportunity
to argue, but there's almost a challenge to do something about it."

* Does women's studies teach divergent points of view? Women's
studies courses at Wellesley are not different in a statistical
sense from the controls in encouraging multiple points of view.
However, what "divergent points of view" means is clearly different
once the qualitative data is read. When asked if different points
of view were encouraged by the professor, almost three-quarters of
the students in both groups said "yes." In both groups, students
felt they were exposed to contrasting theories and differing ways
to consider a topic and were encouraged to find their own answers.
In the control group, however students interpret different points
of view to mean that faculty members teach divergent theories to
explain similar phenomenon rather than differing political
viewpoints. Students rarely understand that different theories in
all disciplines are suffused with political viewpoints. In women's
studies, where students come into the courses expecting the subject
matter to be suffused with political viewpoints, they still see the
professor as presenting contrasting political views but not
different theories. This reflects the continued problem that to
discuss gender, race, or class is perceived as "political"; by
contrast to ignore these categories entirely is not perceived as

In discussions with the faculty, however, it is clear that many
times faculty members see themselves as presenting "objective"
analyses of differing theoretical positions. Because the students
see the material itself as "loaded" however, the meaning of
objectivity takes on a different cast in women's studies than in
other fields. Faculty members often struggle in women's studies
courses to help students see that there are not just differing
"opinions" about particular issues but underlying theoretical
differences that could have political consequences. As many of us
have come to rethink what knowledge is and how it is constructed,
different disciplines have begun to recognize the deeply subjective
aspects of research. The view that the researcher is not
dispassionate, objective, or simply a conduit to the intellectual
community is becoming more commonly acknowledged. -14

Similarly, this set of issues needs to be discussed about teaching.
In the Feminist Pedagogy Group convened to consider such questions,
Wellesley women's studies faculty members were particularly
articulate about the problems of being seen as "non-objective";
these problems confront the women's studies professor and the
professors of color (even more sharply), regardless of subject

Women's studies teachers are struggling to find a new definition of
"objective" and "good teacher" that clearly fits with the kinds of
materials they are presenting and an understanding of the impact
their course content has on students. If women's studies professors
do not merely present "objective" facts nor arbitrate conflicting
viewpoints as the "in-command" figure, they are searching to find
a new way to describe their teaching. Perhaps this is best summed
up in Barbara Hillyer Davis' analysis that the role is one of
"simultaneous translator...hearing and giving back in other words
what another person has just said" and at the same time presenting
an explanation in another language which will illuminate for a
second group without alienating the first." -15 One student used a
different term for this when she labeled the classroom experience
one of "mutual discovery":

     I think there is a lot of difference between teaching someone,
     like standing up in front of a classroom and spitting out
     information and expecting the students to absorb it and learn
     it, and learning through. . .mutual discovery, which is more
     possible in women's studies because it relates so personally
     to your life....

In our Feminist Pedagogy Group discussions, we found that not all
of us functioned as "simultaneous translators" or were certain that
this was always the best way to function. Disciplinary and
personality differences were evident among women's studies faculty
members. In sum, while we can say that the women's studies faculty
members demonstrated a variety of pedagogical approaches, they all
shared a willingness to try different teaching techniques and to
focus on connecting the student to her learning.

* Does women's studies pressure students to give "politically
correct" answers? When students were asked if they felt "pressure
to give 'politically correct' answers" and to explain what they
meant by this, the majority said that they did not feel this
pressure. -16 In fact, women's studies students wrote rather
extensive commentary in which they emphasized how many different
viewpoints were overtly encouraged in the classroom, suggesting the
"simultaneous translator" role was working. "She tried to present
all points of view and/or always made it safe for differing views
to be presented," explained one student, while another said of the
professor, "She made it seem okay to have different points of view
and that there is never only one 'right' point of view." In
mediating what are sometimes necessarily intense emotional
responses to subject matter, one professor was praised because "she
taught us to try to connect with the person whose idea was at
hand--rather than taking a separated, confrontational approach." 

