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                          CHAPTER NINE


     What I found in women's studies was a body of knowledge
     that taught me to question not only the answers, but also
     the questions as well. 
                     TOWSON STATE UNIVERSITY

When Abby Markowitz addressed a plenary of nearly two thousand
participants at the 1989 national conference of the National
Women's Studies Association, those of us who had taught women's
studies felt especially proud: proud of her, proud of the tough
questions she posed to women's studies, and proud of women's
studies for the part it played in her education. With four other
women, Abby was on a riveting student plenary panel, "Learning
Feminisms: Journeys in our Lives." Just a week earlier, FIPSE had
recommended funding "The Courage to Question." Between then and
now, we have amassed an important body of new information about
student learning. Just as Abby discovered, we have generated almost
as many new questions as answers.

Our research, on the one hand, substantiates many ways in which
women's studies has succeeded in engaging students intellectually
and personally in its subject matter and in their education. On the
other hand, the research also has pointed to numerous areas for
further investigation. While we expect our findings to stimulate
self-reviews within women's studies, we also hope this report
initiates ongoing conversations with colleagues across disciplinary
boundaries. To meet the complex challenges on campuses, in our
classes, and in our communities, we in higher education must be
practical visionaries collectively committed to the well-being of
students. We hope The Courage to Question moves us closer to
creating that kind of educational community.

In 1991, the American Association for Higher Education called its
national conference "Difficult Dialogues" in recognition that the
task before us as educators is not an easy one. The emphasis was on
the noun, dialogues. Even if difficult, the imperative was to
establish a conversation--a mutual exchange of ideas--as we think
through together what many say must be a fundamental restructuring
of the academy. In the American Council on Education's Educating
the Majority: Women Challenge Tradition in Higher Education,
authors Carol S. Pearson, Donna L. Shavlik, and Judy G. Touchton
argue that the age of simple adjustments to accommodate women is
over. What we need now, they propose, is "a major paradigm shift
that allows for greater equity and quality in education, a shift
that...also will enable us to more effectively address the
compelling societal issues of our time, from competitiveness to
hunger and illiteracy to world peace." -1

Robert Hughes' lead article, "The Fraying of America," in the
February 3, 1992, issue of Time magazine describes with some
concern the paradigm shifts he has observed. The shifts are
occurring as our country undergoes what some have called an
identity crisis, spurred by a reappraisal of our national cultural
heritage and a rapidly changing global citizenry. "The future of
American [self-interests]," he argues, "will rest with people who
can think and act with informed grace across ethnic, cultural,
linguistic lines." He ends with this warning: "In the world that is
coming, if you can't navigate differences, you've had it."

Despite the small but highly visible minority of people who have
piled sandbags around what they perceive as their embattled
beachhead threatened by the tides of change, the vast majority of
students, faculty members, and administrators in academia are
seeking ways to move forward together in response to national calls
for dialogue, paradigm shifts, and institutional transformations.
At the center of the call for all three is women's studies. Women's
studies--established against the grain of the academy in the 1970s
insisting that excluding half of humanity distorts truth and makes
the claim of excellence a mockery; and calling for a
student-centered, socially conscious, and experientially informed
pedagogy--is eager to be part of a national discussion about how to
move forward with "informed grace."

The Courage to Question documents for the first time in a
systematic way some of what women's studies has discovered about
student learning. From our three-year research project on seven
campuses, we have assessed not only what is working in women's
studies but, even more importantly, what about women's studies
seems, according to undergraduate students, to make that experience
so educationally distinctive--and according to alumnae/i, its
impact a lifelong one.

* Is there understanding we now have about how students learn that
might apply in non-women's studies classes?  
* Are there structures of knowledge, organizational strategies in
courses, or pedagogical approaches in the classroom that others can
* As students in women's studies confront highly charged emotional
issues and experience the intellectual and personal implications of
diversity, are we gaining any insights about how to maneuver
through that rough terrain?

We offer our report with the hope it will initiate a dialogue among
colleagues so that together we may work to improve the educational
experiences for all our students.

