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                           CHAPTER 7

                        OBERLIN COLLEGE 

                      BY LINDA R. SILVER -1

Oberlin College examines some of the distinctions and tensions, as
well as the commonalities, among students and faculty members of
diverse identities, rather than embracing a single, singular
conception of women's studies teaching and learning. Focusing their
assessment on both students and faculty, then, Oberlin College
examines student learning and self-empowerment; collaborative
learning; and relational understandings of race, ethnicity, class,
gender, and sexuality.

Oberlin College, founded in 1835, is an independent, coeducational
institution located thirty-five miles southwest of Cleveland, Ohio.
In 1841, it was the first American college to grant undergraduate
degrees to women. Oberlin also was a leader in the education of
people of color; by 1900, one-third of all black graduates of
predominantly white institutions in America had graduated from
Oberlin. In keeping with its own origins in nineteenth-century
social change movements, the college today has a national
reputation as an institution that encourages intense engagement
with intellectual and social issues and challenges students to
combine scholarship with activism and social responsibility.
Currently, Oberlin's student enrollment is 2,750, with 2,250
students in the College of Arts and Sciences and 500 in the
Conservatory of Music (Oberlin course catalogue, 1991-92).

Efforts to initiate a women's studies program at the college began
in the early 1970s and culminated in 1982, when a formal program
officially was established. It is run by a committee of faculty
members and students, directed by a faculty member, and
administered by a part-time coordinator.

With one full-time faculty member, the program offers five core
courses, including an introduction to women's studies and a senior
seminar. In addition, the program offers core courses focusing
primarily on women or gender cross-listed with fifteen departments
and programs including Anthropology, Black Studies, Philosophy,
Russian, and Theatre and Dance. Students also may choose additional
work from among almost one hundred related courses offered by
sixteen departments or programs, all of which treat a topic or In
a survey of majors and minors...three quarters named [their women's
studies courses] as the most intellectually stimulating courses
they had taken at Oberlin theme involving gender as part of the
course material. By the midpoint in the 1991-92 academic year.
there were sixty women's studies majors and fifteen minors. The
Women's Studies Program is one of Oberlin College's fastest growing
academic areas.

Student demand for women's studies courses far exceeds the ability
of the program to meet that demand. With only one full-time
professor responsible for the introductory course, the practicum,
and the senior seminar as well as several other offerings,
wait-lists for courses sometimes run as high as two hundred
students. Requests to the administration from students and from the
Women's Studies Program Committee have met with very limited
success, running up against not only competing requests from other
units of the college but also against a period of economic
uncertainty and financial retrenchment. Recognized needs of the
program, such as an intermediate-level feminist methodology course
and modifications to strengthen the practicum, will remain unmet
until at least one additional full-time faculty member is hired.

The steady growth of the program and the ever-increasing popularity
of its courses can be explained in part by the students' awareness
of the interrelationships between race, gender, class, and
sexuality. The program prides itself on its attempts to take these
issues seriously and to provide a conceptual framework that
integrates the multiple categories. As one student puts it:

     Women's studies is not just about gender at Oberlin....
     What's so important to me about women's studies here--and
     if it hadn't been this way I don't think I would have
     continued with the major--is that it's about a lot of
     different systemic oppressions, and central to these are
     race and class and gender. Nor is it just about women....
     I'm not saying...that WOST students are always concerned
     with race, class, nationality, and sexuality issues. But
     we have a base we can build on....

In a survey of majors and minors conducted several years ago as
part of a class project, all of the respondents said they found
their women's studies courses to be intellectually challenging, and
three quarters named them as the most intellectually stimulating
courses they had taken at Oberlin. The students conducting the
survey assert that "such an exceptionally high number of
academically satisfied students within a single department is quite
unusual. While there were complaints about the program, there was
no disagreement that these students felt very challenged." Even
students who arrive at Oberlin as self-proclaimed feminists praise
the program for its power to transform and challenge. As a 1982
women's studies graduate explained:

     The college (or specific teachers and groups there) took
     that feminism seriously--educated, expanded, challenged,
     layered, enriched that stance, truly enlarging my
     knowledge and experience.

