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Gender Studies department celebrates name change

Christine Littleton talks at the gender studies department’s name-change ceremony.

By Loic Hostetter

Oct. 19, 2012 1:01 a.m.

The gender studies department ““ formerly known as women’s studies ““ celebrated its recent name change Wednesday, which went into effect this quarter.

Students previously enrolled in the women’s studies major or minor will now be housed under the gender studies department.

While its name is different, the degree will remain the same, said Jenny Sharpe, chair of the gender studies department and professor of comparative literature. The women’s studies department adopted the new title of gender studies in an effort to solidify the identity of the program and better reflect the department’s offerings and research, Sharpe said.

Sam Blanco, a fifth-year anthropology student and gender studies minor, said she supports the switch ““ in the works since last October ““ because it emphasizes the department’s integrated and inclusive approach to the field while keeping women as its focal point.

With only four years under its belt as a department, the new name comes as part of an attempt to better outline the areas and fields included under the department’s umbrella, Sharpe said.

The department hopes to emphasize that neither the female nor male gender can be studied in isolation, Sharpe said.

In the same spirit, the department rolled out a new curriculum last year to reflect new advancements in the field and specialization of the department’s faculty. Under the changes, the department added three new upper division courses relating to feminist theories, gender systems and sexuality.

The change was proposed to Dean of Social Sciences Alessandro Duranti last October, and was finalized in late January following a unanimous faculty vote and approval from the Academic Senate, according to a letter sent to the College of Letters and Science Faculty Executive Committee, the governing body for College faculty.

Re-evaluation of the department’s mission follows a broader trend in numerous American universities ““ dozens of institutions around the country have similarly renamed their women’s studies programs, Sharpe said. Among these are the University of Colorado, Boulder in 2006 and the University of Pennsylvania in 2011.

Fourth-year gender studies student Marley Poyo said she feels a gender studies diploma will not reflect her studies as accurately as one bearing the department’s old name.

“I’m having a really hard time making the switch to gender studies,” Poyo said.

Poyo, who still uses the name women’s studies, said she understands the department’s intention to be more inclusive, but believes women’s studies was equally able to capture a variety of subjects under its title.

The switch brought Naveen Minai’s area of focus more clearly into the department’s mission, she said.

“I work on masculinity studies, which is sometimes a little difficult to explain when I say I’m with women’s studies,” Minai, a graduate student in gender studies, said with a laugh.

As graduate student representative for the department last year, Minai said graduate students involved in the process were primarily concerned with finding a title that was considerate of the field’s history while broadening its scope of study. She said she feels the name will help bring new possibilities for the gender studies department.

“It’s about keeping one’s legacy intact but also opening a new conversation,” Minai said.

Contributing reports by Kylie Reynolds, Bruin senior staff.

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