                     PERSONALIZED LEARNING 

Whether the subject under discussion was the knowledge base,
feminist pedagogy, diversity, critical thinking, or empowerment,
students repeatedly linked the intellectual and experiential when
they attempted to articulate what was distinctive about their
learning in women's studies classes. A neat and clean separation of
abstract ideas from personal experience, which is so characteristic
of most traditional courses was missing in students' comments.
Instead they wove back and forth, consistently connecting
intellectual insights with their immediate lives. Such an
integration surfaces, for example, in the CUNY-Hunter College
student who explained, "women's studies...[goes] beyond this
classroom, this paper...and just...touches everything else I'm
involved in...because it gives me a way to see, a way to think, a
way to question everything, so it's applicable everywhere for me."
Rather than distancing themselves from the subject matter, students
in women's studies typically became deeply engaged both
intellectually and personally.

The University of Colorado has given a name to this phenomenon:
personalized learning. They distinguish it from active learning,
although active learning is a component. Personalized learning
allows the student to use the intellectual to explain the
personal--a "compelling connection." What emerged repeatedly in
student comments was the powerful intellectual dimension of this
personalized knowing. Though critics may portray women's studies as
academically "soft," students tell a very different story.
According to them, women's studies is more difficult precisely
because its subject matter challenges not simply what you think but
how you feel about what you think and what you do because of what
you know. Students note how intellectually rigorous women's studies
is and how much it challenges them to rethink all they have learned
elsewhere. "I felt like I had a completely new brain," said a
student at Old Dominion University.

Professors who fail to understand the role of personalized learning
in women's studies fail when they attempt to teach a women's
studies course. Although hostile to women's studies and untrained
in the discipline, a former colleague chose to teach a women and
history course, saying it was going to be a "real" history course
with none of "that sensitivity stuff." Two consequences occurred.
Students abandoned the course in droves, and my colleague never
understood why. The student response was baffling because the
professor underestimated profoundly the intellectual power of
feminist scholarship when it is coupled with students' personal

By contrast, a feminist teacher weaves the experiential and
personal, sometimes validating and sometimes contradicting--but
always informing--students' intellectual response to material. As
the chapter about the University of Colorado emphasizes, such
connections are all the more compelling because of the larger
context in which women's history and culture have been devalued and
women's status subordinated. If a teacher does not under- stand
such gender dynamics, he or she misreads students' responses. To
include the personal as part of a course's subject matter is to
move to the surface what previously has been dismissed or forced

It comes as no surprise, then, that three schools--the University
of Colorado, Wellesley, and Old Dominion--found the course content
of women's studies, and not the pedagogy, the most decisive factor
in determining the kind of student engagement that occurred. When
each campus compared women's studies and non-women's studies
classes with similar teaching styles and class sizes, what emerged
as distinctive was course content: the intellectual grounding of
women's studies that illuminated students' understanding of gender
and, therefore, their own lives. In her essay, "Taking Women
Studies Seriously," Adrienne Rich reiterates: "Without such
knowledge women live and have lived without context, vulnerable to
the projections of male fantasy, male prescriptions...estranged
from our own experiences because our education has not reflected it
or echoed it. I would suggest that not biology, but ignorance of
our selves, has been the key to our powerlessness." -2

When content links with lives, the transformation in students is
palpable and lasting. Wellesley's report expands on our
understanding of this process, investigating the differences in the
ways students contrast women's studies and non-women's studies
classes. In the latter, students spoke with much greater attention
about the instrumentality of the knowledge they gained or its
practical ability that helped them "do" certain things better. In
women's studies courses, students spoke more about how to "be" in
the world; their comments reflected more profound kinds of changes
that altered their identities, their values, and their views.
Colorado's study found a similar contrast between student learning
in women's studies and in non-women's studies courses. Students in
non-women's studies classes described what they learned rather than
how they learned to think differently about their own lives. In
women's studies classes, students ex- pressed ethical concerns
paralleling and infusing their intellectual engagement. Students
also said women's studies challenged them to judge, connect, and
explore implications. Old Dominion echoed the same findings in
examining connected learning. Through an emphasis on empathy,
students more easily moved toward connecting with other people's
experiences and blending that with new intellectual paradigms;
students moved, in other words, toward something very akin to
Colorado's personalized learning. Personalized learning promises to
open gateways toward that world of informed grace we will need so
desperately in our highly contested, pluralistic world. It also
fosters what AAC's national report on the major, The Challenge of
Connecting Learning, urges: "It is...important for [students] to
care about subject matter and see its implications for the ways
they live their lives. At issue is whether students can connect a
field's subject matter and approaches with a variety of pursuits
important to them, and whether their curiosity and concerns beyond
the classroom can be deepened or shaped by the insights the field
brings forth." -3

