POTSDAM -- Even a high-tech world demands an understanding of human interaction, so Clarkson University is responding with a new concentration and minor in gender and sexuality studies offered through the Department of Humanities & Social Sciences.
Professors Annegret Staiger, Jennifer Ball, JoAnn Rogers, Felicity Palmer, Laura Ettinger, Christina Xydias and Christopher Robinson approach the subject from their teaching perspectives of anthropology, history, sociology, literature and political theory.
The offering debuted last semester, and while the individual courses have always been popular, the synergy of this multi-disciplinary grouping is attracting much interest from the students.
“This program is for both women and men,” says Staiger, who teaches anthropology. “We often think of gender studies as women’s studies, but what men do also should be seen through a gender lens.”
Rogers teaches sociology, focusing on gender and social inequality. To her, this new program provides an essential analytical tool to view the world.
“I don’t care what you do for work, you’re going to be dealing with people or designing for people,” she says. “You can’t make social policy well without understanding the social forces that shaped you.”
Palmer, who teaches literature, also speaks to the self-understanding this type of exploration affords.
“This is a fruitful opportunity for students to reflect on their roles in the future workplace, on issues of gender and sexuality they will encounter in other aspects of their lives, and on their roles as citizens in the world,” she says.
Clarkson has a global perspective and one issue of much interest around the globe is the status of women, she adds. Closer to home, relationships between women and men are ongoing fascinations.
Ball describes herself as a classically trained historian. Accordingly, she examines gender and sexuality throughout history and in contemporary times.
“Society defines gender and sexuality,” she emphasizes. “This empowers or disempowers groups. I look at the values associated with being male or female, the social expectations, privileges, and barriers each face.”
Underlying assumptions about gender have impact in the real world, so she’s happy that this program is offered.
“We want to understand why things work the way they do so we can make them work optimally,” she explains. “That leads to something that’s very, very ‘Clarkson’ – what’s the applicability of knowing this? The answer is we can design better businesses, better technology.”
Ettinger focuses on the history of women and gender in America, and the history of the American family.
“Gender structures everything we do. People may assume things have always been the same but it’s not the case that men or women have been expected to act the same way over time and in different cultures,” the professor says. “Knowing this helps students to be successful in a variety of careers and in their lives.”
The program is as invigorating for the professors as for their students.
“We have a great group of excited professors interested in exploring these issues. It’s going to be great for students and it’s something professors can be proud to offer,” Palmer says.
Likewise, Xydias notes that the students sense their professors’ enthusiasm, and that enhances the sharing of ideas. She’s pleased to take part in teaching from a multi-disciplinary perspective.
A political scientist, her area of research is women and politics, focusing on where political preferences come from and how women articulate them. Most of her research has been about politics in Germany or the European Union, she says, but the study hits home in the U.S. as well.
“The world is complex; we’re all gendered,” Xydias says. “I want students to analyze their own lives and think more about who their public figures are.”
With many of her students voting for the first time last year, politics is an especially timely matter. Noting that the broadest definition of politics is managing conflict over resources, she adds that everyone is affected by politics, often without realizing it. Again, gender issues are part of life and part of politics.
Robinson loves political theory and studied feminist theory as both an undergrad and graduate student. One new course he teaches, feminist political theory, look at issues pertaining to sex and gender, women and political power.
“For students, it provides essential self-reflection,” he says. “A challenge today in teaching is that a lot of students don’t consider themselves to be feminists. They don’t realize the freedoms they inherited as a result of past advances by women. Gender studies can help allow them to see past artificially imposed boundaries, and that will serve them the rest of their lives.”
Staiger anticipates that this program will raise awareness of an “invisible power structure in play” in our society. In the future, she hopes to see people from outside the college come in and share their views about these issues.
“Our program is cutting edge, not only for women’s issues but because it’s nice synergy of studies. Having this minor or concentration is really a value-added education,” she says.
Details about the new minor can be found at http://clarkson.edu/humanities-ss/minors/gss.html .