Editor’s note: The Northerner was recently informed that the Foundations of Knowledge offers both a Women’s & Gender Studies course (WGS 150) and Black Studies Course (BLS 100). The story has since been corrected to reflect this information.
The recent pre-proposal at Northern Kentucky University to combine the women’s and gender studies and black studies minors into a major has the programs potentially facing a long road of complex change. Even with the difficulty, NKU students and professors from local universities say they aren’t surprised by the national trend of creating interdisciplinary studies programs and shrinking departments.
According to Deborah Meem, chair of the women’s, gender and sexuality studies department at the University of Cincinnati, combining programs like this is not uncommon. However, Meem warned that despite both being interdisciplinary studies, “We work closely [together] but we’re not the same program, and we often don’t have the same goals.”
Other local institutions like University of Cincinnati, Xavier University, University of Louisville and University of Kentucky all have their own way of running these programs – most have departments, but Xavier maintains a combined study — gender and diversity studies in addition to Africana studies. In light of the potential changes at NKU, The Northerner contacted these universities to gain insight on how their departments and programs operate and stand in the current academic environment.
Arnold Farr of the UK Africana studies program said that there is already a concern with American education being “male and euro-centric,” and “there’s already a problem with how we educate ourselves.” He feels that the possibility of a program, when combined, being “watered down” is a very real fear. “We have great support from the dean and provost,” Farr said of the UK programs, which have recently expanded and diversified to include Africana studies.
UK developed the Africana studies program to give black studies a more global reach. Farr mentioned that cross-listing courses is often a great way to pull in student interest and maintain involvement. Under the Foundations of Knowledge GenEd program, NKU has one program available in women’s and gender studies, and one available in black studies.
The importance of cross-listing classes was echoed by Nancy Theriot, the chair of the UofL women’s and gender studies department. Theriot said that by cross-listing classes, UofL is able to pull in hundreds of students each semester. Patricia Cooper of the UK women’s studies department said that by cross-listing classes into general education, the department is able to pull in a significant amount of majors, many of which don’t enter the program until after they have taken women’s courses for general education.
Theriot also explained that UofL has a mission to strongly incorporate the black community, fostering a support system for their Africana studies department. Theriot said both departments work closely together and that one of the worst things that could happen on a university campus would be for black studies programs and women’s studies programs to be divided on stance.
Cooper said she thinks it is dangerous for two minors to be eliminated, despite the fact that a major is being created. “I think it’s problematic if any university moves towards collapsing two programs like this without that lengthy and careful public dialogue and conversation.”