The assessment studies in The Courage to Question reinforce the
findings of an earlier unpublished AAC student questionnaire, which
provided national data for AAC's three-year investigation of
"Liberal Learning and the Arts and Sciences Major." As described in
AAC's Reports From the Fields, when the results of the eleven
different majors were compiled, women's studies was rated the
highest of the majors in ten of fourteen questions and was in the
top four in the remaining four categories. Students gave women's
studies the highest marks for connecting different kinds of
knowledge (89.2 percent); connecting course materials and
assignments to personally significant questions (86.5 percent);
identifying and exploring problems in the field in relation to
significant questions of society (97.3 percent); exploring values
and ethics important to the major (81.1 percent); and helping
students develop an overview of the field's intellectual history
(83.1 percent). Personalized learning explains why women's studies
percentages were ranked so much higher than any other majors

                     VOICE AND EMPOWERMENT 

Perhaps no single refrain was heard more clearly in the reports
than that women's studies courses gave students a voice and
empowered them. As bell hooks explains: "The feminist focus on
coming to voice--on moving from silence into speech [is] a
revolutionary gesture [and] for women within oppressed
groups...coming to voice is an act of resistance. Speaking becomes
both a way to engage in active self-transformation and a rite of
passage where one moves from being object to being subject. Only as
subjects can we speak. As objects, we remain voiceless--our beings
defined and interpreted by others." -4

At more elite colleges, where there were on the whole more
privileged students, students commented more on self-empowerment
than voice. While finding their voice and having it heard was
ranked by ODU students, for example, as the most important aspect
of their learning, self-empowerment was most important to Oberlin
students. At some campuses, like Wellesley, giving voice to women
already is part of a wider overall mission permeating the larger
institutional culture. Such a context constantly reinforces the
learning goals in the women's studies program and permits the
program to focus more on how to translate that voice into action.

A participatory classroom environment with an emphasis on
discussion and a course structured with student-led assignments
contribute to developing voice. The greatest contributor, however,
is the content of women's studies. "I had not been exposed even to
the idea that gender was a subject in and of itself," wrote one
Lewis and Clark graduate, while another said, "Many of the ideas
moved me, making me aware of unfulfilled desires in my personal
life and in the world as whole." Note again: movement occurs both
within an individual student and between that student and society.

Since the voices of many students, especially women, have not
always been welcomed, either in a class or in the dominant male
culture as a whole, simply using their voice at all is sometimes a
great victory. Some ODU students expressed a reluctance to
challenge that voice even when they disagreed with it. Students
feared driving a classmate back into silence, which suggests the
complicated dynamics in the women's studies classroom. Although in
women's studies achieving voice is highly valued, so is critiquing
ideas. For students who have come to believe, through studying
feminist theory, that ideas are inseparable from the person, there
is a tension, then, between encouraging students to speak and
expecting them to question what is spoken. Creating a classroom
that can negotiate this tangle demands a new kind of communication
for feminist teachers and for students alike.

In AAC/NWSA's Liberal Learning and the Women's Studies Major, a
national task force described the developmental process as a
student moves from "moments of recognition," at which students
understand in a personally illuminating way how gender systems work
in a given instance, to "moments of empowerment," at which students
learn how to negotiate with unequal power. The time between these
two developmental stages typically is fraught with much
emotion--disillusionment, anger, bewilderment, confusion, and
distrust--before it becomes exhilaration, clarity, trust, courage,
and agency. Such a journey is a delicate, uneven one, but it leads
to students saying again and again how women's studies gave voice
to their unuttered and unutterable ideas.

