PSU Women’s Studies Department considers name change

The interdisciplinary academic arena that is Women’s Studies, Gender Studies or Sexuality Studies is one that is rife with opposing opinions. Indeed, that is one of its great strengths and great frustrations. I attended Smith College in the early aughts and what to call this specific department was contonually under debate, even though the decision to keep it Women’s Studies (because we had to keep the “We study women in a major way” button tradition alive..) and to focus on spotlighting the “fairer sex” had already been “decided.”

Now our local public university, Portland State, is having that discussion as well. This Thursday 21st (tomorrow) the PSU WST Dept is holding a meeting from 7:-9 pm in Smith Memorial room 296 to discuss the possibility of changing the department’s name to reflect changes both internally in the program, and externally in the field as a whole.

Here is some of the discussion so far:

“The interdisciplinary field of women’s studies is quite dynamic,” explained PSU Women’s Studies Director Sally McWilliams. “On a national level, new scholarships into gender, gender expressions, sexuality, and systems of power, to name only a few, are expanding the issues scholars and educators are theorizing and investigating. Our curriculum at PSU is developing in these areas as well. We also have faculty whose scholarship and teaching has moved to include more emphasis on gender and sexuality within a global frame. Thus, it seems to step back and re-examine the name of the program as a whole at this moment.”

Concerns have been voiced in discussions between faculty and students regarding the potential name change, mainly pertaining to some suggested alternatives excluding the word “women.”

“One of the major concerns expressed by some of the current faculty is that the name of the program should reflect the history of the program in honoring and studying the contributions of women to society and how gendered systems of power impact women,” said McWilliams. “There is concern that without the word ‘women’ in the name, issues of sexism may be lost if the shift is to gender studies exclusively.”

Proposed name changes – which McWilliams explains are designed to connote to students and the off-campus community exactly what the department’s foci are – include “Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies,”  “Women’s and Gender Studies,”  “Gender and Feminist Studies,” among others. There is also the possibility that the department will retain its current title.

The goal of the January 21st public meeting will be to gather input from students, alumni, faculty, and community stakeholders on the possibility of a name change.

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