The Women’s Studies major at SUNY New Paltz officially changed its name to Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies this semester.
The new name is a more honest reflection of the current program and the ways it has morphed to keep up with changes in the field according to Associate Professor Heather Hewett.
Women’s history and politics was once the centerpiece of the program, but over recent decades, the focus has shifted to encompass gender, sexuality, queer studies and racial and cultural representation.
Kathleen Dowley, Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies coordinator, said she believes these additions to the core curriculum have helped the program become more inclusive, with a focus that stretches beyond just white women in America, a common critique of feminist education.
“Many of our courses also look at gender – which means that one can examine men and masculinity, or the binary system of sex/gender,” Hewett said.
The name change is not exclusive to New Paltz. According to Dowley, there is a global trend of colleges and universities that have chosen to rename their Women’s Studies department in an effort to adjust to the broader scope of the academic work.
Atlanta’s Emory University is one school that has made the switch to Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies. Some schools have removed “women” from the title completely. In 2002, Cornell University changed the major name to “Feminist, Gender and Sexuality Studies” and in 2009, Queens College (Ontario) replaced “Women’s Studies” with “Gender Studies.”
In the case of New Paltz, although a name change was deemed necessary to give a more accurate depiction of the program, they were not in favor of extracting “women” from the name altogether.
“In our case, we liked keeping ‘women’s’ because of the important history [the women’s movement] and also because women remain a central focus of inquiry for many of our courses,” Hewett said.
Dowley also recognizes the significance of “women’s” in the title, as it pays homage to the first New Paltz students who were given the opportunity to earn a degree in Women’s Studies when the program launched in 1974.
Hewett said the program intends to let past graduates retain a major in “Women’s Studies,” while current students, who have already declared “Women’s Studies,” will ideally have the option to either keep that on their transcript, or redeclare and have it changed to Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies. Students that declare in the future will all do so under the new name.
The program’s steering committee plans to meet on Wednesday, Feb. 6 to finalize these matters.
Fourth-year Women’s Studies and English double-major Jazmine Shovlin has been aware of the impending name change since her sophomore year. She said she believes the name gives greater insight into the classes offered in the major.
Although in favor of the change, Shovlin said she won’t mind if her transcript still reads “Women’s Studies.”
“I declared when it was called ‘Women’s Studies,’ so a part of me will always refer to myself as a ‘Women’s Studies’ major,” Shovlin said.
The program hopes to retire the Women’s Studies major code 590 and introduce the new number, 591.