Unlike the consumer-driven Madison Avenue presentation of
empowerment that presents the modem woman using her new power to
purchase fancy cars, expensive suits, and exotic vacations, women's
studies students talk of empowerment in relation to social
responsibility. Students felt they gained their voices and then
felt compelled, by virtue of the content of women's studies, to use
that voice to improve the world for everyone. "What's important,"
said an Oberlin student, "is having a language not only to
represent myself but to talk about political change." Such a notion
is rooted in the belief that the self is not an autonomous unit
detached from the rest of humanity but emerges in a context of
relationships that are paradoxically an inescapable part of

Women's studies programs at both Wellesley and Oberlin defined
empowerment not as singular self-aggrandizement but as the power to
be socially responsible to a larger community. Wellesley found that
in distinguishing how women's studies courses specifically affected
students' lives, respondents chose words like "commitment,"
"obligation," and "responsibility," which were absent from their
descriptions of non-women's studies courses. As Wellesley's report
clarifies, students in non-women's studies courses usually felt
their courses would help them function better in the world; in
women's studies courses, they felt their courses would help them
change the world.

Oberlin also found evidence in undergraduates of both a sense of
empowerment and actual empowerment in the form of social action.
They extended their investigation to graduates, curious about
whether students participated in citizen action after graduation.
In every response, alumnae described specific ways they used their
options in a democracy to affect the shape of their society.
Women's studies, our report suggests, contributed to students'
gradual progression from voice to self-empowerment to social


AAC's The Challenge of Connecting Learning argues the necessity of
fostering critical perspective in students. AAC calls for "an ethos
of communication and contestation that ensures that no proposal
stands without alternatives or arrogates to itself the claim of
possessing the sole truth." A repetitive chorus In the assessment
studies underscored how women's studies formulated an analysis that
gave students the courage and skills to question norms,
generalizations, and unexamined assumptions. For most students, a
course in women's studies is the first time they understand that
knowledge as well as gender is socially constructed: Available
information is not a given; it is as carefully orchestrated as
definitions of masculine and feminine. Confronted by their
discovery of how much knowledge has been withheld from them,
students learn how to seek out the ideological underpinnings of
knowledge that is presented as complete, universal, and neutral.
From that beginning, their capacities to bring critical
perspectives to all kinds of knowledge are nurtured.

While critics claim that women's studies narrows students'
intellectual options and turns teaching into mere propagandizing,
the results of the project present a radically different portrait.
The University of Missouri team has coined the phrase "critical
mindfulness" to describe the increased attentiveness students
reveal as they more readily articulate their judgments about
society. Oberlin refers to "tolerant, critical habits of mind." For
many students, developing a critical perspective is no mere
academic exercise: it is a means of survival. In a gendered world
of unequal power, students link critical thinking to empowerment.
As Hunter College's team argues persuasively, many students whose
opinions and lives are commonly disregarded often silently
surrender their authority. Women's studies teaches them to reclaim
it. As a Missouri student so eloquently states, "Women's studies
provided me with the strength to never settle for anything that
deprives me of all I am worth." The content of women's studies
shows detailed pictures where once was a blank canvas, a critical
framework where once was feigned neutrality, and a language to
describe what had been nameless and invisible.


Feminist pedagogy has been central to the development of women's
studies. Each of the seven women's studies programs included
pedagogy among their initial learning goals, and pedagogy has
surfaced as a particular area of focus on several campuses as a
follow-up to the assessment study. Not surprisingly to those
familiar with the field, the data from all seven assessment studies
indicates that women's studies classes usually were more
participatory, inclusive, and experiential than non-women's studies
courses and typically involved more collaborative projects, class
discussion, and practical applications of what students were

For students at the University of Missouri, sitting in a circle
summed up what was distinctive about a women's studies class. More
than a simple arrangement of chairs, the circle suggests something
about the learning environment most women's studies classes
cultivate: exchange, collaboration, and community. Given the
intense emotions some women's studies classes generate, the
circle--whether actual or metaphorical--suggests the importance of
containing and supporting the difficult work of integrating feeling
and thinking. Since so many women's studies classes also explore
the potentially divisive fact of difference and diversity, the
circle is a reminder of where we connect in our common humanity
whatever our differences.

At times pedagogy, like many other issues, could not be neatly
confined within its boundary. As the University of Missouri's
report put it, frequently "distinctive pedagogy overlaps with
distinctive content." In Missouri's case, the overlap occurred when
notions of difference were introduced in the classroom. For these
women's studies majors, good teaching meant classes that
interspliced such diversity into the normal class routine. Oberlin
similarly relied on collaborative learning as a means of exposing
students in a very immediate, practical way to opportunities for
mediating difference.