                         PROGRAM GOALS 

During the first year of participation in NWSA's FIPSE national
assessment project, the Women's Studies Program Committee devoted
substantial time to discussing its goals, its future, its faculty
and curricular needs, and its student audience. The basis for our
discussion of the goals of our Women's Studies Program was the
catalogue copy that currently describes us as:

     a multidisciplinary program exploring topics concerning
     women, gender, and difference, in the humanities, social
     sciences, and natural sciences. Course work includes
     scholarship by and/or about women of varying racial,
     ethnic and class backgrounds and sexual identities in
     literature, the arts, history and theory; it also
     analyzes the experiences of men and women with respect to
     social, psychological, cultural and biological factors
     influencing the construction and representation of
     gender. Women's studies courses often involve the
     investigation of materials previously neglected by
     scholars and new methodological and critical approaches
     to materials customarily treated in other ways. Such
     courses may as a result propose revisions in the content,
     methods, and assumptions of particular disciplines in
     light of recent feminist scholarship.

Going beyond the catalogue description, we stressed that our aims
are multicultural and interdisciplinary; we see the program
striving on the one hand to achieve analytic clarity and rigor and,
on the other, to facilitate, personal growth and student voice. We
see important interconnections between what appear as separate
categories in the NWSA/FIPSE proposal: knowledge base and learning
skills. We see ourselves as trying to foster tolerant, critical
habits of mind in which students learn to question their own
assumptions, in order to explore the ideological underpinnings of
knowledge to see the connections between structures of knowledge
and structures of society. We want We want to communicate how
differential access to power and authority--with respect to gender,
race, class, and sexuality--shapes our understandings to foster a
self-reflexive criticism that identifies and, beyond that, locates
epistemological formulations within social structures. We want to
communicate how differential access to power and authority--with
respect to gender, race, class, and sexuality--shapes our
understandings. Our discussion stressed that the knowledge we seek
to communicate in women's studies is not a simple body of
information but rather a question of approach and
conceptualization. In this way, we see logical connections between
women's studies and other programs dealing with ethnic and minority
peoples and people of color.

We are currently trying to make our women's studies program more
truly interdisciplinary, and we believe our own core program
courses have contributed to making connections between disciplines.
At the same time, we think it is important to encourage the growth
of more courses in a variety of disciplines across the curriculum.
At present, our disciplinary strengths are centered in the
humanities, with some representation in the social sciences and
real weaknesses in the area of the natural sciences. Unfortunately,
such curricular lopsidedness hinders our programmatic goals.

We also are consciously working to continue our progress toward a
program where multicultural issues inform every aspect of our
program, including our curriculum, our faculty, and our student
audience. We seek to involve people of different ethnic and racial
backgrounds and sexual orientations at all levels. In other ways,
too, we are continuing our efforts to reach out to a variety of
student constituencies, including women and men, and students from
a variety of fields from the natural sciences, social sciences, and
humanities, irrespective of majors.

For many, the issue of learning skills includes assisting students
in developing a personal voice and expression, as well as basic
confidence in learning. We are concerned that our students learn to
"authorize" their own ideas and identities; this issue is
especially important for traditionally marginalized groups such as
women in general and especially women of color and lesbian and
bisexual women. For faculty, our goals for ourselves include
learning to encourage different modes of expression and
reevaluating why certain skills are deemed important.

In terms of feminist pedagogy, we seek to foster critical,
tolerant, investigative thinking, and we encourage students not to
reproduce knowledge but actually to produce it as well. To do this,
we think feminist pedagogy must demonstrate a sensitivity to
questions of social differentiation in the classroom and in the
learning process. Again, feminist pedagogy must strive to give
voice. In working on the NWSA/FIPSE project, we on the faculty
articulated once more our goal of experimenting further in methods
of presentation and evaluation, of undertaking cooperative learning
projects, and new orientations in our off-campus practicum

Finally, we all concurred that personal growth has a special place
in women's studies and that encouraging creative, critical thinking
and fostering voice would empower students and heighten their
awareness. We like to think that what we do in women's studies
classrooms will have a positive impact on how our students see
themselves and what they are doing in the "outside world" beyond
our academic context. We hope that students are learning how to
create new knowledge and new group relations.

