This file was prepared for electronic distribution by the inforM staff.  
Questions should be directed to

                 National Women's Studies Association

                      A Report to the Profession


                  Completed in conjunction with the 
              Association of American Colleges National
                  Review of Arts and Sciences Majors

                        THE WOMEN'S STUDIES MAJOR


    The phone rings at 9:00 pm on a Tuesday in January. It's Marguerite, a
    first-year student in my introductory honors course on women writers, who
    has been working on her first paper: a discussion of the famous moments of
    exclusion described by Virginia Woolf in the opening chapter of A Room of
    One's Own. Wandering around Oxbridge, Woolf is asked to keep off the
    grass, barred from the library, and made aware that she should not enter
    the chapel-all because she is a woman, not a 'fellow'. Marguerite had been
    in the library and realized too late that she had waited until after dark
    to leave. Unlike Woolf, she was locked in, not locked out, but for the
    same reason: she is a woman, not a man. The campus is dangerous to women
    alone at night. `I couldn't believe I had forgotten the time,' she says.
    `Usually I am so careful.' Fortunately, her roommate was home and came in
    a car to get her. 

As Marguerite was waiting, she did a little survey. It turned out that men
came and went alone, but no women did. She witnessed several women making
calls at the public phone, for what was obviously routine `protection'. My
student has realized something about Woolf's text that, perhaps, no man
could, and she is energized by this new understanding. It was reading
Woolf that led to her survey and to her recognition that her experience
was shared and was political.

She has also called because she wants to know whether it's all right if
she refers to this evening's discovery in her paper. She has learned her
lessons well and knows that you're not supposed to write about `real life'
in English papers. Her expressions of relief and gratitude when I give her
permission to feel what she is feeling and to articulate it as part of her
analysis leave me wondering: How will all those other women in the lobby
of the library understand their confinement? Which class in this vast
university will ever address-or even acknowledge-the fundamental fact that
a woman alone cannot go to the library here without risk after dark?

Also, like Marguerite, however, I am partly exhilarated. Merely by
assigning Virginia Woolf, I have precipitated a moment of consciousness-
raising which must be replicated an untold number of times before it will
result in a world in which Marguerite can leave the library alone at
midnight if she wants-and she, too, will now help replicate that moment."

Marguerite's epiphany is why women's studies exists. The library
incident exemplifies how theory and experience work together to
transform the student's sense of self and her relation to the world.
Women's studies' central responsibility is to facilitate such moments 
of recognition and to follow them with moments of empowerment.
The moments of recognition come when women or men identify the
artificial gender constructions imposed by them and by their culture. 
The moments of empowerment are initiated when, as in Marguerite's case,
women replace their internalized acceptance of feminine dependency
with a feminist awareness that enables them to critique the conditions
of their lives--and to work to change them. Many similar examples occur in
women's studies classrooms every day, as students reinterpret their own
and other women's lives; find multiple layers of meaning in literature, 
the arts, popular culture, and ordinary conversation; discover a
language to describe sexual assaults and differential treatment; recover
women-centered views of women's society, work, and values; and gradually
create new strategies for functioning in and changing their worlds.

To foster such personal and intellectual transformation, women's
studies both critiques existing theories and methodologies and
formulates new paradigms and organizing concepts in all academic fields. 
It provides students with tools to uncover and analyze the ideological
dynamics of their lives and to become active participants in processes
of social, political, and personal change. What we teach, and the way we
teach it, encourages students to imagine alternatives to present systems
of inequality and participate in political transformation.


    What we have at present is a man-centered university, a breeding 
    ground not of humanism, but of masculine privilege.
                                    Adrienne Rich
                                    On Lies, Secrets, and Silences

The central organizing category of analysis in women's studies is the
concept of gender, which we understand as a pervasive social construc-
tion reflecting and determining differentials of power and opportunity.
From their inception, however, feminist scholarship and pedagogy also
have emphasized the diversity of women's experiences, the importance 
of the differences among women as necessary correctives to the distortions 
inherent in androcentric views of human behavior, culture, and society. 
Women's studies therefore establishes the social construction of gender 
as a focal point of analysis in a complex matrix with class, race, age, 
ethnicity, nationality, and sexual identity as fundamental categories of 
social and cultural analysis. Women's studies at its best resists seeing 
`woman' as only white, middle class, heterosexual, and young. The deliberate
deconstruction of the term `woman' and the tyranny such a term exercises 
over women is more than a simple recognition of multiple oppressions; our 
analyses require attention to the entire matrix. Gender, for example, never 
operates independently of race; it is differently formulated and experienced 
depending on class or national identity; and lesbian lives, so typically 
erased or distorted in most accounts, reflect more genuine complexity when 
analyzed by the context of ethnicity or age.
In the United States, women's studies grew out of the women's movement of
the 1960s and 1970s as both faculty and students saw that women's social
and political inequality was reflected in and partly produced by the
invisibility of women's experience in the curricula, research priorities,
and methodologies in higher education. Women's studies began as
compensatory education, but it has become a comprehensive intellectual and
social critique which retains its roots in the political women's movement.
Of critical importance is our recognition that we, as women's studies
faculty, are working `against the grain' of our privileges--as various as
they are, given race, class, ethnicity, and sexual identity--in an effort
to extend privileges to all. Within our academic community, we faculty
are, for example, indebted to the many women within colleges and
universities such as clerical and maintenance staff who make our work
possible. No understanding of women's studies is possible without
acknowledging these shared political goals--commitments which, like much
of the feminist project, are not honored and rarely even recognized as
legitimate, by the academy itself, in its need to maintain myths of
`disinterested' inquiry and solitary individual achievement. 