In a few cases at Wellesley, student culture sometimes stifled
student voices. While the data from Wellesley demonstrates that
nearly three-quarters of the students in women's studies felt their
voices were heard and divergent views were welcome, more students
in women's studies courses than in non-women's studies courses than
in non-women's studies courses reported that they felt silenced.
The students--not the professor--silenced them, they explained.
Both ODU and Missouri also have data that distinguishes between the
behavior of the professor and that of the students. In all three
cases, professors are rated exceptionally high for encouraging
divergent points of view and for stimulating debate and discussion.
Professors also are recognized for their efforts to protect
students from being silenced by other students, although they
apparently are not always successful. At Wellesley, it was not
clear if students' opinions would not have been heard had they
actually expressed them; some students felt their opinions would
have been unfavorably received by some of the students in the
class. The Wellesley report suggests that women's studies faculty
members need to be especially attentive to such dynamics and that
interventionist strategies may be necessary.

Student interaction also must be considered in the larger context
of a classroom that typically engages students far more than the
traditional class. The Wellesley data, for example, show 80 percent
of students in a women's studies course say students debate or
argue; only 55 percent say they do in non-women's studies classes.
As both Wellesley's and Missouri's teams point out, student
responses also vary regarding conflict in a classroom. In the same
class, students may say there is too much debate and not enough.
More research can help us understand more about debate, especially
debate that generates powerful feelings.

These data also highlight the seemingly contradictory dynamics of
com- fort and risk in a women's studies class. Women's studies
programs want to create a safe place that will nurture students'
intellectual and personal growth. As Missouri, Colorado, and
Oberlin demonstrate well, however, they also want simultaneously to
challenge students to question and be self-critical, which often
creates discomfort.

Far more revealing about Wellesley's data were startling statistics
on how much women's studies students continue their discussion
outside the classroom in contrast to the amount of out-of-class
discussion generated in non-women's studies classes. Nearly 84
percent of women's studies students versus 63 percent of
non-women's studies students reported talking "constantly" or
"usually" about the content of their courses. Since the
overwhelming part of an undergraduate student's life is spent
outside the classroom rather than inside it, the Wellesley report
has broad implications for women's studies and for education as a

Such intellectual and personal engagement in the subject matter ex-
plains why women's studies students talk with such enthusiasm about
the learning that occurs in women's studies courses. Content
matters to students. It generates deeply felt emotions; its issues
are unresolved and often highly contested in the world; and
students are challenged, if not to resolve the issues, to find a
way to live with the contradictions and uncertainties.

The student pattern also suggests that women's studies enhances
students' voices even "off stage." In its discussion of
personalized learning, the University of Colorado team reminds us
that "students may be actively involved without verbalizing their
responses in class." Wellesley's data certainly suggest that as
well. If some students feel hesitant to speak in the public forum
of a classroom, at Wellesley they appear to feel no such hesitation
in private conversation. This may be part of a developmental
process that permits hesitant students to be stimulated to voice
opinions privately before gaining courage to voice them publicly.
The out-of-class conversations also suggest that women's studies is
helping to define a campus culture in which a community of people
arrive at new understandings through dialogue.

Conversations at Wellesley occur with friends as well as family,
and women's studies students discuss their courses more with male
friends than non-women's studies students do. Similarly, the ODU
team discovered that women's studies courses enhanced close student
friendships more than non- women's studies classes did. ODU's data
reveal that male students showed a greater increase in number of
female friends than female students did. Contrary to male-bashing
myths, our data suggest that women's studies triggers new kinds of
communication and relationships between male and female students.

The Gender Studies Symposium at Lewis and Clark--which in 1991 ran
five days and included more than one hundred students, twenty-five
faculty members, and sixteen community participants--is an
innovative model for fostering a student culture outside the
classroom. With more than fifty events and eighty students
presenting papers, the symposium has become for students a major
intellectual event of the year; it stimulates an enormous amount of
debate and discussion and puts disparate people in conversation
with one another. Whether or not students had taken a gender
studies course, they singled out the symposium as a major learning
experience; for many, it was the catalyst for further social
activism or student-initiated co-curricular activities.
Appropriately, the section on feminist teaching and classroom
dynamics in this report ends by focusing on what happens outside
the classroom walls. The Courage to Question challenges us to
consider how to generate even more co-curricular forums that give
students opportunities to discuss, sort out, argue, clarify, and
expand their learning.