                        ASSESSMENT PLAN 

Our Women's Studies Program is grounded in the recognition of
differences: differences between courses, in the courses of study
followed by our diverse majors and minors, among our students, and
among our faculty. Rather than embrace a single, singular
conception of women's studies teaching and learning, then, our
objectives in conducting our self-assessment entail getting at some
of the distinctions and tensions, as well as the commonalities,
among students and faculty members of diverse racial, ethnic,
class, gender and sexual identities. Thus, we recognize and hope to
highlight the positionalities from which learning and teaching
occur in our program. To this end, more- over, we focused our
assessment on both students and faculty members. The questions we
posed were: 

* Does student learning entail self-empowerment? We understand
self-empowerment as a matter of agency and social responsibility
and self-understanding as inseparable from an articulated sense of
social responsibility. Thus the self- empowerment we hope to teach
involves students' coming to an understanding of the identity and
history of their own group(s) within the context of understanding
the identities and histories of members of other groups, all such
understanding being situated within substantive knowledge of
sociocultural structures. Self-empowerment also entails gaining an
understanding of the tools of disciplinary and social analysis and
of modes for effecting social change. 

* To what extent does collaborative learning occur, and how
effective is it? We defined pedagogy as a matter of shared
responsibility and shared work and recognize that the weight of
responsibility differs from class to class. We do not want to
prescribe what the collective nature of learning is for the entire
program; rather, we want to assess whether the pedagogical
structures of a given class are appropriate to the objectives--and
the composition--of the class. Moreover, given our understanding
that knowledge is produced and not simply acquired, we want to
learn the extent to which our students are engaging in genuinely
collective work and how that work is being done. Since
collaborative learning means working with and learning from people
who are different from oneself, we specifically want to learn
whether/how our students are negotiating and mediating differences,
how they are putting themselves on the line, and what the outcomes

* Does a particular course foster a relational understanding of
race, ethnicity, class, gender, and sexuality? Specifically, does
it help students understand the significance of these categories?
Does it identify how they operate individually? Does it identify
how they operate in conjunction?

                     METHODS OF ASSESSMENT 

Students in women's studies courses, senior women's studies majors,
alumnae, and faculty members were the four groups upon whom the
assessment focused. Written self-statements (see page 176) were
administered three times during a semester to students in seventeen
courses. These students were not necessarily women's studies majors
or minors, and their degree of engagement with women's studies
varied from fairly intensive to virtually none at all. Senior
majors taking the women's studies senior seminar interviewed one
another as part of a class project. A questionnaire was mailed to
college faculty members and another was inserted into an issue of
the program's newsletter, WomaNews, and mailed to alumnae.
Supplementing these methods of gathering data was a set of student
interviews conducted by a senior major who served for one semester
as the project's research assistant.

The shape of the assessment plan as it developed tends to reflect
the growing national debate about multiculturalism and the
questions asked about women's studies programs in terms of this
debate: What fosters student learning and self-empowerment? How can
courses encourage a relational understanding of gender, race,
class, and sexuality? Does feminist pedagogy differ from other
types? How do women's studies courses affect students' lives and
life choices?


Self-empowerment stands out as the program goal most important to
students. The results of the assessment suggest that students'
understanding of the meaning of the concept develops over the
course of their college experience and is Influenced by the
intensity of their engagement with women's studies. By senior year,
a women's studies student, for instance, revealed in an interview
that her agenda in women's studies started with issues she could
apply specifically to herself and her position and spread out into
"looking at systems of domination:'s about power and how
society is structured."

In the self-statements, no question directly relating to or
mentioning the term "self-empowerment" was asked. However, answers
to questions about "the most significant thing you have learned" in
terms of either process or content elicited responses that connote
self-empowerment: "I've learned how to think.... I have a whole
bunch of alternatives open to me that I want to take. I am engaged"
(junior, art major). In student responses, self-empowerment
occurred almost twice as often as the next cited
category--collaborative learning.

     The most important thing...was not just getting my hands
     on information but also on a method...of knowing what to
     look out for and what to do when I see it. 

