A Problem With A Name

Cartoon by Julie Gundersen.


Cartoon by Julie Gundersen.
Cartoon by Julie Gundersen.

The Women’s, Gender and Sexualities Studies (WGSS) program recently voted to accept a memorandum providing at least one full-time faculty member in exchange for not seeking departmental status within the next five years.

The proposal benefits students and current faculty with an additional person to shoulder the weight of the courseload — something the ever-growing program desperately requires — and bolster the credibility of the program for when they ultimately decide to seek departmental status.

We at The New Paltz Oracle support whatever decision those in the department see fit, however, we believe it is imperative the program be given departmental status — sooner rather than later. We understand the importance of waiting until the program is strong enough prior to seeking the change in status, but we firmly believe the students earning degrees in this field deserve the same attention and support throughout their studies awarded to any other field.

The five year timeline set by administration, good-intentioned as it may be, fails to address the urgency of the situation where students are graduating from an under-staffed and over-worked program. With 36 students in the major, 36 students in the minor and countless students recieving General Education credits through WGSS courses, the program and those students deserve undivided attention.

Currently the WGSS program is comprised of faculty members who also teach full courseloads in their respective departments. The program does not currently have a full-time professor with a higher degree in Women’s or gender studies.  While students benefit from a truly interdisciplinary study with professors from a diverse selection of academic backgrounds, the aforementioned faculty are forced to divide their attention to their many teaching and academic pursuits.

Though admirable on the part of the faculty members who look to provide a variety of classes through a feminist lens, it’s ultimately a disservice to all parties involved to stretch the professors so thin. Students graduating from the program at SUNY New Paltz are at a disadvantage to those who graduate from departments elsewhere; there’s legitimacy in the name and all the trappings of a full-fledge department would only serve to improve their educations. Departmental status would mean these students are given majors and minors built comprehensively and thoroughly with their fields in mind with significantly less strain on their professors.

While this proposal offers at least one additional full-time faculty member to the program alone, we see this as a sort of quick, temporary fix. It patches the hole in the roof but does little to repair greater structural problems. At best, it’s only the first step to helping the program and its students see their full potential.

We recognize a trend on our campus of being incredibly concerned, outraged and outspoken for a brief time only to forget and lose momentum when the subject leaves the mainstream campus consciousness. We implore our campus community — from administration and faculty to students — to maintain constant support for the program in the upcoming years and to continue to call for the change in status. We sincerely hope this matter will not be swept under the rug after a small act of appeasement.

After all, many students say the WGSS program completely alters the way they approach and frame their educations. The  critical, interdisciplinary coursework and insights of the feminist lens opens students eyes to institutionalized social inequality and gives valuable attention to the personal and political “problems that have no name[s].”

We believe that deserves all the support we can offer.