                    DIFFERENCE AND DIVERSITY 

Because the intellectual roots of feminist scholarship initially
were formulated in its difference from the dominant male culture,
women's studies created early in its history a language to talk
about difference. Having devoted more than a decade to articulating
distinctions among women--especially in terms of race, class,
sexual orientation, ethnicity, age, and ability--women's studies
has developed an increasingly subtle and comprehensive language and
theory about diversity. Women's studies, therefore, promises to
offer some useful m sights about participating fruitfully in those
"difficult dialogues" that are absolutely essential in our
pluralistic society and world.

United States immigration patterns in the last decade have altered
ethnic and racial demographics more than at any other period since
the turn of the century.S New research has caused many to question
the wisdom of repeating the assimilation pattern once so widely
adopted because that pattern stripped new and diverse populations
of their native culture and clothed them often literally--in the
garb of the dominant culture of the period. Education was one of
the primary mechanisms for executing this assimilation, forcing
many cultures underground in an attempt to create a homogenous,
seemingly unified America. Many people, including those involved in
women's studies, now are looking for ways to retain and even
understand anew the heritages that mark each of us. One consequence
of such an approach is that we may not have a common language,
common culture, and, by extension, common nation.

The challenge to women's studies and others in education is to
create a new dynamic in e pluribus unum, one that acknowledges
differences while simultaneously building connections. Feminist
scholarship has taught us to suspect assimilation models that erase
our distinct identities. One of the most famous examples of the
total absorption of a woman's identity into a man's in the name of
civil orderliness is contained in the nineteenth-century legal
principle "feme covert": A woman lost all legal standing by having
her identity fully merged with her husband's. The concept
functioned operationally as, "My husband and I are one, and I am
he." -6 Intellectually repudiating the validity of structuring the
world in such terms, women's studies argues that we must establish
alternative models. The value of exploring a genuinely more
pluralistic model emerges repeatedly from our assessment studies.
Clearly, it is one of the most significant contributions women's
studies can offer in the larger national debate about

Fundamental to feminist theory is the assumption that as women we
have differential and complex relationships among ourselves,
carrying with us not only our gender but gender that is defined by
our class, race, sexuality, and other markers. Fundamental to
feminist pedagogy is recognizing the authority of experience as a
source of knowledge. Unlike other courses, then, women's studies
becomes--among other things--a collective autobiography of
students, both male and female. Differences no longer remain
abstract but are embodied in people who talk about those
differences and sit next to you in class or work with you on a

The program learning goals of all seven participating women's
studies programs articulated in a deliberate, self-conscious way
the conceptual and personal importance of diversity. The
translation of that goal varied according to the specific character
of each institution. The imperative to create a multiracial,
multiethnic program at Hunter College was driven partially by its
diverse student population. On the other hand, first-generation
students at the University of Missouri found race easier to discuss
than class, while homophobia was a particularly difficult concept
to talk about at ODU. But women's students verified everywhere that
they came to expect a discussion of difference in women's studies

How successfully those stated expectations were met was uneven, and
whether enough was done was debatable among the students. Its
integration as a conceptual goal, however, was recognized uniformly
by students and verified by the data. Some programs were trying to
put difference at the center of their program, and none were
satisfied that they had done enough. Women's studies seems to be
light years ahead of most other academic disciplines except ethnic
studies--in such efforts. Diversity is incorporated into women's
studies courses in terms of both individual identities and people
with different histories, cultures, and values. It is incorporated
through an analysis of larger systems in which differences become
embedded, reinforced, and defined and from which unequal power is
allocated and perpetuated. It also is incorporated in the
curriculum through readings, discussions, theories, internships,
faculty members, and projects. Finally, it is incorporated through
co-curricular events.