Women's studies' location `against the grain' of the academic institutions
in which it operates reflects the marginal position assigned to women
generally. The view from the margin, however, has provided women's studies
with a theoretical perspective as `other', a perspective essential to our
enterprise for the moment and one that distinguishes women's 
studies in important ways from the more established disciplines in
higher education. Like race-specific ethnic studies programs, women's
studies makes central the perspectives, experiences, and cultures of the
marginalized. Our position on the boundaries of conventional academic
categories has important structural and epistemological consequences.
Each profoundly affects the nature and definition of the women's studies
major. The distinctive contribution of such a perspective was singled
out in an AAC report, "A New Vitality in General Education". `Women's
studies' questioning of accepted explanations of topics and problems',
the report explains, `has motivated an emphasis on accurate development,
analysis, synthesis, and theory building.'(1)
Women's studies grew rapidly because it met urgent political and
intellectual needs and because its founders took advantage of existing
institutional frameworks and structures. These structures are employed by
other interdisciplinary units, most particularly by African American and
other ethnic studies programs, with which women's studies shares similar
intellectual traditions, social definitions, pedagogy, and unique institu-
tional responsibilities and dilemmas linked to our cultural histories. 

While women's studies exhibits great structural diversity and flexibility,
the field never has had the luxury of designing either programs or
curricula without making compromises. The nature and structure of 
women's studies programs, more than those of most academic fields, are
tied directly to resources and to the credibility and legitimacy women's
studies can achieve on a given campus. 
Like so many other interdisciplinary programs, women's studies is part of
what Charles Lemert has identified as the `shadow structure' integral to
nearly every college and university, its `academic other': those programs
where few teachers have tenure, where resources typically are thin and
rewards rare, but where much, if not most, cutting-edge scholarship is
occurring and where faculty are most passionately engaged in their
research and teaching (2). As Lemert and others have pointed out, `dis-
ciplines' all too often are confused with or even identified with what
are, above all, administrative units (departments, divisions, schools, and
colleges). Disciplines exert an administrative authority masquerading as
an intellectual one and thus render suspect programs and curricula that
violate or transcend conventional boundaries. Curricular proposals, ap-
peals for faculty lines and operating resources, and funding requests for
program and faculty development in women's studies often must be
accompanied by re-articulations of the rationale for its existence--some-
thing rarely required of established disciplines. It is therefore of
considerable importance, in describing and evaluating the current state of
women's studies, that the degree to which it is still marginalized on many
campuses (and by some disciplines more than by others) be kept in mind,
and that it be understood from the outset that part of the project in
which women's studies remains engaged is the achievement of the
intellectual and administrative authority automatically granted to more
conventional and established areas of study. 

The very conditions of structural tension or political and administrative
marginality that plague many women's studies programs, however, are also
the conditions of women's studies intellectual strength. By insisting on
interdisciplinary flexibility and reflexivity, by refusing conventional
categories and labels, by asserting obligations to a self-conscious
critique of the politics of knowledge, we resist absorption into an
`acceptable' (and safe) liberal pluralism at the expense of a radical
critique. While women's studies calls for a reallocation of material
rewards to be applied to those programs on the margin as well as in the
center, its epistemological power depends, precisely, on its location in
spaces where conventional intellectual boundaries are blurred. In the
tensions and contradictions between the need for academic authority and
women's studies' refusal of it on patriarchal terms, we construct our idea
of feminist education in general, and of a women's studies major in
particular. We in women's studies know, and we try always to teach our
students, that feminism cannot occupy a central position in established
academic inquiry when its very existence is predicated on de-centering
that tradition. 

Women's studies, then, holds up a deliberately fragmented mirror to the
old conceptions of the core curriculum of the liberal art. It refutes
the claim that the liberal arts as traditionally conceived offers the
student `wholeness' or `well-roundedness'. The emphasis on social
construction in feminist scholarship exposes as untenable the primacy of
the free and autonomous individual implied since the Enlightenment in
the term `liberal'. From its position on the margin and by its
willingness to identify its own ideologies, women's studies brings to
light the ideological nature of all structures of knowledge--most
particularly the masculine bias in existing curricula that once seemed
complete and impartial. Perhaps the most important skill women's studies
can pass on to students is the ability to recognize those biases where
they seem most invisible. 

A feminist analysis also challenges the metaphor of `study in depth' as
it applies to contemporary structures of knowledge. AAC's "Integrity" 
report defines the great lessons of the major as: 

         . . . the joy of mastery, the thrill of moving forward in a     
         formal body of knowledge and gaining some effective control     
         over it, integrating it, perhaps even making some small         
         contribution to it 
         . . . No matter how deeply or widely students dig, no matter    
         how much they know, they cannot know enough, they cannot know   
         everything. (3) 

A feminist analysis of this rhetoric reveals in addition not only a
disturbing sexual subtext implying an analogy between knowledge and
sexual subjugation, but, more transparently, an idea of learning as
mastery or control. Clearly embedded in this language are unconscious
androcentric assumptions of dominance and subordination between the
knower and the known, assumptions that all to readily bring to mind the 
traditional relationship of men to women; of the colonizers to the
colonized; indeed, of the masters to the slaves. Such phallocentric 
metaphors for the project of `study in depth' raise serious questions 
for feminist participation in it. These metaphors are not the accidental 
usages of one report, but replicate the dominant discourses of Western 
empiricism which women's studies (along with other postmodern interpretive
systems) critiques.