Our findings do suggest, however, that something different is going
on in women's studies courses in terms of how students experience
the discussions. Despite the affirmation by 70 percent of the
women's studies students that their classes did not pressure them
to conform to a classroom "line" 30 percent of the women's studies
group and only 14 percent of the control group felt silenced or at
risk expressing unpopular opinions. -17 At first, we considered the
hypothesis that there simply is more discussion in women's studies
and that this would affect students' sense of more people saying
the same things. However, our statistics on classroom format do not
bear this out: 88 percent of the students in the control courses
and 84 percent in the women's studies classes reported that the
"learning environment" was structured as discussion and lecture.
Only classroom observations might tell us if there is more talking
from students in the actual discussion times in women's studies as
opposed to other courses.

What may be at issue is less the time for talk in some quantitative
sense than the nature of the talk itself. We suspect that the
actual topics of women's studies courses allow for more discussion
of deeply felt and controversial issues. The work of our colleague,
David Pillemer, and his students in the Psychology Department on
what Wellesley students actually remember about their classroom and
college experiences supports this hypothesis. Pillemer found that
Wellesley students overwhelmingly "remember" interpersonal and
emotional encounters. -18

If students are more connected to the issues under discussion in
their women's studies classroom, we suspect their strong positions
on these issues may be due to their connecting the discussion with
the emotional concern they felt at the time. This explanation is
supported by the student answers in a set of questionnaires from a
women's studies history course. They reported more controversy over
the interpretation of the ending of the one novel they read in the
course than in the seemingly more "factual" historical materials.
As one student commented, "maybe it is difficult to debate
history." -19 The students' answers also make clear that the
pressure they felt comes from the student culture, not the
professors. As one student wrote candidly, "I don't feel the
pressure. I may apply it." Another in a control class wrote, "The
professor is very accepting of all ideas even if the students
generally aren't."

We note that this survey took place under the conditions of the
hot-house atmosphere at Wellesley when the issue of Barbara Bush as
Wellesley's commencement speaker was being debated both on the
campus and throughout the country's media. (A petition from 150
Wellesley students questioned the appropriateness of Mrs. Bush as
the graduate speaker, and this set off a firestorm of controversy
concerning the unresolved issues about the changes in women's and
family life.) The course surveys are peppered with comments about
women's roles in American society and reflect the content of the
Bush controversy. For instance, one student in a women's history
course reported: "Students at Wellesley don't want to hear about
women who choose more traditional roles such as wife and mother. To
support such a choice is to be 'politically incorrect' in a women's
studies class. The mind set is that this is what women did when
they were oppressed--now that they are liberated, only the most
meek would make such a choice." -20

We feel it is disheartening to read the student comments from this
question, but their honesty needs to be recorded. Thus, one student
said, "People hesitate to state what they really feel because they
don't know if it is right and will feel scorned by those who have
'political rightness' mastered." Another noted, "Sometimes when I
disagree with what the majority of the class is saying, I don't
speak up because I feel too uncomfortable." Or, in the words of
another student, "There seems to be a party line on feminist issues
that we had better not waver from. However, it is masked in a
feeling of openness."

The problem is best summed up by a student who wrote, "The pressure
is there all the time irrespective of being in this class or
outside--the pressure to go with the sway of public opinion." At an
elite women's college where there is a college culture of high
achievement for women and a legacy of politeness as the norm for
women's behavior, there may be pressure to make students feel they
should not speak up and express a minority view. Long before "p.c."
became a nationwide shibboleth, the problem of conformity and the
failure to hotly contest ideas of any kind in the classroom were
widely discussed by Wellesley faculty members. As one student
wrote, "It's a combination of societal pressure not to rock the
boat and Wellesley pressure to be nice." It also is possible that
this conformity is a result of the primary late adolescent culture
that pervades the college. -21 Not every student conforms. As one
women's studies student declared, "I refuse to fall into one more
form of politeness."