The two programs that investigated the knowledge base in women's
studies, Lewis and Clark and ODU, each listed "diversity" as a
fundamental learning goal and found students grappling with its
implications very early in the curriculum. In querying how
effectively their program promotes multiculturalism, Hunter College
recorded an impressive variety of ways its women's studies program
had sought to recenter itself. Among students, both white women and
women of color attested to the impact the program had on their
thinking, participation, and relations with other people. Many
Wellesley students also credited women's studies with opening them
up to understanding difference and giving them the courage to
explore it rather than retreating to polite and uninformed silence.
Deliberately encouraging differences to surface in a classroom and
become part of the subject matter of a course can be as unsettling
as it is illuminating. Emotions often are heightened,
confrontations sometimes ensue, and the terrain is unfamiliar to
many. Hunter College's report warns that the "high psychic costs of
trying to understand others may seem too high" to some, which makes
it imperative to do all that is possible to lower the cost and
increase the benefits of such exchanges. With a pedagogy that aims
to create a climate of trust and affirmation and a theory that
provides an analytical framework for understanding differences,
women's studies offers some promising models as well as evidence of
success in engaging students in multicultural learning.


Because women have been excluded from the canon for centuries and
because women's studies is such a fluid and expansive field,
programs are wary of creating a canon. Not surprisingly, then, when
Lewis and Clark and ODU investigated the knowledge base in women's
studies, each deliberately focused not on particular pieces of
information but on overarching concepts or, as the Lewis and Clark
team calls them, "knowledge plots." These two institutions avoided
the "Trivial Pursuit/Vital Facts for Your Daily Calendar" approach.
They were less attentive, therefore, to measuring whether students
knew when Mary Wollstonecraft lived than they were to learning
whether students understood Wollstonecraft's critique of
eighteenth-century female socialization. They cared more that
students understood how white men manipulated white womanhood to
Justify lynching black men than whether students could name the
newspaper of Ida B. Wells Barnett. As Liberal Learning and the
Women's Studies Major argues, "More than simply a body of
information, however, women's studies is also an approach, a
critical framework through which to view all knowledge." -7

The Lewis and Clark report argues convincingly that despite an
impression that infinite variety prevents gender studies from
having curricular coherence, it does in fact have a shape. That
institution's enumeration of gender studies' eight knowledge plots
and six learning skills should prove useful to women's studies
programs that are reevaluating their curriculum. ODU's report lists
five key concepts, all of which overlap either with Lewis and
Clark's knowledge plots or learning skills. Such overlays suggest
that there are major conceptual links among diverse women's studies

Students also seem to grasp more readily concepts that their own
experiences validate. At Lewis and Clark, for instance, students
understood diversity and the politics of sex/gender as well as
cultural images of sex/gender and the nature/nurture debate. At
ODU, they understood most readily the social construction of both
gender and knowledge and grasped something of the systematic
Interlocking oppressions of women and women's varied relation to 
patriarchy. These results give credence to Lewis and Clark's
assertion that knowledge plots are developmental. Gender studies
students, they argue, first need to be grounded in the
ramifications of gender inequalities and the political issues that
created gender studies in the first place.

Because gender balancing at Lewis and Clark has been a serious and
ongoing undertaking, key ideas such as the politics of sex/gender,
diversity, or cultural images of sex/gender have been integrated
into an impressive number of non-gender studies courses. Students
therefore get some knowledge plots from sources other than gender
studies. Women's studies and gender studies professors applaud such
developments. Like writing across the curriculum, women's studies
encourages the reinforcement of its ideas throughout the
curriculum. But such efforts do not lead necessarily to the
elimination of gender studies programs any more than writing across
the curriculum has led to a national call for the abolition of
English departments. What Lewis and Clark has discovered, however,
is that certain concepts are more likely to be treated in gender
studies classes than elsewhere. These include examination of
women's creation of knowledge; communi- cation; the body; and
interpersonal relationships. Such discoveries have important
implications for women's studies curricular development as a whole.
Unfortunately, few campuses can boast as many gender-balanced
courses as Lewis and Clark. More commonly, women's studies and
gender studies programs carry the burden of conveying concepts
rarely found elsewhere in the curriculum.