Such language indicates a misdirection for any intellectual
project. Interdisciplinary study is becoming the prototype of
organizing academic inquiry as we move into the 21st century.
More appropriate metaphors for the idea of the major,
therefore, are those now operative in women's studies: matrix, 
connection, dialogue, network. Women's studies does not
seek to give students control over knowledge; rather, it
helps students understand their place in social and cultural
matrices and negotiate their environment, learning from-as
well as resolving contradictions through dialogue. In place
of metaphors of mastery, feminism offers metaphors of
intimacy and intersubjectivity; rather than relationships of
dominance, we prefer those of reciprocity; for conceptions of
knowledge as acquisition, we substitute ideas of exchange and

We certainly do not want to be locked out of the library;
neither do we want to be locked in. We locate our description
of the women's studies major between our discomfort with some
of the assumptions of the idea of `study in depth' and our
belief that a women's studies curriculum helps articulate the
nature of the undergraduate experience.

                 WOMEN'S STUDIES AS A MAJOR

   Those of us who stand outside the circle of this society's
   definition of acceptable women; those of us who have been
   forged in the crucibles of difference--those of us who are
   poor, who are lesbians, who are Black, who are older--know
   that survival is not an academic skill. It is learning how...
   to define and seek a world in which we can all flourish. It
   is learning how to take our differences and make them
                                    Audre Lorde
                                    Sister Outsider
Since its inception, women's studies has aimed to provide
curricula for students who want to concentrate or major in
that area. A parallel and equally important goal, however,
has been to influence the entire educational environment to
move away from exclusionary androcentric perspectives and
practices in courses and activities. The latter focus means
that women's studies unravels the very idea of a `major' as a
self-contained program with clearly defined boundaries and
stable identity. One of women's studies goals is providing a
sequence of coherently interrelated courses; a concomitant
goal is dispersing itself among and acting upon other fields.
Women's studies degrees, majors, minors, and programs are
built from a variety of curricular building blocks. The
infrastructure of most programs is a series of separate
courses on women and gender grounded in and usually offered
through traditional disciplines or departments. These cross-listed 
courses serve both the concentration and dispersion of feminist 
scholarship. Virtually all programs supplement cross-listed 
courses with `interdisciplinary' or `transdisciplinary' courses 
directly sponsored by the women's studies program itself.

Even long lists of courses about women are not, however,
sufficient to ensure gender balance in the curricula as a
whole. Since l980, therefore, some 200 `mainstreaming' or
`transformation of the curriculum' projects have been
infusing feminist scholarship into a wide range of courses
that are not necessarily focused on women or gender. Most of
these projects are sponsored by internal and external grants
under the rubic of faculty development. Essential to the
success of these curriculum transformation projects is the
expertise of women's studies faculty. 

Women's studies, then, has an unusually intense dialogue with
other departments . At the root of the intellectual and
political vitality of women's studies is just this
philosophical openness to dialogue: a dialogue that already
has transformed the knowledge base of most of the humanities
and social sciences, many of the natural sciences, and, of
course, of women's studies itself. As the women's studies
program at the University of California at Los Angeles
describes it, `Women's perspectives challenge notions of
causality and periodization in history [and] the content of
the Western canon in literature and art; they bring the
concept of cultural diversity and alternative values into
economy; they challenge markers of class in sociology and
concepts of universal power and authority in anthropology;
they reveal the role of psychology and medicine in
medicalizing women's bodies through disease categories; and
they call into question the given, the `divinely ordained',
and thus the authority on which male political institutions
rest.'(4) The commitment to self-reflection through dialogue
has also transformed women's studies itself. Nowhere is the
latter more evident than in the redefinitions initiated by
women of color, whose critique of women's studies has
significantly changed the analyses, paradigms, and terms of
feminist discourse. 

The first women's studies program in the United States was
formally approved in 1970 at San Diego State University. By
1977, when the National Women's Studies Association was
founded, there were 276 women's studies programs nationwide.
Today there are 621 programs, a 20 per cent increase since
NWSA's last official count in 1988. Of these programs, 187
include undergraduate majors and 425 include minors in
women's studies (5). Women's studies programs and departments
now exist across the full range of postsecondary educational
institutions in this country. A recent survey by the American
Council on Education reveals that 68 per cent of all
universities, 48.9 per cent of all four-year colleges, and
26.5 per cent of two-year colleges offer women's studies
courses (6). 

More students take women's studies courses, however, than
major in it. Of the 56 institutional respondents to a recent
NWSA survey of women's studies majors, an impressive 57 per
cent of the respondents enroll 500 to 2,600 students each
year in women's studies courses. However, 57 per cent of the
responding women's studies programs that have majors have
fewer than 10 majors and only 30 per cent have 20 or more
majors (7). The minor or concentration as a formal course of
study continues to be the most flexible choice at both the
undergraduate and graduate levels. The number of institutions
offering graduate work in women's studies has almost doubled
in two years from 55 in 1988 to 102 in 1990. There are also 
currently five institutions that offer full Masters degrees in women's
studies with several others in the process of being developed (8). 
Some women's studies majors actually require the student to have a 
concentration in another field as well as the concentration in women's
studies. Student choices combine with requirements to make double majors
the norm, not the exception. The NWSA survey revealed that 80 per cent of
institutions with women's studies majors have at least some students
choosing the option of a double major. At 54 per cent of the institutions
responding, more than half of the total of women's studies majors are, in
fact, double majors (9). 

