Women’s studies courses popular among students

If you ever have tried to register for a women’s studies course and learned that no more seats are available for the course, you are not alone.

“All of the courses in the Women’s Studies Program close. Rarely is there any space in these courses,” said Diana Scully, director of the Women’s Studies Program and a sociology professor.

Classes fill up quickly because the discipline is growing at an extremely fast rate, she said, and each year more and more students become interested in the discipline and enroll in a course.

More than 18 months ago the program became a major in the Bachelor of Interdisciplinary Studies Degree Program housed in the College of Humanities and Sciences. Scully said now more than 30 students major in women’s studies.

To graduate with a women’s studies major, students must complete a total of 120 credits, including the general education requirements for the Bachelor of Arts degree in the College of Humanities and Sciences. At least 15 of the 30 required credits must be acquired in upper-level courses, such as women and global politics, women in literature as well as women and law.

Although all of the courses fill at a relatively fast pace, some close more rapidly than others because of their popularity or because they are general education courses most students must complete.

“Introduction to women’s studies and feminist theory (classes) always fill up fast,” Deirdre Condit, assistant professor, said. “Feminist theory is so popular because it allows students to approach complex theoretical issues that they have never been faced with.”

Women’s studies faculty and students promote togetherness and women’s awareness by participating in various activities and conferences. For example, last summer 23 people including 13 students attended the eighth International Interdisciplinary Conference on Women at Makerere University in Uganda.

After the conference, the group spent time sightseeing in Uganda, Nairobi and Mombassa before moving on to a safari in Kenya.

“I think these conferences are important for students because it exposes them to a broad range of scholarship (and) they can meet students and faculty from other universities,” Scully said. “These are places where academics and students go to talk about research and new theory. It’s a great way to keep current in your field.”

On June 19, Scully said another group of students – some who visited Africa – will participate in a panel at the National Women’s Studies Association meeting in New Orleans.

In May, two students will graduate with a major in women’s studies through the interdisciplinary degree program. Before commencement the program will sponsor a potluck dinner to honor the two women.

Katie Link, one soon-to-be- graduate, said the interaction among women’s studies students appealed to her when she came to VCU.

“As a transfer student from Radford, I had a really hard time socializing,” Link said. “My women’s studies classes helped me to talk to people and be more involved because of the small class sizes and the fact that you see a lot of the same students in your other classes.”

What is the most valuable lesson she learned from the program?

Open-mindedness.

“The courses have challenged me to look at what I believe and look past it to see others points of view,” she said. ” I have also learned to not just accept what someone says. You have the option to formulate your own opinion.”

Despite its rapid growth and interest for students on campus, women’s studies has yet to be declared a free-standing major, unlike at such other Virginia universities as the University of Virginia and Old Dominion University.

Although no plans call for women’s studies to become a free-standing major, Scully said she has high hopes for the continued success of the program.

“In the future I would like for the program to be a free-standing major with a department head,” she said. “I would also like for the program to have more faculty, more money and a graduate program. This is my wish list.”

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