Our national assessment report represents three years of research
on student learning in women's studies and gathers in one place
data that help explain why women's studies students are so engaged
intellectually and personally. We expect The Courage to Question,
therefore, to be a catalyst for continuing to study how students
learn. Each of our seven case studies reveals specific directions
campuses will pursue as a result of discoveries made in the course
of this research. By listening to the students themselves, we
correct myths and misinformation about what kind of education takes
place in women's studies courses. We want to emphasize how
uninformative it can be to construct a universal student stripped
of particularity and context. Arguing that we need "sensitivity to
the multiple realities that coexist within our institutions" and
crediting women's studies and ethnic studies for expanding our
understanding of those realities, Ralph Wolff reminds us: 

     To capture these multiple realities, to learn anything
     meaningful about a campus, we have to start with the
     assumption that a single answer to anything just isn't
     adequate. We need multiple answers, and beyond that,
     multiple methods. -8

Our national report avoids single answers and single methods. We
need not only multiple answers but multiple questions as well.

In an academic hierarchy that too often ignores the value of
research on student learning and teaching, external and internal
support for research such as this with its curricular,
programmatic, and institutional implications--is extremely
important. The Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education
in the Department of Education once again has been the leader in
supporting projects that promote educational reform and help us
assess what improves student learning. In the course of doing this
re- search, we also saw clearly how much more effective learning is
when the larger institutional culture reinforces specific values.
The broader institutional commitment to women's voice and
empowerment at Wellesley College, for example, enhanced the
promotion of voice and empowerment in their women's studies
program. Similarly, the wider institutional promotion of tolerance,
inclusiveness, and social responsibility at Oberlin College
reinforces similar educational goals embedded in its women's
studies program, as did the college-wide commitment to
multiculturalism at Hunter College. While educational reform may
begin in an individual classroom, it need not end there. Although
a vibrant program like women's studies might offer a dynamic model
of engaged learning, that is not enough. Students deserve more.
Institutions can set a tone, establish a standard, articulate
values, and become powerful allies with faculty members in creating
a context of inquiry and affirmation.

The Courage to Question presents clear evidence that women's
studies has much to contribute to the national discussion of
excellence, engagement, and social responsibility. It also can help
us remember how easy it is to exclude and silence others instead of
arranging a way for everyone to sit together and talk. By drawing
from the insights gleaned in such a richly diverse dialogue, we can
learn how to achieve the kind of education Mary Caroline Richards
describes: the process of waking up to
	requires...certain capacities for taking the world 
	into our consciousness...That's why knowledge and 
	consciousness are two quite different things. Knowledge 
	is like a product we consume and store. All we need are 
	good closets....When knowledge is transformed into 
	consciousness and into will, ah	then...knowledge...turns 
	into capacity for life-serving human deeds. -9

Richards is describing the kind of critical consciousness and
energized engagement women's studies students display again and
again as learners. She also is reflecting the kind of commitment to
the world beyond our own boundaries that is stirred by women's
studies--a commitment at the heart of liberal education. As an
Oberlin student said, fully confident she could make a difference,
women's studies helped her see where "she has work to do in this
world." We hope The Courage to Question helps educators know where
and how to begin "with informed grace."

1. Carol S. Pearson, Judith G. Touchton, and Donna L. Shavlik,
Educating the Majority: Women Challenge Tradition in Higher
Education (New York: ACE/Macmillan Series on Higher Education,
1989), 2. 

2. Adrienne Rich, On Lies, Secrets, and Silences (New York: W. W.
Norton and Company 1979), 240. 

3. The Challenge of Connected Learning (Washington, D.C.:
Association of American Colleges, 1991), 16. 

4. bell hooks, Talking Back (Boston: South End Press, 1989), 12. 

5. For a fuller discussion of education's historical and
contemporary role, see the special issue of Education and Urban
Society, "Cultural Diversity and American Education: Visions of the
Future," Vol. 22, No. 4 (August 1990), edited by Thomas G. Carroll
and Jean J. Schensul. 

6. Duncan Crow, The Victorian Woman (London: George Allen & Unwin
Ltd., 1971), 147. 

7. Liberal Learning and the Women's Studies Major (College Park,
Md.: National Women's Studies Association, 1991), 8. 

8. Ralph A. Wolff, "Assessment and Accreditation: A Shotgun
Marriage?" in Assessment 1990: Accreditation and Renewal
(Washington, D.C.: American Association for Higher Education,
1990), 13-14. 

9. Mary Caroline Richards, Centering in Pottery, Poetry, and the
Person (Middletown, Ct.: Wesleyan University Press, 1989), 15-16.