The Department of Women’s Studies doesn’t want interested students to avoid taking its classes based on a feminist perception — so on July 1 it will change its name.
In an effort to attract more male interest to the department, and to express gender as more of a social construction, the Department of Women’s Studies will soon officially be called the Department of Women’s and Gender Studies.
Professor Joanne Hershfield, chairwoman of the department, said she thinks the new name will better encompass gender as a social construction, rather than a biological category.
The curriculum and major requirements will not be changed, but a few new classes might be added, she said.
Faculty in the department have considered the new name for years, and when new assistant professors were hired by the department, they finally convinced the rest of the faculty to change the name, Hershfield said.
Many other public and private universities have changed their department names to titles such as Gender Studies, Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies and Feminist, Gender and Sexuality Studies.
The name “Women’s and Gender Studies” is used at N.C. State University, Wake Forest University and the University of South Carolina.
UNC’s curriculum in women’s studies was founded in 1976. On July 1, 2009, the curriculum became the Department of Women’s Studies.
Now there are about 65 students who major in the department, 30 to 40 who minor and nearly 650 students who take Introduction to Women’s Studies every year, Hershfield said.
During the fall and spring semesters, a 300-person class quickly fills and in the summer, about 25 students take the class each session, she added.
Hershfield said that students’ suggestions were the inspiration for the name change for the department.
“I think that’s fair,” said sophomore Payton McMahan.
“The name change will attract more people from both genders.”
Hershfield said she hopes more men are encouraged to take courses, as the department only graduates two or three male women’s studies majors each year.
Freshman Zac LaNeve, a male student taking Introduction to Women’s Studies, said he was surprised by the curriculum in his class.
“The new name describes my class better — it’s not just about women’s rights,” he said.
But Hershfield said the name change is not just about encouraging male students to take the class. It is important to consider the content studied in the classes, he said.
“We have men in our classes, and people who identify as transgender,” she said.
“All of our classes look at the social construction of gender.”
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