Although there is great variety in women's studies programs and majors, we
can identify certain shared principles and a range of topics that are
found in most programs. Along with the central concept of gender as a
social construction, most women's studies educators assume the authority
of female experience in feminist theory. Consequently, women's studies
emphasizes race, ethnicity, nationality, class, age, and sexual identity,
as categories of analysis. Gender is always experienced from within this
complex matrix. At the same time, and in constructive tension with this
emphasis on experience, most women's studies educators assume as well the
power of social institutions. While we emphasize the authority of women's
experience, we also critique the myths of objectivity and value-free
analysis and emphasize the ideological nature of all experience as well as
of all theories, acts of interpretation, and cultural representations.
Beyond the need simply for methodological connections among disciplines,
exploring these topics requires--and teaches--dialectical ways of thinking
that emphasize making connections of all kinds and holding together things
that seem contradictory: an epistemology of breadth and tension rather
than depth and clarity. 

The subject matter of women's studies is all of women's experience as it
has been constructed and described for women and by women in a gendered
world. More than simply a body of information, however, women's studies is
also an approach, a critical framework through which to view all
knowledge. Inquiry into this virtually limitless field is generally
organized in the major to ensure flexibility, reflecting both the
expansive nature of the field and the different intellectual interests of
the students. 

The following composite emerged in separate surveys on the women's studies
major (10): A typical women's studies major takes 35 semester hours
divided among an introductory course; a series of electives equally
distributed between the humanities and the social sciences and equally
divided between courses offered by the women's studies program and courses
cross-listed by the departments; and a final capstone experience either in
the form of a senior seminar, field study/internship, or independent
study. Increasingly, women's studies programs are adding a feminist theory
requirement (38 per cent) to their major. They are also adding a
requirement for a course on race, ethnicity, or non-Western culture.
Ninety-five percent of the programs in one survey offered courses
representing cultural diversity, while one-third of all programs surveyed
now require some kind of course or courses on race, ethnicity, or cross-
cultural perspectives for their majors (11). The addition of the feminist
theory course and the emphasis on cultural diversity speak to the maturity
of the discipline and its willingness to question the nature, structure,
and politics of its own field. Women's studies instruction also typically
emphasizes debates within feminism: the contentious history of the women's
movement; the varieties of feminist theories; debates over biological
difference and the relation between nature and nurture; the debates over
the relation between feminism and other powerful contemporary explanatory
systems such as Marxism, psychoanalysis, and postmodernism. 


Women's studies is one of the very few subjects that is
virtually never addressed in any form in high school. Most
students come to their first women's studies course either
knowing nothing about the field or possessed of many
misconceptions about it. Sixty-six per cent of women's
studies programs offer an introductory course and 84 per cent
of those require their majors to take it (12). It is often
the first exposure students have to the discipline. 

To replicate in the academic setting the powerful
transformative effect of the consciousness-raising techniques
of the early women's movement, most introductory courses
include class discussion, written journals, and the sharing
of personal experiences in an analytical context. The
introductory course typically is organized thematically to
introduce students to some of the key feminist issues such as
identity formation, cultural representations, work, family,
sexuality, violence, class stratification, and racial and
cultural diversity. Studying such topics requires an
interdisciplinary approach that teaches students to connect
their inquiry across several disciplines. This inter-
disciplinary approach frequently introduces students to
feminist critiques of some of the traditional disciplines.
Fundamental concepts of feminist theory and methodology
usually are woven into the reading, lectures, and
assignments. Because of the broad scope of the introductory
course, it sometimes is team-taught or is taught singly by a
faculty member immersed in interdisciplinary research and
teaching; it also frequently employs guest lecturers both
from within and without the academy. 

Three-quarters of the courses are still labeled `Introduction
to Women's Studies', though the remaining quarter chooses
titles geared to defuse resistance: Women in Contemporary
Society; Perspectives on Women and Men; Women, Power,
Property, and Identity; The Female Experience. Increasingly,
introductory courses also satisfy General Education
requirements, thus expanding the number of students and the
range of political attitudes. In the process, it has made
teaching the course often more difficult because of the open
hostility to the subject matter from same students. In
institutions with enrollment-based funding, the central place
of this introductory service course is crucial to the
resources allocated to the program. 

A few larger women's studies programs have begun to separate
their `intro' service course from the major and create a new
introductory or mid-level required course designed
specifically for majors. Ohio State University, for example,
requires majors to take WS 299, `Introduction to Feminist
Analysis', based on critical frameworks and evaluation rather
man on content, while the General Education introductory
women's studies course (`Women, Culture, and Society'), often
taken by but not required of majors, remains thematically
based. Smith College has a mid-level methods course as its
required course, and Miami University is moving away from
requiring `Intro' for the majors altogether. Again, it must
be pointed out that this two-tiered model, however desirable
it may be, may not be possible for programs that do not have
a comparatively large student body or other resources, and
most programs must rely on the service course to provide the
beginning course for their majors. 

                         MIDDLE: ELECTIVES
All curricula for the women's studies major include a middle section in
which students choose electives from an approved list. Common requirements
in the women's studies major include: 

 a requirement that some courses be in arts/humanities and some in   
  social sciences (66 per cent); 

 a requirement for at least one course on women of color, race, and  
  gender, or global perspectives (33 per cent); 

 a requirement for at least one course on feminist theories and/or   
  methodologies (38 per cent); 

 a required practicum or internship course applying feminist knowledge 
  to institutions in the community or on campus (38 per cent). 

