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Women's Studies Program Goals and Objectives

The Women's Studies program acquaints students with scholarship representing a broad range of disciplinary approaches to the study of women. Students learn about contemporary and historical experiences of women, as well as how the concept of woman has been constructed in literature, science, the media, and other institutions. We especially emphasize the ways in which the construction of "woman" intersects with nationality, race, class and sexuality. 

Our students eventually pursue advanced coursework in two disciplines; inevitably, the questions asked and methods of inquiry used may vary from one discipline to the next. Yet the very need for a variety of disciplinary approaches is itself a basic premise of feminist theory and methodology, which emphasizes the importance of diverse perspectives and multiple paths to knowledge. The very existence of women's studies as a subject calls attention to women's historical exclusion from disciplinary consideration. By examining more than one discipline, students learn not only to ask certain kinds of questions using certain methodologies; they also learn to ask, "What questions are not being asked? What methodologies are not being used, and which could be used?" The persistent questioning of assumptions and of institutions taken for granted is the very essence of a liberal arts education, particularly at Vassar.Our goals are consonant with several of the College's general-educational aims, including those of sensitizing students to diverse experiences and perspectives; the development of critical thought and analytical skills; and the development of interpretive and writing skills. Courses at the introductory level and above hone students' oral and writing skills, and prepare students to ask provocative questions from the perspective of gender as they go on to take courses in many different subjects.Building on the introductory course (team-taught for cross-disciplinary perspective), students must take an intermediate-level course on feminist theory. At this level, they must also take at least one of the following focal courses in the program: Construction of Gender; Feminist Approaches to Science and Technology; or Global Feminism. At the advanced level, the program offers a topical, team-taught seminar, in which students must apply theories, concepts, and knowledge that they have acquired through previous studies. All majors must take three 300-level courses from the approved list. To fulfill this requirement, students may take courses in at least two different disciplines, or they may take the women's studies seminar and the other required seminars in one discipline. Students construct the balance of their major from a list of courses, approved by the Program, wholly or partially focused on the study of women. Thus, students gain theories, concepts, and analytical skills from program courses while achieving a breadth of knowledge about women in the context of disciplinary courses. 

 The Director discusses the program with every new major, who then submits a proposal comprised of a sequence of courses for the major plus a one page narrative describing the focus of the major and explaining how this sequence of courses will fulfill these intentions. Then the proposal is reviewed by the steering committee, which may ask for additions or modifications of the proposed course of study. The committee suggests an appropriate advisor, who then meets periodically with the student to be sure that the student is fulfilling the program's goals. Because a portion of the major may be selected from a number of disciplines, the program considers that this formalized process of advising and review of a student's progress is essential to the achievement of coherence in the concentration.