This "politeness" is further complicated in women's studies, where
the subject matter is so linked to a sense of self. Students often
write that they feel that to be critical of someone's ideas is to
be critical of them as a person. As one student reported in a
women's studies class before beginning her disagreement, "Don't
jump all over me, but...." -22 Encouraging students to feel "safe"
to voice criticism is one of the tasks discussed many times by
women's studies faculty in the Feminist Pedagogy Group. However, if
the theories that link women's development of self to connection
with others are valid, then the women's studies students reported
discussing the course materials outside the classroom 20 percent
more than the controls we may indeed he asking students to do
something that forces them to be in tension with their developing
sense of self. -23 The difficulty of helping students to understand
differing points of view about deeply held identity beliefs, at a
time when they are still working out who they are themselves, may
be reflected in these responses as well. As one student wrote,
"...sure there's a little pressure, but that's usually brought on
by personal insecurity." How we work to promote "safe" debate
without encouraging mere posturing, competition, and disconnection
needs further thought. More research on peer pressure in the
women's classroom should be done.

How much students' unwillingness to engage in debate is linked to
their "shyness" also would have to be studied. Studies suggest that
there is a slightly higher percentage of shy students at Wellesley
than at coeducational universities. Research on shyness suggests
that the metacognitive tendencies of shy people include "think[ing]
about 'who does this situation want me to be?' rather than 'how can
I be me in this situation'" which could be a factor in the
classroom culture. Similarly, another faculty member who has read
admissions files for Wellesley over the last two decades
anecdotally reports that more of the letters of recommendation in
the late 1980s as compared to the late 1960s describe the student
as "quiet." -24

Our students' answers also suggest that the words "politically
correct" may not always mean what such a phrase has come to mean in
the media in the last two years. Some students clearly thought this
meant more of a classroom-based "party line" regardless of the
topic. Thus, in one control class in answer to the "p.c." question,
a student wrote she felt the pressure because "if you disagree with
the professor he will squash you because he has more knowledge and
therefore will give a more persuasive, irrefutable argument."

* What quality of debate occurs in women's studies? While we have
sought to investigate the reasons why some women's studies
students,  more than students in the control group, felt pressure
from their peers to sign on to a common way of seeing the world,
the vast majority of students in both groups did not experience
such pressure. In fact, the statistical comparison between the two
groups also suggests that women's studies students debate issues
far more frequently both in and out of the classroom. Of all our
questions, the numerical differences between the two groups was
widest in the two questions about debate and discussion.

When we asked, "Do students debate or argue among one another?" 80
percent of the students in the women's studies classroom answered
"yes" as opposed to only 55 percent in the controls. As noted, this
difference is not one of format. As one student expressed
eloquently, "Yes--debate, argue-- no. Everyone respects everyone
else's beliefs. I've never seen anyone jump down anyone's throat
but there are certainly a wide variety of opinions." Yet in the
very same class another student reported "There is usually a
predominantly liberal or feminist general opinion in class (in most
classes in general) and it is difficult to go against this
attitude." These divergent reactions to what has happened in the
same course suggest how little we really can learn from statistical
generalizations and how different students actually are
experiencing a course even when they are sitting in a shared
classroom. Only 25 percent of the women's studies students answered
"no" to the question of whether students argue among one another.
By contrast, 48 percent of the students from the control group, or
almost half, answered "no."

Talking and learning in women's studies takes place in many
settings. We asked students how often they discussed course
readings and lectures outside the classroom and with whom. The
women's studies students reported discussing the course materials
outside the classroom 20 percent more than the controls did (84
percent in women's studies said they had such discussions either
constantly or occasionally as opposed to 63 percent of the
controls). Even more striking, 17 percent of the women's studies
students said such discussions were constant, as opposed to only 6
percent of the controls.