     I have gained a sense of feminist literary criticism with
     which I may not only approach all other literature but
     also which I may apply to my personal life. 
                      SENIOR, ENGLISH MAJOR

     I have learned something about coalitions and the
     difficulties of trying. I have learned to distinguish
     between guilt and power. I learned about silence and what
     it means. I have learned to encompass a global con- text
     into my thinking and, hopefully, acting. 
                     SENIOR, SOCIOLOGY MAJOR

Self-empowerment was also central to the comments of the senior
students who were interviewed. As one senior put it,
"Self-empowerment is of the utmost importance because without it,
you are immobilized." In the interviews, however, the link with
social responsibility was more apparent. When asked to describe the
changes in their expectations of their women's studies education
between their first and last college years, the majority commented
on how their interest had shifted from personal to social issues.
One student told the interviewer that she had experienced a "growth
that is a natural progression in women's studies," that her "first
exposure to feminist coursework centered around issues of self" and
that as she developed better and more numerous skills she "desired
to politicize and problematize the personal." When included in a
list of Oberlin's Women's Studies Program goals self-empowerment
and the linking of personal with social responsibility were rated
together as most important.

     What's important to me is having a language not only to
     represent myself but to talk about political change....
     It's more about feminist thinking and method as opposed
     to "feminine" or "women's issues." It's about learning
     how to address marginalization and difference.

Another student stated that women's studies helped her see where
she has "work to do in this world" and how to do that work; she did
not see women's studies as a "personal tool for me to learn how to
feel good about myself as a woman."

While students commented on the primacy of empowerment as both an
educational goal and as an outcome of the feminist education they
receive at Oberlin, neither alumnae nor faculty members ranked it
first among the stated program goals of student self-empowerment,
recognition of differences, collaborative learning, and
understanding the relationships among race, class, gender, and
sexuality. Alumnae were reluctant to give a ranking. Comments like
"All are important" or "It's impossible to rank hierarchically
things that are so interrelated" were common. However, when asked
if and how the women's studies courses they had taken at Oberlin
had influenced their lives, many alumnae singled out the
self-empowering nature of the critical thinking in which they had
been encouraged to engage. Classroom teaching practices and
relationships with peers and faculty were characterized as
providing the freedom and courage to question, a means toward
empowerment, a catalyst toward political action, and a model for
sorting through social issues.

We were interested in finding out if women's studies alumnae
continue to be involved in feminist activities after they graduate.
In other words, were they empowered toward social action? The broad
categories of feminist activities identified by Linton were used as
a basis for this inquiry. -2 Conceptualizations of feminism
represented by these activities included reproductive rights
clinics, battered women's shelters, marches, networks, political
action, women's crafts, filmmaking, voter education, and research. 

All of the alumnae who responded had participated in most of the
sixteen activities specified. The involvement of many had, in fact,
begun at Oberlin and had been carried on after graduation, often in
the professions they now practice, such as teaching or law. This
seems fitting for graduates of a college whose motto is "Learning
and Labor" and whose women's studies program currently is
considering how to strengthen students' ability to relate theory to
practice. One graduate articulated the importance of developing in
students "the ability to see how theory shapes practice and how
practice-- the real, changing world--keeps pressing at the
boundaries of theory."

The most critical comments about the Women's Studies Program at
Oberlin came not from students but from faculty members who were
not teaching in the Women's Studies Program. The survey sent to
Oberlin's general faculty revealed that there was striking
variation in how the program is perceived and accepted (see pages
174-75). In contrast to the evaluations by students who had taken
women's studies courses, a minority of faculty respondents, both
female and male, construed the program's goals as being
ideological, political, or indicative of "one big counseling
session." In reply to a question about the impact of the program on
the college, one female humanities professor, who is not part of
the Women's Studies Program, wrote:

     [It has had a] terrible impact--the program has
     politicized and ideologized students instead of promoting
     objectivity in education....I must withdraw my support
     for this program until it becomes less ideological and
     more in line with the spirit of true academic excellence
     at Oberlin....

A long-time professor of mathematics, who also is not part of the
program, stated that the goals of the program "make [it] sound more
like a political party than an academic department. I have been
supportive of women's studies in the past, but I am not willing to
support a political party in disguise."

Notwithstanding these views, the vast majority of faculty members
support the program and its stated goals. As one faculty member
argued, "Its continued existence is of core importance to the
mission of the institution," and another echoed these sentiments:
"...the role of the program as an institutional basis for dissent
is absolutely vital to the educational mission of the college."
Still others praised women's studies because it "
legitimacy to the college's progressive and tolerant reputation."
Recognizing that some faculty members "see in women's studies
radical lunacy writ large," a respondent nonetheless valued the
program because it "promotes attention to multiculturalism and
politics." Finally, another faculty member explained why students
were so attracted to the Women's Studies Program: "[It] has the
most interesting faculty and the most interesting ideas." When
asked what goals, if any, they would add to those stated, the goal
of critical thinking was added most often. This coincides with the
alumnae's recognition that they had, in fact, been taught to think
critically, which they valued even more after graduation. According
to one faculty comment, critical thinking was cultivated in women's
studies courses:

