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Women's studies courses have

some surprising payoffs

'There's something in there to apply to everyday life'

by Alison Ramsey

Many students sign up for an introductory women's studies course because the elective fits their schedule, but are surprised to discover how gripping and relevant the course is.

Lillian Robinson, the new principal of the Simone de Beauvoir Institute, recalls a military man who chose her Women and Literature course for convenience. He was so impressed he made a point of telling fellow soldiers, "I've got to go read my women's literature now." Jeering, they would say, "You're taking women's literature?" "Yes," he'd reply, "and so should you."

Robinson's appointment is proof of the university's dedication to the Institute, said outgoing interim principal Fran Shaver. "[Faculty of Arts and Science Dean] Martin Singer recognizes that this is a program that could very easily be revitalized and do really well."

"It was completely different from what I expected," said Quincy Jaja Hunte, a business student who signed up for the Institute's introductory course last year on the advice of friends.

"I thought I'd be studying the history of the women's movement," he said. "Instead, it was today's topics and issues, and seeing what goes on and where it stems from. It's good, because it put me in the opposite role. In society, I'm the dominant force. In class, I wasn't."

Suzanne Colet, a longtime nurse, said, "I think it's made me stronger, more confident as a person. I was able to draw conclusions about how I fit in the feminist movement better." She feels that the introductory course will make her a better nurse because she understands more fully why fellow female nurses have such a difficult time confronting conflict.

"Nurses are particularly prone to that. It comes up everywhere -- with doctors, patients, administrators, social workers. Just dealing with men is very, very frustrating. Only in the past 10 or 15 years have women developed a stronger voice."

When Nadia Sciortino signed up for the course, she already had a history of fighting for female rights. The soccer-loving student was initially barred from boys' teams for fear of her getting hurt, but she convinced coaches otherwise. "I'd been playing for 12 years," she said, scoffing at the idea of injury.

Later, as a soccer referee, she also came in for loads of abuse from mainly male parents. "I've heard and seen a lot of mean things."

She was most affected by videos shown in class: one where a poor single mother talked about her difficulties, another that discussed women's image in the media, such as music videos.

"It helps to open your eyes," Hunte said. "I'd recommend it to anyone who asks. They may not need it for their future job, but there will be something in there to apply to everyday life."

Robinson agreed. "People do believe that higher education is in the hands of a bunch of maniacs who question all values, do brainwashing and talk dirty," she said. "I say, it helps to get in there and make some sense of things."

Fran Shaver admitted that "it's difficult to have a lively, vital shop with one full-time faculty member." Robinson makes two, and more hirings are expected. "We hope to go back to the full component of up to five full-time faculty, plus an administrator supported by an active group of fellows and part-timers."

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