There is, however, very little difference between the groups on the
question of with whom these discussions take place. The only
difference is slightly more discussion (18 percent versus 13
percent) with male friends by the women's studies group. We believe
this reflects the fact that the women's studies courses do raise
issues about male/female relationships that the students then test
in discussion with their male friends. The courses also may provide
the students with a language and the "cover" of an intellectual
dialogue to discuss more "personal" male/female issues. Many
women's studies students also report increased dialogues with their

What our questionnaires did not tell us is whether there is more
debate as well as discussion taking place outside the classroom
than in it. With friends, roommates, or family, and away from any
kind of real evaluative situation like a class (especially ones
like women's studies where students know discussion really
matters), students may feel freer to actually wrestle with the
materials and ideas they are learning. -25 Despite students'
memories that there is much discussion in women's studies classes,
faculty members also report there is sometimes a good deal of
silence, especially when the topics are particularly sensitive.

We suspect that the silence, or the sense of pressure also may come
from the topics and reflect the real limitations of the set
classroom time and its evaluative nature. Often, students need more
time to process a set of ideas, to reflect upon them, to speak to
others before they really know what they think. -26 Faculty members
thus have found that if complex ideas can be introduced a number of
different ways and returned to later in the course, the discussions
often are more fruitful. Research on women's studies learning
therefore may have to take into account what happens outside the
classroom as much as what actually happens inside during class time
or studying.

In conclusion, our findings demonstrate the limitations of relying
on quantitative evaluative data and the ways they "flatten" human
experiences. Even when the quantitative answers were statistically
similar between the women's studies and control courses, careful
reading of the actual answers suggests that the meanings of the
answers varied widely between the women's studies and control
courses. Thus, the qualitative answers told us much more about what
was really happening in the courses and gave us a deeper sense of
how we might begin to "count" the meanings of our students'
responses. These answers also demonstrated how much women's studies
classes honed students' critical thinking and their own sense of
themselves as not merely learners but active participants in
linking intellectual endeavors and changing conceptions of the self
to social change.


For the faculty members, the project enabled us to make
self-conscious what is for many of us unconscious. In our
discussions, we discovered joint problems of topics in the
classrooms, expressed concern about both silences and pressures,
and became particularly aware of the difficulties facing our col-
leagues of color. The project also led us to discuss with the
relevant committees on campus and with the dean both evaluation
problems and the need for more money for internal research on
teaching. We became very aware of how the pressure of the student
evaluation questionnaires kept faculty members, especially junior
faculty members, fearful of innovation and controversy in their
classrooms. This report also will be given as a lecture in the
faculty's ongoing teaching seminars sponsored by the dean's office.
Although some parts of this report gave us pause, we felt
encouraged in the end by the comments of students in our classes
and by the words of one who noted what women's studies had meant
for her: "I will continue to question my beliefs and will continue
to try to educate myself." This seems to us to sum up succinctly
what we hope women's studies does for all its students.

We think our report raises the need for further studies on the
following questions: 

What are the relationships between the late adolescent student's
identity development and the kinds of issues raised in women's
studies? How does peer pressure affect student learning? 

How are we to understand the meaning of"silences" in the women's
studies classroom, and how are we to measure the "talk"? 

How can quantitative and qualitative research on classroom learning
be used together to give a fuller picture of student learning? 

What kind of changes will have to be made in student evaluation
questionnaires when the course content is perceived as "political"?

What difference does widespread societal discussion of"political
correctness" mean for the women's studies classroom and its mission
as we face the twenty-first century? 

Can we follow women's studies students in a longitudinal manner to
examine how much "social change" they actually become part of? 

How can we talk about "objectivity" in a way that helps students
understand more fully what women's studies is attempting to do?

How much does the very subject of women's studies--and its link to
an emotional/affective style of learning--affect what students
actually remember about their courses?

Should we, or can we, attempt to help students disengage the
personal from the content of the courses? How do we make them
understand that while the "personal is political," it is not always
true that the political is personal in the way they have come to
understand it?