     In the past couple of years, I've noticed that students
     who have taken at least the introductory course in
     women's studies are better trained in critical thinking
     than many other students. So I gather that critical
     thinking is more consistently encouraged by women's
     studies pedagogy than can be assumed across the

                     COLLABORATIVE LEARNING 

In the self-statements, collaborative learning was ranked by
students as second in importance only after self-empowerment. In
commenting on collaborative learning, one student, for example,
explained, "I've not learned as much in any other class at Oberlin
in the past three and one half years" (senior, art major). Another
commented: "I think collaborative learning is effective in any
class....I appreciate this method in my sociology and psychology
class and wish it were more common in my economics classes"
(junior, economics major). That students come to realize through
collaborative learning that their peers can be sources of new
knowledge is apparent in the following self-statement: "I am
constantly learning from classmates....In this class, with the
issues we discuss because they're personal, and public/political,
cooperative learning is really effective and eye-opening"
(sophomore, women's studies major).

As a pedagogical method, collaborative learning more readily
challenges students to mediate differences which emerge as students
work closely with one another. The process is not an easy one,
according to one senior:

     We are in the process of negotiation [of difference];
     ...we are (supposedly) committing ourselves to frank
     discourse with faith in one another's central worth, but
     it's hard. We are so untrusting and quick to judge or
     reluctant to judge at all. 

Most students, nonetheless, have developed strategies for
negotiating differences that include "recognizing and dealing with
them," "respectful listening," and "allowing for conflict." While
the strategies do not always work students felt that the challenge
to interact across differences was educationally productive:

     I've tried (and occasionally failed) not to assume things
     about people from different backgrounds...and I've been
     curious about what they think. It's worked pretty
     well...a lot of communication is going on. 
                      SENIOR, HISTORY MAJOR

An alumna concurred with students about the value of collaborative
learning, especially in terms of its application after graduation:

     Collaborative learning is particularly important because
     it requires a recognition of one's own strengths and also
     a recognition of difference. It's an important life skill
     to be able to work with others, engaged in our
     differences. Politically, this is significant. 
                  1991 OBERLIN COLLEGE GRADUATE

Senior seminar interviews reiterated what other students had said
about both the importance and the challenge of collaborative
learning. As one senior described it, "collaborative learning was
valuable was certainly attempted but at times was
difficult." Another captured the dynamic classroom interaction that
can flow from collaborative learning: "The classroom becomes a
setting for exchange and question and a form of activism. And I
haven't had it in every classroom in Oberlin...maybe two or three."

Some seniors, however, were more skeptical about how uniformly
collaborative learning actually was integrated into every women's
studies course. While one senior felt it "is one area that...has
been very successfully met at times," she also felt it "has simply
been given lip service at other times." Another senior, who had
taken only women's studies courses for two consecutive semesters,
stated she was weary of the collaborative learning approach,
adding, "I wish there was more lecturing."


While students ranked self-empowerment and collaborative learning
as the two program goals that they considered most important, both
women's studies alumnae and faculty members placed greatest
importance on teaching students to understand the relationships
among race, class, gender, and sexuality. Comments from graduates
and faculty members, moreover, suggested that this understanding
was integrally related to the recognition and analysis of
difference. For example, one alumna wrote:

     Although I was aware of sexual and racial oppression and
     my opposition to them when I arrived, Oberlin opened my
     eyes to a multitude of issues in which...difference-based
     oppressions play a part and in the ways that they all
     interact. It added to my ability to analyze power.... 
                  1985 OBERLIN COLLEGE GRADUATE

For many graduates, Oberlin was their first opportunity to be
reflective about the relationships among class, gender, and
sexuality. It often was other students within women's studies and
beyond it who triggered intellectual and personal growth:

     Before I came to Oberlin I had had neither the freedom
     nor the opportunity to question or even develop any ideas
     about these issues. The students I met were the main way
     this questioning and development took place. 
                  1985 OBERLIN COLLEGE GRADUATE

