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Graduate Education in Women’s Studies

The question is often asked, “Why Women’s Studies?” This interdisciplinary area of study offers something few programs can at the graduate level advanced education in a variety of fields tailored to each student’s interests and needs. Rather than studying a specific field such as biology or Victorian literature, students in Women’s Studies might choose to study in a variety of fields that meet their interests from literature to history to communication to psychology to education to film to environmental law. What brings it all together is the focus on the role of women in these areas.

The interdisciplinary approach to education that is found in Women’s Studies programs across the United States offers the best in liberal arts education. Students completing a program in Women’s Studies are prepared for a variety of jobs in fields as diverse as counseling, education, law, research, the arts, medicine, politics, and the clergy. The list could go on for the rest of this article. These women (and men) are prepared to face the challenges of the work place, with strong critical thinking and communication skills, an understanding of diverse populations, and the ability to deal with a variety of situations effectively; skills that are highly valued in all job fields.

Women’s Studies is designed to foreground the lives and work of women both historically and today. With a focus on feminist scholarship, these programs converge around the lives of women as a diverse group of people and recognize the intersection of gender with other social identities such as race, class, nationality, sexuality and ability. Students take courses that highlight women’s experiences and achievements, from the point of view of the women themselves. Sample courses found around the United States include: Gender and Violence, Women’s Movements, African American Women Writers, Women and Religion, Third World Feminisms, Women and Sport, and Health Issues for Women. This list barely touches on the variety of courses available to students enrolling in a Women’s Studies program. Each school has certain areas of expertise, but all offer a variety of courses from which to choose. It is worth the time to check out what each school has to offer and what best fits each individual student’s needs.

Some colleges and universities have expanded the scope of their Women’s Studies programs and now call them Women’s and Gender Studies, Gender Studies or something similar. These programs are very similar to Women’s Studies programs, but they include courses that focus on men, and often sexuality, as well as women. Examples of courses that might be found in these programs, in addition to the courses listed above, are: Men and Masculinity, Gender and Popular Culture, The Gendered Body, Sexuality in the U.S., and Reading Gender in Media. Again, this is just a short list and it is advisable to take a look at specific schools.

Women’s Studies graduate programs come in three basic varieties: master’s, doctoral and graduate certificate programs. The graduate certificate program is perhaps the most widely found option. These programs are designed to provide an added area of focus for students studying in other fields, allowing students the option to expand their study into areas of particular interest. On the job market, these certificates translate into more skills and education, and consequently, greater ability to complete for the best jobs. Certificate programs vary, but generally required a certain number of course hours within a specific area of study. For many Women’s Studies certificate programs, these may include courses offered in a variety of disciplines that have women or gender as a significant component.

Graduate work in Women’s Studies in the United States has expanded in recent years to include the study of other cultures and women’s movements from around the world. It is not unusual to find a program offering several courses with an international focus. This diversification offers great opportunities for international students looking for a quality education in their specific field of study whether that is law, medicine, business, education or any number of others combined with courses in Women’s Studies that aren’t merely focused on women in the U.S., or even the West. Certificate programs in Women’s Studies, as well as traditional master’s and doctoral programs, that offer a variety of international courses can be combined with more traditional areas of study; students get the education they need in their area of choice, but the education they want regarding women’s place in that field.

There are few programs at the graduate level that offer such a variety of options to students from a variety of backgrounds. Only in interdisciplinary programs can students from all areas of study come together for a liberal arts education. For students interested in the role of gender in our lives, Women’s Studies programs, as well as other Gender Studies programs, are the best option for fulfilling students’ needs.

Provided by Heather Surface, Ph.D. student, American Culture Studies and Women’s Studies, at Bowling Green State University (Ohio).

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