In sum, women's studies in a women's institution is ironically in
a difficult situation: It must make gender matter and not matter in
a context that struggles to make gender matter and not matter, too.
The obvious demands on women's studies in coeducational
institutions--to support women's centers, create role models, serve
as focal points for women's issues, teach in different modes--take
on subtler and different shadings in the setting of a small liberal
arts college dedicated to women's empowerment and excellence in

In questionnaire responses from students and discussions among the
faculty, we tried to determine what does make women's studies
"different" at Wellesley. Our findings suggest that ultimately it
is the subject matter of women's studies that shapes the parameters
for teaching and learning. For many students, especially those
coming directly from high school, women's studies is the first time
that women and gender are legitimate subjects of study. In
connecting the student through "mutual discovery" to herself and
the wider world at the same time, women's studies creates a
critical edge in its students and a critical stance in its
teachers. This criticalness connects intellectual sharpness to the
contemporary issues that the students face, or that they come to
understand, that structure the lives of women whose life
circumstances are or have been quite different from their own.

As our comparative data suggest, while there is as much discussion
in women's studies as in other Wellesley classes, students perceive
both more conformity and more debate in women's studies. We believe
this reflects, in part, the pressure of "politeness" that still
defines many women's cultures. Because the material is so important
to the students and their lives, they both think differently about
it and speak in "pregnant pauses" as well. Sometimes, however, the
issues appear so overwhelming they do not know what they think.
Often, only time and life experience will help them sort this out.
We think, therefore, that the seeming contradiction--more
conformity pressure and more debate--really is not contradictory.

Further, our data show they do speak about it much more outside the
classroom. Thus, women's studies requires that we reconsider the
learning boundaries of our courses. Innovative assignments,
returning to similar topics in non-linear ways, use of the
silences, and even the seeming conformity in a dialogic manner
throughout the course may be required if we are to take advantage
of the kind of learning that is already taking place.

Finally, we will have to use some of the new analyses of identity
formation and community to come to terms with the pressures our
students feel and the learning they are doing. Students in women's
studies' as in other ethnic and black studies courses, are part of
an effort to forge a new kind of learning and contestation over
critical ideas. As historian Joan Wallach Scott has argued,
"Contests about knowledge are now understood to be political, not
only because they are contests, but because they are explicitly
about the interests of groups." How we consider this and help
women's studies students forge a sense of self that is both
connected and open to difference remains our greatest challenge. 


1 . We gratefully acknowledge the participation of Wellesley
College faculty members in the surveys and discussions that made
this report possible. We also thank Holly Benton, Lisa Bergin,
Laura Kossoff, Jennifer Schoenstadt, and Margaret Potter for their
assistance in the data collection and coding. We thank Laurel
Furumoto of the Psychology Department for her helpful suggestions
on sampling technique. Tim Sieber and Caryn McTighe Musil made
invaluable editorial suggestions. Both Suzanne Hyers and Margaret
Centamore provided technical assistance, including "translating"
from MAC to IEM and back. 

2. Wellesley College Bulletin 81 (September 1991): 42, 48. 

3. Susan Reverby. "Women's Studies at Wellesley Over the Decade,"
presentation given at A Celebration of Nan Keohane's Decade as
Wellesley's President, October 18, 1991, Wellesley College.

4. It is interesting to note that this is the only academic unit in
the college where all faculty members have initially been hired on
a half-time basis. Even though the program has tenure-track
positions, it has never been given a full-time, tenure-track line
to begin with. This is unusual at Wellesley. Although the college
does have a history of providing "regular part-time" work with
benefits and the possibility of tenure. This slow building of the
program also reflects the cap on faculty increases in the 1980s. 

5. When enrollment goes above eighty students in a semester, a
faculty member can request a grader. This is rare and few faculty
members teach this many students in a semester on what is now a
two-courses-a-semester load. 

6. The 'renting' idea is Arthur Stinchcombe's; see Arthur
Stinchcombe, Information and Organizations (Berkeley: University of
California Press, 1990), chapter nine, "University Administration
of Research Space and Teaching Loads: Managers Who Do Not Know What
Their Workers Are Doing." 