Another alumna had a similar experience: "At Oberlin,
I...discovered I was a feminist. It was also the first place I ever
met openly gay and lesbian people" (1982 graduate). What women's
studies seemed to provide for many students was the conceptual
framework for understanding complex relationships between systems
of oppressions. As one women's studies graduate explained:

     I was exposed to critical thought on these issues and
     provided with the means to make links between them.
     [Oberlin] taught me to ask questions--not just attempt to
     give answers. I became more equipped to examine my own
     racism and classism at Oberlin. 
                 1988 OBERLIN COLLEGE GRADUATE 

Alumnae surveyed--all of whom had taken women's studies
courses--strongly believed that Oberlin had influenced them
regarding these issues; through Oberlin's tradition of tolerance,
its respect for diversity and difference, its strong feminist and
humanist tradition, and its inclusiveness of a variety of
life-styles, values, ideas, and backgrounds. Blending the
experience as a women's studies graduate with that of the
institutional culture of Oberlin College itself, one student

     Oberlin provided an inclusive environment in which I was
     free to test and expand my creative and intellectual
     potential without feeling limited. I learned the meaning
     of egalitarianism and have applied that approach to life
     after Oberlin. 
                  1984 OBERLIN COLLEGE GRADUATE

Oberlin's faculty has given questions of difference and issues of
multiculturalism primacy among its concerns for several years.
After much debate college-wide, a multicultural diversity
requirement was added last year to the general college requirements
as well as to the requirements for the women's studies major. Two
women's studies faculty members, Chandra Mohanty and Gloria
Watkins, organized and convened a year-long faculty working
colloquium entitled "Pedagogies of Gender, Race, and Empire," which
included a panel discussion of cultural diversity at Oberlin and
several speakers on "oppositional" and non-Eurocentric pedagogy.

Even among critics of the Women's Studies Program, its leadership
in these areas is acknowledged. One professor noted the impact of
the program on the college as "profound" and remarked that "the
program has [had] important spillover impact on many disciplines
and majors." Another commented that the "rigorous analysis" of
these issues in women's studies courses raises students' awareness
of the linkage between the local and the global. Still another
praised women's studies for the way its multicultural feminist
theory enlightened and empowered students:

     Students learn more about the interrelations of gender,
     race, class, and sexuality in the social and ideological
     construction of power and knowledge than in any other
     program.... They gain empowerment by being taught to
     query and challenge the status quo of accepted knowledge

Student responses on the self-statements indicate that this kind of
understanding is considered integral to women's studies. All of the
students answering questions at the beginning of the semester about
race, gender, sexuality, and class said they expected these issues
to be covered in class. Most of them expected all four categories
to be covered, while the rest specified which they thought would
not be. Although this varied by course, class and sexuality were
the two categories most students assumed would be excluded.

At mid-semester, students were asked if gender, race, class, and
sexuality were, in fact, being addressed. Over half of the students
stated that all four were woven into the course. A smaller
proportion of students stated that not all categories had been
incorporated into the course. Although this varied by course,
students cited race, rather than class or sexuality, as the
category most frequently excluded.

Self-statement number three asked how questions of gender, race,
class, and sexuality were being addressed. Comments included:
"Through readings, discussions, theorizing..."; "In terms of how
[race] shapes people's identities and how much it is tied to other
factors like gender.... How to re-analyze and re-address these
conceptions"; "[The class] tried to address all of these together.
It's difficult to assess how well it ultimately managed to do so";
"This class addresses [these issues] as integral and inseparable
from WOST"; and "Before taking this class I had no idea how much
race, class, gender, and sexuality were involved in forming
feminist thinking...."

Senior seminar students recognized the multiple layers of meaning
involved in issues of differences. In every interview, students
commented about difference which was often cited as one of the most
valuable learning experiences. As one student explained, "There's
such a consciousness with [women's studies] of the importance of
interdisciplinary study, of discussing difference and of having a
language for discussing difference." For another senior, the most
valuable part of her learning in women's studies was her newfound
ability to see the "layeredness and interconnectedness of the
different systems that center around gender, race, class, and
sexuality." In explaining to those who ask her what women's studies
is, a senior answers by saying:

     ...we study how gender, race, class, and sexuality fit
     into systems of government and knowledge.... So it's not
     necessarily "woman." It's how men and women interact. .
     .and what affects their behavior or their position or
     their experience. 