Only 26 percent of the programs offer all of their required courses for
the major exclusive]y in courses with a women's studies prefix. A far
larger proportion, 72 per cent, offer their required courses through a
combination of courses sponsored both by the women's studies program and
by other departments. 

Some disciplines are more widely represented in women's studies electives
than others. Four in particular--literature, history, sociology, and
psychology--are nearly universally represented, and sometimes offer
several women's studies courses within a single college or university. In
one survey all 45 programs listed some courses in the social sciences,
with the total ranging from 3 to 42 and an average of 13 (13). All but one
listed courses in arts and humanities with a range of 2 to 37 and an
average, again, of 13. By contrast, only 16 programs cross-listed natural
sciences with an abbreviated range of 1 to 3 and an average of only 1.
Like the natural sciences, professional schools have also lagged behind in
transforming their curriculum to include gender and feminist scholarship.
Thus, what is available to women's studies students is heavily dependent
on the cooperation, goodwill, and expertise of other academic

This dependence on other academic units is a nagging problem;
it breeds frustration for women's studies programs because
curricular planning and quality review are very difficult. In
Barbara Scott Winkler's study, for example, women's studies
students were critical of being subjected to courses not
taught from a feminist perspective (14). On their part,
women's studies programs have difficulty establishing
criteria and legitimate authority about which courses offered
by other departments will be acceptable as electives for the
women's studies major. Should any course about women be
included? Should courses be required to incorporate a
feminist perspective? How thoroughly must a course be
grounded in the literature of women's studies before it is
considered a women's studies course? Should the program
approve courses or faculty members? If the course is
approved, what happens if it is later re-assigned to a
different faculty member? In an effort to set standards for
its programs, women's studies sometimes is accused of
threatening academic freedom or of ideological
prescriptiveness. Because many people still see feminism only
as ideology not as methodology, attempts on the part of
women's studies to control academic and intellectual quality
too often are perceived as unacceptable `advocacy', or as
`merely' political control. 

Students themselves have identified another problem in
women's studies electives. Many students, who would prefer to
widen the frontiers of their own knowledge, find themselves
educating others in women's studies electives about issues
they themselves have already explored. Winkler found that
students identified the lack of sufficient upper-level
courses for those with some feminist sophistication as a
deficiency in the major. Ideally, at least some women's
studies electives, whether generated in women's studies or in
a department, could have some kind of women's studies
prerequisite, such as `Introduction to Women's Studies,' or
some designated first level women's studies courses, to
minimize repetition and allow for a broader range of
discussion. It is important to note that our suggestion of
prerequisites in women's studies does not mean that we think
that some topics should invariably be addressed before or
after others. Our concern is to prevent content overlap, not
to require that students nationwide address subjects in a
certain order.

Problems with the availability and content of the electives
that are the heart of the women's studies major have led many
programs to press for increased faculty hiring, faculty
development, or both. Programs are sometimes able to persuade
departments to hire someone with women's studies expertise.
The sense of cooperation and shared priorities presupposed by
this strategy is, regrettably, not universal, and many
programs must simply tolerate serious gaps in the courses
available to students. Some programs, especially in larger
institutions, enjoy administrative support for joint
appointments shared by women's studies and a department, or
for new faculty appointed full time to tenure-track lines in
women's studies. Tenure, in particular, signals fundamental
recognition of the legitimacy and authority of women's
studies as an academic specialization and demonstrates a
long-term commitment of university resources. 

                         CAPSTONE COURSE

This is the part of the women's studies major on which there is least
consensus and greatest flux. According to NWSA's survey, 57 per cent of
the programs queried required a senior seminar for the major, while 38
per cent required field study, an internship, or an independent study.
There is currently no real consensus in women's studies about the pur-
poses and functions of a required senior course. The first seminars were
modeled after the prevailing academic standard: individual research
projects in a seminar context. For many students whose post-collegiate
plans did not include graduate school, such a design seemed inap-
propriate. Various programs began modifying the seminar. Some changed
the nature of the individual project that was required, encouraging
action projects or group projects, or outlining nontraditional projects
like autobiographies or family histories. Some programs replaced the
research seminar with a reading-and-discussion course on theory, as at
the University of Massachusetts at Boston.

While there is no current consensus on the best kind of the senior
seminar or capstone experience, there is good reason to work toward
some such experience. Sometimes the senior seminar is the only course
in which the women's studies students are not dramatically outnumbered
by students who are taking their first women's studies course; these
women's studies students feel a need to spend time in academic environ-
ments with their peers. Even more importantly, the senior seminar should
be a course to facilitate students' transition to the next stage(s) of
their lives. This goal is far more important than the commonly-advanced
one of using a seminar to help students `integrate' their previous
course work. Whereas `integration' looks back on the major experience,
perhaps exaggerating its significance in students' lives, `transition'
looks both forward and backward. As such, it emphasizes students'
individuality and ideally asks students themselves to make and evaluate
a place for their undergraduate major in the lives they will,
henceforth, live.


    Learning a new way of seeing the world is not like learning algebra
    or when the 19th Amendment was passed. Rather, learning feminism is a
    process--an ongoing journey that is, for me, filled with both joy and
                                           Abby Markowitz
                                           1989 Women Studies Graduate  
                                           of Towson State University

Women's studies has always questioned not only what we teach, but also how
we teach. From the earliest women's studies courses twenty years ago to
the current NWSA three-year FIPSE project on student learning, `The
Courage to Question: Women's Studies and Student Learning', empowering
students as active learners has been an unbroken thread of continuity.
This commitment affects curricular decisions, influences how individual
courses are structured, and determines the nature of faculty development
priorities and rewards. It also frequently puts women's studies in tension
with a university system that too often devalues teaching, advising, and
faculty investment in student programming. 