7. "Wellesley College Student Evaluation Questionnaires." The forms
in fact leave room for the students to write comments, but these
are only seen by the faculty member and are not used for
evaluation. Therefore, the qualitative information on these forms
is not being used to illuminate the quantitative scores. We will
return to this point in our discussion of findings. 

8. As a by product of these questions, we learned a lot about the
content of the courses without actually examining the syllabi or
asking students about it directly. We had no hidden agenda in
finding out what was taught in classes. Content was not conceived
of as central to our research design. 

9. We focused on social science courses because there are very few
humanities and no science courses that are cross-listed in women's
studies. At Wellesley, philosophy and history are considered part
of the social sciences division. 

10. Commitment to women's studies was measured by courses that were
either part of the women's studies core curriculum or cross-listed.
The reason for this is that cross-listed courses are at the option
of the individual faculty member who chooses to see his or her
courses as part of the women's studies curriculum. A screen by
women's studies is done very informally, and faculty members are
not required to submit syllabi for acceptance. 

11. What we do not know, and would be interested to know in future
surveys, is how many students even know that the courses they
select are cross-listed with women's studies. This additional
information would tell us whether or not students are conscious of
a feminist style of teaching is of presumed feminist content to the
courses when they select their courses. Our hunch is that students
are not aware of this and choose courses simply on the reputation
of the faculty member. We suspect that even if students do not know
about the bureaucratic cross-listing, they are aware often of the
faculty member's approach and can tell from the course title and
description something about its content. At a small residential
college, a good deal of informal information is known and shared
about faculty members. In retrospect, it might have helped if in
our survey we had asked students why they chose this course and if
they knew it was cross-listed in women's studies. 

12. This kind of instrumental view of education is, of course,
fairly common; see Michael Moffatt, Coming of Age in New Jersey
(New Brunswick, N.J. Rutgers University Press, 1989). 

13. If we had the time, it would be fascinating to do longitudinal
studies and see what actually happens to these students in ten
years' time. 

14. These issues have been discussed for a number of years and are
central to much women's studies thinking. For more recent
discussion in other fields, see for examples James Clifford and
George E. Marcus, eds.,Writing Culture: The Poetics and Politics of
Ethnography (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986) and
Peter Novick, That Noble Dream: The "Objectivity Question" and the
American Historical Profession (New York Cambridge University
Press, 1988). 

15. Barbara Hillyer Davis, "Teaching the Feminist Minority." in
Margo Culley and Catherine Portuges, eds., Gendered Subjects: The
Dynamics of Feminist Teaching (New York: Routledge, 1985), 250. 

16. We should note that this question was framed before the media
circus around "political correctness" came to town. 

17. These statistics are skewed by one course in the women's
studies group where nineteen out of twenty-five students replied
yes. However, if we throw out this course from the data, almost a
fourth of the women's studies students still say yes. 

18. David Pillemer, et al., "Memories of Life Transitions: The
First Year in College," Human Learning 5 (1986): 109-23; Lynn
Goldsmith and David Pillemer, "Memories of Statements Spoken in
Everyday Contexts," Applied Cognitive Psychology 2 ( 1988): 273-86;
David Pillemer, et al., "Very Long-Term Memories of the First Year
in College."Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory
and Cognition 14 ( 1988): 709-15. 

19. It is, of course, very easy to debate history. This was a large
course taught by a visiting professor who may not have felt
comfortable opening up the debate on a regular basis. 