Perhaps the clearest statement of how successfully women's studies
courses provided students with the intellectual framework for
understanding relationships of power is captured by the senior who

     The first,...most important lesson I learned was the
     notion of center and...who is placed at the center....
     That this system creates a situation where people of
     color, and women, and working class people are
     marginalized and targeted [has] sort of become central to
     how I think about the world.

                           WHAT NOW? 

Since Oberlin's participation in the national assessment project
began almost three years ago, much in our program has changed, yet
much has stayed the same. High turnover among women's studies
faculty and among those who run the program has meant that
relatively few people who helped to develop the original assessment
plan are still around to witness its completion. Only two of the
current members of Oberlin's Assessment Task Force have been
on it for more than the current year, none since its beginning.
That the final assessment resembles fairly closely the one
envisioned three years ago attests to the strength of the initial
planning. That it mirrors some of the perennial problems of the
program--namely, shortages in the time and human energy needed to
provide continuity and planning for the future--suggests that the
program has arrived at a critical moment in its history.

The FIPSE/NWSA assessment at Oberlin has become part of an
intensive internal examination of the program organized in the fall
of 1991 to develop a five-year plan that will provide for increased
coherence, stability, and growth. So far, the examination has
focused on staffing, curriculum, and pedagogy. Our assessment
dovetails with each of these concerns.

It did not require a formal program assessment to tell us that
women's studies courses, particularly those few that are offered as
the core program, are in great demand. For several years, that
story has been told by the number of names on computer-generated
wait lists and, far more compellingly, by the disappointment and
frustration voiced by students who sometimes cannot get into the
introductory course until their senior year--and then only if they
have a major or minor in the program. The assessment does show
quite clearly, however, that current students, graduates, and
faculty members find the core courses in particular to differ
qualitatively from other courses in the college. Far from being
"rap sessions," as one of the few negative comments described them,
they offer not merely a sense of empowerment, as might be concluded
from data on students, but actual empowerment, expressed as social
action, and shown by alumnae data. Moreover, the way that students
experience and conceptualize "empowerment" appears quite clearly to
develop from the personal to the social at least in part in
relation to the intensity of the engagement with women's studies.

The assessment also shows that women's studies classrooms--again,
particularly in the core program courses--involve students as
active collaborators in a multidimensional, interdisciplinary
learning experience that is rarely found to the same extent in more
traditional non-women's studies courses. Some do not always find
this comfortable but still choose to grapple with the discomfort
rather than to reject it. They find, by and large, "the courage to
question," or to develop what many among the alumnae and faculty
members called "critical thinking."

We also have learned from the assessment that women's studies
courses seem to offer a space--although not necessarily a "safe
space"--for many different social, racial, and sexual identities.
The terms "multicultural diversity" and "recognition of difference"
are pallid in light of the intense encounters, confrontations,
discoveries, and revelations--individual and collective, emotional
and intellectual--that occur within that space. The very creation
of that space by instructors and students often is searing.

The nature of Oberlin's women's studies program, as indicated by
the assessment, requires close attention to methodological and
critical approaches and to continuous conversation among students,
faculty members who teach core courses, and those who teach
cross-listed courses. It also requires a degree of mediation within
the college community that is not required of those disciplines
whose scholarly norms are customarily considered to be unconcerned
with ideology or politics. We recognize the fact that program
development and faculty development are intertwined and that the
future of women's studies at Oberlin depends on both.

The need for greater curricular coherence is an outgrowth of the
evolving disciplinary uniqueness of women's studies. The
development of feminist theory has been concomitant with cross- or
supra-disciplinary work in such areas as the international division
of female labor, the "first world's" construction of racialized
sexualities during and after colonialism, and reconstitutions of
gender in new and re-emerging nations. Growth in the field of
women's studies may well account for the increase in the number of
majors in Oberlin's program; students now are choosing to go beyond
supplementing their college education with a few women's studies
courses and are turning instead to a fully realized major.

As we continue our discussions regarding long-range planning and
the future of the Women's Studies Program at Oberlin, we will build
our future based on insights generated by NWSA's FIPSE grant. In
our original assessment design, we claimed that we intended to
investigate "some of the distinctions and tensions, as well as the
commonalities, among students and faculty members of diverse
racial, ethnic, class, gender and sexual identities." Three years
later, this statement continues to challenge and engage.