In many ways the university hierarchy that propels tenure, promotion,
grants, and public recognition imitates conventional, stereotypical
divisions of male and female labor. Research is "men's work". It is
public; it is national rather than local; it typically is connected to
money; it usually necessitates leaving the `home' of the university to
present research findings; and it relies on the mind, the intellect, and
rationality. Teaching and advising, however, really are only "women's
work": something done at `home'; something done locally and privately; and
something drawing on the heart, feelings, emotions. Teaching becomes like
raising children; advising and counseling students like volunteer work
with the PTA or at the hospital; working with students on programming and
student services like housework. Just as women's studies validates the
worth of women's lives by virtue of the subjects it investigates and the
questions it poses, it seeks to validate the worth of women's lives in the
way it structures the experience for the major and the role faculty play
in that interactive process. 

Nowhere is that clearer than in the feminist classroom, where theory and
practice are tested with each class. Once again, the task of women's
studies is to connect rather than rank research, teaching, counseling, and
action. Women's studies values a link between the heart and head, action
and idea, feeling and intellect. They are not in opposition but rather in
dialogue: informing, correcting, enlarging knowledge in the process.
To accomplish that complex integrative process, women's studies has
sought to be self-reflective about how knowledge is conveyed and ac-
quired. Feminist pedagogy is discussed at least as much as feminist 
scholarship in an effort to highlight the connections. With an aim to be
participatory, experiential and empowering, feminist pedagogy typically
seeks to foster dialogue, create a safe arena in which to express
disagreements, and challenge students to engage with difference. `It
starts,' as one faculty explains it, `from the radical act of taking
women seriously and validating them'(15). There is much more attention
to group work, selfdefined papers and projects, discussion, spatial
arrangements in the classroom, methods of presentation, varieties in
course assignments, journals, and invitations to tie theory to one's
personal experience. 
By decentralizing authority, students are encouraged to assume more active
responsibility for what they learn and how. Students are taught how to
produce knowledge as well as how to reproduce it. Decentralizing authority
also dramatizes for students that women's studies faculty are learners in
the classroom as well as sources of authority and expertise. One faculty
member says, `In teaching my first women's studies course many years ago,
I found myself changing as I talked; I discovered the extent to which I
had been in complicity with the system, male-trained into the system; I
deconstructed myself and reconstructed myself through dialogue in that
class'(16). Another explains, `The discomfort that comes from the
withdrawal of white privilege in the multi-ethnic classroom is the most
powerful lesson I've learned in women's studies.'(17) 

One program describes the ideal classroom setting faculty members seek for
their women's studies students as one `in which knowledge is understood to
be partial and contingent but not equally valid, and where analysis of
competing perspectives is encouraged'(18). That same program also saw the
classroom as needing to be one "in which students are encouraged to
clarify their beliefs and values and to look at evidence, ideas, beliefs,
and concepts that may be inconvenient for them to know"(19). While the
women's studies classroom aims for a safe, hospitable learning
environment, then, it often finds itself in tension because of its commit-
ment to `competing perspectives' and to `inconvenient' pieces of
knowledge. For many, the classroom becomes a source of discomfort and
disturbance as well as nurture and affirmation. The responsibility of the
faculty in such a setting is complex as they seek to help students
negotiate their way to a new synthesis and in many cases a new sense of

Women's studies students typically undergo a profound transformation as
they claim more knowledge. They pass through an identifiable series of
moments of recognition, just as Marguerite when she found herself `locked
in' the library. Such insights are followed by moments of empowerment in
which patriarchal frameworks and perceptions are modified, redefined, or
rejected altogether and replaced by a newly emerging view of the self and
society. The difficulty and complexity of this process a n d the degree to
which it influences our curriculum and pedagogy--can not be over-

Breaking what feminist writer Tillie Olsen calls the `habits of a
lifetime' is no trivial matter. It is accompanied by the full range of
human resistance, by continual attraction and repulsion, denial and
recognition, as the release of anger or the self-indulgence of viewing
oneself as a victim or a victimizer are gradually replaced by an ability
to live, work, and think within conditions of tension and contradiction
necessary to a productive life in a world with unequal arrangements of
power. One student described the process this way: `Women's studies is
difficult--not simply because it is a rigorous academic discipline, but
because it arouses a myriad of contradictory feelings: anger, delight,
frustration, affirmation, sorrow, and joy . . . When you are learning to
reorganize your entire vision of the world, it is essential to have
friends who are on the same journey'(20).

Because such moments are inextricably a part of being a women's studies
major, the task of the faculty in facilitating the movement to some new
integration of knowledge and experience is especially demanding. It
involves, for the faculty members as it does for students, the
imperative to connect the felt experience with the analytic theory in
order to understand both. In a comparative study in which students
evaluated their learning experiences in their majors, women's studies
classes were rated the highest of the eleven majors in ten out of
fourteen questions (21). 