20. The debate around the selection of Barbara Bush and the
Wellesley students' petition questioning her appropriateness will
be the subject of a larger study, not related to this FIPSE report,
that Hertz and Reverby are now completing. Two years later as we
complete this report, this issue has clearly not gone away.
Tellingly, this time the media concern is focused on a possible
presidential wife, Hillary Clinton, Wellesley Class of 1969. Jerry
Brown's jibe at Bill Clinton for sending state business to his
wife's law firm led her to query if Brown expected her to be home
with the kids serving milk and cookies. The subsequent media
response to this was reminiscent of the Bush debate. Thus, the
pressure students feel at Wellesley to achieve in the work world,
and their sense of being silenced around traditionally "female"
activities, are certainly not limited to the women's studies

21. We acknowledge that most classes at Wellesley also have
returning women students who are older than "traditional-aged"
students. But they do not shape the classroom culture as a whole.
How much they can influence more traditional-aged students when
they are still outnumbered in the classes remains to be studied.
For a parallel analysis on tokenism, see Rosabeth Kanter, Men and
Women in the Corporation (New York: Basic Books, 1977). 

22. Reading of student entries to journals for "Introduction to
Women's Studies" and comments in "Politics of Caring" course. 

23. A number of researchers have written on this topic: Janet
Lever, Carol Gilligan, Nancy Chodorow, etc. The idea of the "self
in relations" is most theoretically developed by the Stone Center
group at Wellesley College, see Judith Jordan, et al., eds..
Women's Growth in Connection (New York: Guilford Press, 1991). 

24. Jonathan Cheek, "Faculty 'Shop-talk': Teaching the Shy
Student," Wellesley College, February 18, 1992; Personal
communication, Maud Chaplin to Susan Reverby, March 24, 1992; see
also Jonathan Cheek and L. A. Melchior, "Shyness, Self-esteem and
Self-consciousness," in H. Leitenberg, ed., Handbook of Social and
Evaluation Anxiety (New York: Plenum, 1990), 47-82. 

25. As one of the authors of this report has observed, students'
journals in the introductory courses demonstrate, for example, much
more questioning and complex thinking than is usually articulated
in the classroom. 

26. The silences also may reflect student reaction to materials
outside their own experiences or their life stage. For instance,
abortion elicits a hotly contested debate, while infertility or
reproductive technology is less likely to provoke such passionate

27. Joan Wallach Scott, "The Campaign Against Political
Correctness," Change (November- December 1 99 1 ), 3 7. 11,


This questionnaire is part of a study being done by Wellesley's
Women's Studies Program as part of a national survey. To do the
study, we are asking students in selected women's studies and
non-women's studies courses to answer this brief questionnaire.
Your answers should reflect your experience in the class where you
received this survey. Your name is not requested and your professor
will not see the survey. S/he will merely collect them and return
them immediately to the women's studies office. We deeply
appreciate your taking the time to do this.


If a question does not apply, please write "not applicable." If you
do not have an answer or don't know, please write "don't know."

Course number and name:

Background Information 

1. What year do you expect to graduate?

2. What is your age?

3. What is your race/ethnicity?

4. What is your major? What is your minor?

5. After graduation are you presently planning to attend graduate
or professional school ? 
Yes      No     Don't know    [circle one] 
In what fields? [specify, degrees and fields]

Questions About This Course 

1. How has this course changed or affected your personal life?

2. How has this course affected your intellectual life?

3. Did it change your political beliefs? If so, how? 

4. How was the learning environment structured in the classroom?
(e.g., lecture only, lecture and discussion, student led, sat in a
circle, etc.)

5. How does the learning environment in this class compare to any
courses you have taken in women's studies? (Women's studies courses
and courses cross-listed in women's studies can be used as

6. Is there much discussion in this class?

7. Do students debate or argue among one another? [provide

8. How often did you discuss course readings and lectures outside
the classroom? 

Constantly           Occasionally          Rarely    [circle one] 
Only when studying for an exam        Never 
If so, with whom? [specify relationship: roommates, female friends,
male friends, family]

9. Do you feel there is pressure to give "politically correct"
Yes      No     [circle one] If yes, please explain your answer.

10. Were different points of view encouraged by the professor? Yes 
No     Sometimes    [circle one]

11. In terms of course content, did you learn how to think about an
issue or social problem from different political or theoretical
points of view? [give examples]

12. Do you feel that you will apply what you learned in this class
to your work and/or further education?
Yes      No     Don't know    [circle one] If yes, how?