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Program in Feminist Studies receives advising award

Half-time ceremonies have never been so interdisciplinary.

At the Stanford-UCLA women's basketball game on Feb. 12, the Program in Feminist Studies will accept an award from the Undergraduate Advising Center (UAC) for its "exceptional and dedicated undergraduate academic advising program."

Estelle Freedman, professor of history and chair of the program, will receive a wooden plaque on behalf of more than 120 resource faculty who teach cross-listed courses in 28 different departments, programs and professional schools.

Earlier this year the departments of physics and civil engineering received similar awards. This is the first year the UAC has recognized exceptional undergraduate advising, and awards were voted for one large department, one small department and one program.

"Students tell us that Feminist Studies is one of the most welcoming places on campus for undergraduates, not only for people majoring in feminist studies but for any student who's interested in exploring the discipline," says Lori White, assistant vice provost for undergraduate education and director of undergraduate advising, who will make the award. "It's a place where if they have not one clue, students can walk in the door and somebody will assist them in a friendly, welcoming manner."

When the UAC asked program members where and when they wanted to receive the award, students voted for a presentation at this week's "All Women Faculty Night" game, which is co-sponsored by Feminist Studies and Stanford Women's Basketball. Coach Tara VanDerveer's office is providing complimentary tickets to women faculty members, and more than 110 tickets had been reserved by Feb. 10.

As chair of the program, Freedman also serves as one of the two advisers who are assigned to every student who majors in feminist studies. She has been an energizing force behind the program since its launch in 1980, and she teaches the introductory core course, FS101 "Introduction to Feminist Studies," in alternate years.

FS101 attracted 15 students when it first was offered in the fall of 1988, and last quarter it enrolled 115. That leap in interest is reflected in this year's graduating class of seven women and two men, the largest class of majors to date. During the past seven years, more than 9,000 students have taken core or cross-listed courses in feminist studies, many of them signing on as primary, secondary or double majors, or choosing to do an honors thesis or minor in the program.

In January a number of feminist studies alums returned to talk with undergraduates about how those courses translate in the real world of community organizing, law, social work, academics, journalism and filmmaking.

"They looked at my resume and said, 'You've been training all your life for this job,'" Ana Matasantos, '97, said of the position she had been offered at Equal Rights Advocates.

Karen Abrams, '90, and founder of the nonprofit organization "Through Our Own Strength," told how she had brought together ethnically, socio-economically and religiously diverse Israeli and Palestinian women to work for peace in their shared homeland.

Dayna Goldfine, '88, producer of such feature-length documentaries as Frosh: 9 Months in a Freshman Dorm and Isadora Duncan: Movement From the Soul, described a succession of part-time jobs that finally enabled her to follow her full-time dream.

"The theories, ideas and knowledge encountered during my courses shape the approach I take to filmmaking and dictate the sorts of films I choose to make," Goldfine wrote in a recent newsletter published by the program. "FS professors gave me the courage to try my hand at the often terrifying career of independent filmmaking."

The success of the program's graduates speaks to the questions students may have when they first consider majoring in feminist studies. Freedman often addresses similar concerns at the annual commencement celebration in June, telling parents who gather on the porch of the nearby Haas Center for Public Service, "You may still be wondering just what this major means."

Fundamentally, Freedman says, feminist studies has to do with learning to think critically about gender roles and expectations in all aspects of life, "in order to encourage young women and men to use the full range of their intellectual and creative skills in a world that will demand much of them, and that sorely needs their talents."

In May 1995, the Faculty Senate renewed Feminist Studies as a degree-granting B.A. and Honors program for eight years, the maximum renewal possible. Freedman says the undergraduate advising award owes much to the work of program administrator Cathy Jensen, who is the first person to talk with any student considering a major or minor.

"Many students come to the program from the 101 introductory course and often they say they've been considering a major for a while," Jensen says. "Lots of them have a sense of 'I'm more aware now, I'm looking beyond where I used to be.'"

Jensen asks those who seem serious about the program to complete an application that requires a draft proposal, a list of anticipated courses, a thematic focus and the naming of a faculty adviser. The next stop is a one-on-one conversation with Freedman.

For the past three years, all majors have taken a senior seminar with Leslie Townsend, a lecturer in English and Writing and Critical Thinking. The two-quarter, biweekly course is designed to help students evaluate their practicum experience, whether it's an internship in the Washington, D.C., offices of the National Organization for Women or a less formalized stint teaching English to Tibetan nuns in India.

"Basically, we want to give them an opportunity to do some serious reflection," Townsend says. "We try to integrate theoretical knowledge with experiential education, and then ask them their own views ­ or what theory it is that they can stand on."

In recent years the Program in Feminist Studies has co-sponsored, with the Center for Teaching and Learning, a workshop on "Engendering the Curriculum," and also has received funding from the office of Ramón Saldívar, vice provost for undergraduate education, that has helped to fund informational lunches, a newsletter and web page. With the Institute for Research on Women and Gender and the Center for Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity, Feminist Studies recently applied for a grant to jointly study questions of gender, race, identity and violence.

Feminist Studies has received a gift from an alum that enables the program to offer courses in lesbian/gay studies, like the "Seminar on Lesbian and Gay Perspectives in Psychology" that is being taught this quarter by Peter Hegarty, a graduate student in psychology. Graduate students also submit proposals each year to teach courses in issues that are underrepresented in the curriculum.

"Since we don't offer a graduate degree, this is one way we can help graduate students gain some teaching experience in feminist studies," Freedman says. "It's a chance to have a small seminar on a topic that a graduate student knows intimately because it's related to his or her dissertation."

After publishing Maternal Justice: Miriam Van Waters and the Female Reform Tradition in May 1996, Freedman is now at work on a new book that will draw on her years in the FS101 classroom.

"It's a synthetic text that will take the lectures in the introductory core course and turn them into book chapters," she says.

The goal?

"I hope to make interdisciplinary teaching available to students, scholars and the general public."


By Diane Manuel

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