Students repeatedly refer to their classroom experiences in women's
studies as being vital to their perceptions of themselves as learners.
In one survey, students overwhelmingly saw women's studies `as an
intellectual discipline providing them with information they had not
received elsewhere ...and a new, critical way of thinking that
nevertheless also validated them as perceivers and knowers'(22). Many
spoke of `the painfulness of coming to recognition of the reality of
oppression and the burnout that students and faculty active in their
programs often experience'. Beyond the pain or alongside of it, however,
was the more frequently expressed feeling of validation. As one student
commented, `I felt like more pieces of me got to be there', while
another said, `It felt like coming home . . . and I felt affirmed
somehow, that all this stuff I was carrying around in my head was indeed
real, that it was there'. For others, the profound effect is captured by
one student's comment: `It changed my life.' Overall, they agree with
the student who argued that women's studies classes `were more rigorous
than those found in more traditional disciplines, precisely because they
demanded more self-exploration and questioning of received information'.

In a powerful Student Plenary Session, `Journeys in Our Lives: Learning
Feminism,' at the June, 1989, NWSA National Conference, five students
attested to the power of women's studies to train its students to
critique themselves and their world (23). As Abby Markowitz put it,
`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'.
MyKela Loury asserted, `I proclaim that I will be a change agent in this
racist and sexist society . . .I am eighteen, a junior at Spelman, and I
am not finished yet'. They, as had students in the Winkler study, also
challenged women's studies to come to terms more fully with race in the
curriculum and racism in the university. Forty-year-old Eden Torres, a
double major in Chicano Studies and women's studies, expressed
impatience with the reluctance of many faculty to learn about her
culture. `Take time', she urged white faculty and students, `to learn
the history of all people of color'. 

The enterprise of women's studies is, like the best of education, a
multifaceted one. More than establishing a sequence of courses, outlining
a subject area, or positing fresh critical frameworks, women's studies is
about personal and intellectual growth, both for the faculty and for the
students. It is about being attentive to and creative about the classroom
climates and methods that enhance learning. It empowers male and female
students to become active learners and social change agents. 

As students learn to validate their own inner voices, they also learn to
respect the inner voices of others, others whose skin color, sexual orien-
tation, or political views may differ from their own. By providing
students with analytical frameworks in which to view knowledge and the
courage to trust their own personal experiences, women's studies helps the
Marguerites of the world, trapped in the institutional structures of
knowledge, to find a safe way to get home again. Our hope is that in the
process she and others will eventually work to make all places safe:
places where, male or female, lesbian or heterosexual, white or black, old
or young, affluent or poor, everyone can move in and out freely and
without fearing harm. 


1. Free women's studies programs from institutional constraints that
weaken curricular offerings.

Too often programs lack resources to offer a full and balanced range of
elective courses. The most substantial remedy can be achieved by hiring
faculty with expertise in women's studies . In addition to dispensing
faculty members throughout various departments, women's studies as an
academic unit must secure full tenure lines and/or joint appointments so
that core courses can be guaranteed. Inconsistent, unpredictable
staffing has hampered programs faculty of which must too often rely on
visiting professors part time faculty and the good will of other

2. Increase the overall budget in women's studies programs.

Reallocating university resources will reduce the problem of curriculum
constraints by providing funding to `borrow' faculty from other
departments, offering faculty development or research grants, sponsoring
lecture series and institutes, and allocating funds for travel to

3. Identify specific locations in the curriculum where issues of race
and ethnicity will be addressed.

These central issues will not be addressed until there are clearly
designated courses in the women's studies major that focus on the
intersection of race and gender. Ideally, at least one required course
in the major should be devoted exclusively to these issues and it should
be taken relatively early in the student's course of study. In addition,
the analysis of race, ethnicity, and gender should be pervasive in all
women's studies courses.

4. Recruit faculty members of color for women's studies programs.

Women's studies programs need multiracial faculties and student bodies,
not just a multicultural curriculum. One of the most valuable ways to
attract students of color is to employ faculty of color, especially in
lead positions such as program director. 

5. Enhance interactions between women's studies programs and ethnic
studies programs or other programs where race is a prominent area of

Such formal and informal interactions would ensure a greater emphasis on
the crucial intersections of gender with race and ethnicity in our
academic project. Programs might, for instance, co-sponsor projects and 
events, create cross-listed courses, and create joint appointments when

6. Remove administrative obstacles that lock both students
and faculty too narrowly within one academic unit. 

Inventive ways should be initiated to enlarge course offerings and
stimulate dialogue across disciplines. Currently, students in one unit
often are prevented from taking courses in another, or faculty tenured
in one unit are prevented from offering a course that could be cross-
listed with a unit from a different school, division, or college within
the university. 

7. Minimize unnecessary course overlap, especially among electives.
Women's studies programs should regularly review discipline-based courses
in the major to reduce unnecessary overlap and insure academic integrity.
Such reviews ought not to be perceived, as they occasionally are, by
colleagues outside the program, as some sort of ideological `police
action'. Women's studies needs and deserves authority over the content of
its discipline, and programs should devise formal ways to take respon-
sibility for it. 

8. Seek a balance in course offerings among humanities, social sciences,
natural sciences, and, in larger universities, professional fields.
Substantial recent scholarship about women and gender is available in
every field. Programs should be vigilant lest they become overbalanced in
either humanities or social sciences, and neglect important work in the
natural sciences. 

9. Institute formal and informal interaction with teacher education
programs for the benefit of both women's studies majors and of students
preparing to become teachers.

10. Be pro-active about publicizing women's studies programs.

Because of its current emerging but less visible status in the overall
curriculum, programs need to be more aggressive about describing their
offerings. Regular, one-on-one student advising about curriculum options
is especially important for the women's studies student. 

