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Women's Studies gone but not forgotten

Monday, November 16, 2009

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  • U of G community members held a mock funeral mourning the loss of Women's Studies major, which was cut last year. (Jeffrey Ryan

    U of G community members held a mock funeral mourning the loss of Women's Studies major, which was cut last year. (Jeffrey Ryan

  • U of G community members mourned the loss of Women's Studies major (Jeffrey Ryan Martineau)

    U of G community members mourned the loss of Women's Studies major (Jeffrey Ryan Martineau)

  • U of G community members mourned the loss of Women's Studies major (Jeffrey Ryan Martineau)

    U of G community members mourned the loss of Women's Studies major (Jeffrey Ryan Martineau)

  • U of G community members mourned the loss of Women's Studies major (Jeffrey Ryan Martineau)

    U of G community members mourned the loss of Women's Studies major (Jeffrey Ryan Martineau)

  • U of G community members mourned the loss of Women's Studies major (Jeffrey Ryan Martineau)

    U of G community members mourned the loss of Women's Studies major (Jeffrey Ryan Martineau)

  • U of G community members mourned the loss of Women's Studies major (Jeffrey Ryan Martineau)

    U of G community members mourned the loss of Women's Studies major (Jeffrey Ryan Martineau)

Written by Greg Beneteau

The casket might have been empty, but the sense of loss expressed by University of Guelph students following the elimination of Women’s Studies was real.

Approximately 100 black-clad supporters gathered at a mock funeral in Branion Plaza on Friday to share memories of the program, which was axed last May by the University Senate at the recommendation of the Board of Undergraduate Studies.

At the time, critics said the major was suffering from low enrolment, cost too much and was resistant to changing itself.

But professors at the event said that the move to scrap Women's Studies had damaged the university's claim to being a forum to analyze important issues.

“Women’s Studies is not about studying gender. It is about studying class relationships and how they are gendered,” said Terisa Turner, a Professor of Sociology and Anthropology at the University of Guelph.

Turner argued that attempts to modernize Women's Studies in other universities were making them less critical of the status quo, encouraging female students to work within existing power structures instead of challenging them.

The feminist roots of Women's Studies helped bring about progress in social equality and reproductive rights during the 60s and 70s, "but we are not going to be able to make that same progress within reformist Women's Studies," she said.

Philosophy Professor Karen Houle said her time teaching Women’s Studies courses provided her with “some of the most intense, fantastic learning experiences I’ve ever had.”

Houle noted that other departments have been begging for access to the few remaining Women’s Studies courses due to their ability to promote critical thinking.

"There's a need for it, yet there's is shame in having to begging for something that's already gone," she said.

In her eulogy, Houle compared the abrupt closure of the Women's Studies to a disppearance, noting that many students have been left without a sense of closure.

Students who helped plan the mock funeral agreed. They said they are still searching for answers about what will happen to incoming students who were enrolled in the Women's Studies program before it was cancelled and whether a new gender studies program will be brought in to fill current demand.

"The university has made it very difficult to get the information," claimed U of G student Arden Hagedorn.

Ann Wilson, Dean of the College of Arts, clarified by email that students enrolled in the 2009-2010 academic would be able to choose a Women's Studies major or minor, as could "any student who is currently within the BA Program."

"Indeed, as per University policy, a student has the right to complete his or her degree under the terms of the Calendar in which the student was admitted to the Program," Wilson explained.

Wilson did not address rumors of a new gender studies program. She said efforts were underway to review first-year courses across the board as part of a Senate White Paper.

However she hinted that Women's Studies courses like WMST*1000, which has "robust enrollment," would be likely be kept.

"This curricular work is in its initial phases, and so it is premature for me to outline in any detail proposals which are nascent, but [it is] fair to say that the popularity of WMST*1000 indicates that as an area of interest, in some form, the concerns of the course should feature in a revision of the BA Program," she wrote.

In the meantime, organizer Veronica Majewski said the funeral  succeeded in giving students a forum to grieve - and a platform to renew efforts to bring the program back from the dead.

"It's an important thing to remind people of what happened, but also to empower them to do something,"  Majewski explained.

The group said it was looking advocate for the revival of Women's Studies in the coming months, especially in December when events are held to recognize the issue of violence against women.

No representatives from the Central Students Association were officially present at the funeral, which angered organizer Jack Hixson-Vulpe.

Last year, the CSA Board of the Directors of condemned the closure of the Women's Studies, calling the program "an important and integral part of the university community."

Nathan Lachowsky, the current CSA Academic Commissioner, voted in favour of cutting Women's Studies while he was a student senator, making it important for this year's board to "declare its stance" on the issue, Hixson-Vulpe said.

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  1. Posted by: CSA External Commissioner on Nov 18, 2009 @ 10:27am

    I wholeheartedly support U of G students efforts to express their concerns surrounding academic issues and would encourage students to approach their elected representatives and discuss matters that affect them in order so that we can better represent them. Unfortunately I was unable to attend this event due to a work committment however I think that students should continue to use the various avenues available to them to raise these important concerns. On that note, if students are planning on holding events, it would be much appreciated if they could let the CSA executives know in advance so that we can re-arrange our schedules and try to attend, as we are often not aware of events that take place on campus all the time.
    There is an upcoming townhall meeting to discuss secondary areas of study on Thursday Nov 19 at 5:30 pm in ROZH 103 that I would encourage all students to attend!

  2. Posted by: V on Nov 18, 2009 @ 1:05pm

    There was a facebook event created at least a week before the funeral happened. We were unaware that the CSA exec needed to have a personal invitation extended to them in order for them to be aware of things happening on campus. At the very least, one member of the exec received the facebook invitation, and could have passed along the message. But what it boils down to is that last year, CSA executives were INVOLVED in the protests, actively organizing and helping, and now they're on news articles pointing out that they weren't notified well enough in advance? Unfortunate.

  3. Posted by: Curtis Batuszkin on Nov 19, 2009 @ 3:54pm

    Whoa, there's a lot of blame directed at the CSA at the end of this piece. Did it escape everyone's minds that it was BUGS that voted to get rid of this program and not just the CSA Academic Commissioner?

    Thinly veiled attacks against the CSA don't get the message across. The students and organizers should be angry at BUGS instead of wasting effort and criticism on the Academic Commissioner. Believe me, direct criticism where it is deserved, and that criticism should be square on BUGS and the student senate.

    However, V does make a point. The executives should be aware of activities going on around campus (after all, it is there job, that's what WE pay them for). There's been some great experiences this year reported in the ontarion and this news source about executive commissioners not investigating or dealing with legitimate student issues this year, even when those issues fall blatantly within their own portfolio, so I can sympathize with V.

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