With the often-uneasy discussion of ""transformation"" on the UA campus over the past year, many students and faculty say there is at least one program on campus that continues to offer a positively transformative experience: Gender and Women's Studies.
Department students and professors alike say that an education in Gender and Women's Studies promises not only personal transformation, but also the skills to analyze contemporary events and to act to create a more just world. Students in the department rave about their classes, and the department has huge community support. But some on campus may wonder what the program even does.
""The work that we do in class is often quite political, in the sense that we think about how to transform the world that we have and make it more just, more humane, more alive,"" said women's studies assistant professor Adam Geary. Geary said sitting longer with texts, listening to course authors — as well as to teachers and other students — and then responding, instead of simply moving quickly through texts, expands listening and analytical skills.
""The courses that I teach might be described as testing grounds for new political imaginaries; not simply imagining new worlds but also imagining new forms of politics,"" Geary said. ""But I really resist the ‘technical fix' (of the world) and present material that imagines and reflects upon kinds of political movement that are transformative, even if the transformation is relatively local at the beginning.""
Founded in the early 1980s, Women's Studies at the UA is one of the oldest programs of its kind in the country. Last year the department initiated a Ph.D. program, one of only 15 in Gender and Women's Studies in the United States.
The department's purpose is, in part, to engage the ""feminist study of everything,"" especially the ""inextricably interrelated relationships of gender, race, sexuality, class and nation,"" according to its mission statement. Research interests of faculty and students include topics as diverse as transnational adoption, popular culture and social networking sites, sexuality and migration, the social implications of scientific research, LGBTQI studies, Southwest history and women's life writing.
Pat Fisher, a gender and women's studies senior, described his experience in the department as ""life-changing.""
""Prior to this major,"" he said, ""I had studied mechanical engineering, geological engineering and geology. Despite doing very well in all my courses, the material did little to challenge my perception of the world and how I fit into it. … I wanted to ask bigger questions about how we view ourselves and how we interact with one another, rather than just design the next new BlackBerry or iPhone. GWS gave me a venue for asking those questions and provided me with tools for analyzing the large-scale implications of our actions.""
The Women's Plaza of Honor, located on the west side of Centennial Hall, is both a fundraising effort to support the department and a community project to honor women's contributions to history.
Students in Women's Life Writing, an undergraduate course offered in the department, directly participate by researching and writing about the women (living and deceased) who are honored in the plaza.Their writings are then made available to the public through a kiosk that was unveiled this past spring.
Carly Thomsen, a 2009 graduate of the Gender and Women's Studies Master's program, is now a Ph.D. student at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
Looking back at her years in the department, Thomsen said, ""While Women's Studies produces students with an ability to think critically, write and analyze, it also does so much more — it creates engaged citizens equipped to change the world.""