11. Provide an organization, or atleast a series of
activities, for women's studies majors.

Interaction outside of the classroom is extremely valuable as students
address intellectual and personal challenges to dismantle the power
distortions and exclusions in knowledge due to racism, classism, sexism,
heterosexism, and ethnocentrism. These activities should be student-led
and student-run whenever possible. On some campuses (especially commuter
campuses) and for some students (especially those with heavy
responsibilities for families and jobs as well as courses), programs
should be attentive to and creative about the design and timing of such
support activities. 

12. Design a required senior course or project specifically to help
students anticipate the next set of life choices following their women's
studies undergraduate major.

This course ideally should be reserved for women's studies majors only,
or at least have a majority of women's studies majors in it. If the
institution or the number of majors is large enough, programs should
seek to guarantee several upper-level courses in which women's studies
majors are in the majority. 

13. Offer students majoring in women's studies an option to do `applied
women's studies'. 
Internships, field research, and senior seminars designed for projects
that apply theory to practice are ways that the curriculum can provide
this experience. 

14. Structure a variety of ways through which faculty members can
improve as feminist teachers.

Some possible structures might include training sessions for graduate
students who teach women's studies courses, peer classroom visits, mid-
term faculty development symposia or teaching, or resource packets that
describe innovative course assignments. 


    1. Association of American Colleges, "A New Vitality in General Education,
Washington", D.C., 1988, p. 14. 

2. Charles C. Lemen, "Depth as a Metaphor for the Major--A Postmodernist
Challenge," remarks delivered at the Association of American 76th Annual
Meeting in San Francisco, California, January 11, 1990, pp. 9-12. 

3. "Integrity in the College Curriculum", Washington, D.C.: Association of
American Colleges, February, 1985, p. 24. 

4. Dixie L. King, report submitted to NWSA as part of a FIPSE project,
"The Courage to Question: Women's Studies and Student Learning," p. 8. 

5. "NWSA Directory of Women's Studies Programs, Women's Centers, and
Women's Research Centers", a publication of the National Women's Studies
Association, College Park, Maryland, 1990, p. ii. 

6. Mariam K. Chamberlain, editor, "Women in Academe: Progress and
Prospects" (New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 1988), 137. 

7. A survey of women's studies programs with majors was conducted by the
National Women's Studies Association in the summer and fall of 1989.
Compilations and analysis were prepared by Leigh Harris, Debra Humphreys,
Astrida Levensteins, and Caryn McTighe Musil. Forthcoming article in NWSA
Action, Vol.III, No. 4. 

8. "NWSA Directory of Women's Studies Programs, Women's Centers, and
Women's Research Centers", p. iii. For a fuller description of the women's
studies offerings at the graduate level, see "NWSA's Guide to Graduate
Work in Women's Studies", published in February 1991. 

9. There are several explanations for the double major. One factor is
career and employment concerns: while women's studies expands job
possibilities when combined with more job-related preparation, like any
liberal arts field, it does not itself translate into a particular job.
Another factor is legitimacy. While women's studies still must struggle to
establish its academic credentials, students are encouraged to have
another major. Finally, many students simply discover women's studies too
late. Only after having completed several women's studies courses and most
of a major in another field, do some decide to add women's studies as a
second field, a double major. 

10. The composite draws upon the NWSA survey previously mentioned and on
a survey of program and course descriptions from college catalogues, "A
Survey of the Women's Studies Major," by Marcia Westkott and Gay Victoria
of the Women's Studies Program, University of Colorado, February 5,1990.
Forthcoming article in "NWSA Journal", (Autumn 1991), Vol.III, No.3. 
11. Marcia Westkott and Gay Victoria, 5-6. Patricia Bell Scott of the
University of Connecticut and Beverly Guy-Sheftall of Spelman College have
completed a more extensive analysis of the status of racial diversity in
women's studies curriculum. Their data from some 200 women's studies
programs will be interpreted in a future issue of "Sage: A Scholarly
Journal on Black Women". 

12. Marcia Westkott and Gay Victoria, 5. 

13. Marcia Westkott and Gay Victoria, 9.
14. Barbara Scott Winkler, " `It Gave Me Courage': What Students Say About
Women's Studies", "NWSA Perspectives, Vol. 5, No. 4, pp. 29-32. Winkler
was a 1986 Pergamon-NWSA Graduate Scholarship winner. Her research is part
of a longer study gathered for her dissertation work at the University of

15. King, 15.
16. King, 9.

17. Ibid. 
18. Report submitted by the women's studies program of the University of
Colorado as part of the NWSA-FIPSE project, "The Courage to Question:
Women's Studies and Student Learning," 2. 

19. Westkott and Victoria, 2. 

20. Abby Markowitz, "Learning Feminism: Journeys in Our Lives," audio tape
from NWSA's 1989 National Conference at Towson State University, June 14-
18, 1989. 

21. As part of the AAC's examination of "Arts and Sciences Majors and 
Liberal Education", members of the participating task forces were asked
to distribute student questionnaires in classes. In a compilation of the 
results, women's studies was rated the highest of the eleven majors in 
ten out of the fourteen questions and was in the top four rankings in the 
remaining four categories. Checking the column `usually true', 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 for 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). Although the numbers of students in 
the sample was modest, the results echo similar commentary from students 
about the value of women's studies courses in their lives and in
integrating knowledge. Unpublished study by Association of American 
Colleges, Washington, D.C., 1990.

22. Winkler, p . 29. All subsequent quotations in the paragraph are
taken from pages 29-31.

23. Full text of the student presentations are in "NWSA Journal (Winter
1990), Vol. II, No. 1.