1. Thanks go to the members of the Women's Studies Program
Committee over the last several years for their participation in
and support of the assessment project and to the authors and
compilers of the various documents upon which the report draws:
Carol Lasser. Gloria White, Chandra Mohanty, Sandy Zagarell and
Claudia MacDonald. Thanks to Mary Andes, student assistant on the
assessment project; and special thanks to women's studies minor and
computing center consultant Sue Patterson, for recovering what
seemed for a while to be permanently lost text. 

2. A. Jaggar and S. Bordo, eds., Gender/Body/Knowledge (New
Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1989). 174


1. Some of the goals of Oberlin's Women's Studies Program are: 
O student self-empowerment 
O recognition of differences 
O collaborative learning 
O understanding the relationship between race, class, gender, and

Which of these goals do you consider most important? Are there
others you would add?

2. Which of the following activities in your opinion are the most
important to the future of the Women's Studies Program? Please rank
from 1=least important to 7=most important. 

___ change program status to department 
___ raise funds from alumni to create an endowed chair in women's
___ lobby administration and trustees for more support, financial
and otherwise, for the program 
___ improve the representation of women of color on the faculty and
staff and among students 
___ increase the visibility of the program address questions of
difference and diversity within the women's studies curriculum 
___ increase number of full-time faculty (currently one person)

3. What impact do you think the Women's Studies Program has on
Oberlin College?

4. What significant learning experiences do you think women's
studies courses offer students?

5. Do you believe that women's studies courses differ in pedagogy
--in how students learn--from non-women's studies courses? 
    Yes   No   If yes, how?

6. Have you ever taught a course that was cross-listed with women's
studies?   Yes   No

7. Have you ever taught a women's studies-related course?  Yes   No

8. Do you include any of the following perspectives in the courses
you teach, whether or not they are women's studies courses?
Perspectives on: 
O Gender 
O Class 
O Race 
O Sexuality 
(most of the time, some of the time, rarely, never)

9. Do you ever approach your subject with an integrative analysis
of gender, race, class, and sexuality?   Yes   No   (Please

10. Which of the following teaching techniques do you use? 
O lectures by teacher 
O presentations by individual students 
O discussions led by teacher 
O discussions led by individual students 
O discussions led by groups of students 
O other:

11. Are you faculty or administration?

12. How many years have you taught at Oberlin?

13. Do you teach in the conservatory or the college?

14. In what division of the college do you teach?

15. Are you female or male?

16. What is your race/ethnicity?

17. We welcome your comments about the Women's Studies Program as
we plan for the future. 

                     STUDENT SELF-STATEMENTS

                   Student Self-Statement #1. 

1. Do you expect this class to address questions of race?
Do you expect this class to address questions of gender?
Do you expect this class to address questions of sexuality?
Do you expect this class to address questions of social class?

2. Do you expect this class to take a feminist approach? What does
this mean for you? For example, does it mean: 
a. inclusion of women authors, artists, scientists, etc., in the
b. discussions of systems of race, gender, and class 
c. an analysis of power relations in terms of hierarchy,
oppression, and exploitation 
d. other:

3. What kind of learning environment do you expect? For example,
only lecture, only discussion, both lectures and discussion,
student-led discussion, faculty-led discussion? other?

4. What kind of learning environment do you prefer or learn best

5. If you expect discussion, do you expect to be actively engaged
in discussion or do you expect the teacher to lead most of the

6. What do you hope to learn in this class?

                   Student Self-Statement #2 

1. Does this class address questions of race? How?
Does this class address questions of gender? How?
Does this class address questions of sexuality? How?
Does this class address questions of social class? How?

2. Is this class taking a feminist approach? Please explain.

3. Collaborative learning is defined as a pedagogical style that
emphasizes cooperative efforts among students and faculty members.
It is rooted in the belief that learning is social in nature and
stresses common inquiry as a basic learning process. Do you think
collaborative learning has taken place in your classroom? In what
specific ways?

4. Since true collaborative learning means working with and
learning from people who are different from oneself, how have you
negotiated and mediated those differences?

5. What are some of the significant things you are learning in this

                   Student Self-Statement #3 

1. Has this class addressed questions of race? How?
Has this class addressed questions of gender? How?
Has this class addressed questions of sexuality? How?
Has this class addressed questions of social class? How?

2. How would you characterize the most important things you have
learned in this class (in terms of content and process)?