If you’ve ever thought that women’s studies was about burning bras, bashing men and banishing women from the kitchen, you better read on.
According to the department’s Web site, the mission of the department is “education and research for social justice by engaging students in the discovery and production of knowledge that emerges from feminist perspectives on culture and society.”
Women’s studies is about exposing limitations in traditional education. These limitations, according to the Web site, result from “the exclusion of women and other marginalized groups in subjects such as literature, the arts, history, law, public policy, sociology, anthropology, social sciences, ethnic studies and even health, science and technology.” This field of study focuses on and examines women’s experiences “while taking differences such as history, culture, race, and class into consideration,” the Web site stated.
Rebecca Willman, a teaching assistant and a former undergraduate adviser in the department of women’s studies, said: “Women’s studies is an interdisciplinary liberal arts degree with a specific focus on women’s experiences and women’s history. Our goal is to give students critical thinking and analytical skills to make change in the world by learning about issues of inequality.”
According to the Web site, the department of women’s studies has been around for more than 30 years. USF became the first public university in Florida to offer a bachelor’s degree in women’s studies in 1987. The department also offers a master’s degree and a graduate certificate. An undergraduate minor is available along with a concentration in women’s spirituality and women of color studies.
“We have a small department, and there is a real opportunity to create close-knit relationships with faculty members and fellow students,” Willman said.
According to Willman, a few of the courses available to women’s studies majors and minors are The History of Feminism in the U.S., Third World Women Writers, Politics and Issues in Women’s Health, and Human Sexual Behavior.
“Anyone with an interest in eliminating inequality of any kind might find an interest in women’s studies,” Willman said. “Students interested in social activism and political science would benefit from this degree because it focuses on global and multicultural issues, and it gives students a good foundation to pursue careers in social work, psychology, law and writing. A degree in women’s studies allows people to form analytical skills to make changes in this world.
Unlike other departments that might address the issues of diversity, racism, poverty, our main goal is to actually do the work for eliminating racism, poverty, injustice, inequality. There is a commitment in women’s studies to seeing those things eradicated.”
When asked why he chose to get a degree in women’s studies, J.T. McCormick, a graduate student, said: “It really seemed like a natural progression for me. I’d started working on an M.A. in history, focusing on the civil rights movement, where a lot of black women were finally finding their own voices. At the same time, I took a class that was cross-listed with women’s studies for history credit, and it opened by eyes to the usefulness of feminist history. Soon I was registered for the graduate certificate, and that eventually lead into my enrollment in the program full-time.”
Alexis Pierson, a sophomore majoring in women’s studies, hopes to go on to the master’s program and eventually teach women’s studies courses.
“I chose to major in women’s studies because I feel it is crucial to be armed with the knowledge to combat oppression of all minorities,” Pierson said. “There is a huge fallacy today that because we have achieved equality through the legal system that discrimination is not a problem anymore. Sexism, classism, racism, ethnocentrism and heterosexism are all social injustices in existence today that need to be exposed and vanquished. I hope to play some part in that.”
Some students might be concerned that there aren’t many career options for someone with a degree in women’s studies. The truth is, students graduating with this degree have a variety of options for careers. While some of these fields require education beyond a bachelor’s degree, according to the department’s Web site, graduates have found jobs in social work, teaching, journalism, political and governmental services, psychology, social activism and many more fields. Many people with women’s studies degrees work for advocacy groups, nonprofit organizations and as college professors. Some students even go on to work as school administrators and published authors.
“Women’s studies is very applicable to my everyday life; I feel that I am constantly learning and having new concepts brought to my attention. No other major that I explored was as rewarding or challenging,” said Katie Roders, a junior majoring in women’s studies with an interest in women’s health.
“Through women’s studies, I’ve learned so much about social issues and how to create political awareness about these issues,” Willman said. “I was interested in an area of study that was relevant to my life and that is what women’s studies wound up being for me. It just made sense in a way no other field of study did.”
The department encourages students to come by and learn more about this field of study. The department is located in FAO 153. More information can be found on the department’s Website, cas.usf.edu/womens_studies. There is also an organization called the Feminist Student Alliance that undergraduate students can join.