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The Journal Gazette

October 17, 2016 1:00 AM

Women's studies: Has need ever been more apparent?

Nicki Meier and Monica Young

Nicki Meier, left, and Monica Young are graduates of IPFW’s women’s studies program and board members for Community Friends of Women’s Studies, Inc.

As Janet Badia wrote in her Oct. 11 column and as the behavior of Donald Trump exemplifies, we have a long way to go in our efforts as a society to dismantle rape culture. Every two minutes someone in the U.S. is sexually assaulted. This won’t improve unless we work to understand rape culture, particularly how language, institutions and systems of “justice” work together to put women and girls at risk and force them into silence after crimes are perpetrated against them.

We are graduates of the Women’s Studies Program at IPFW, where we studied rape culture and its effect on our lives, our families’ lives and the well-being of our communities. Our education equipped us with tools to address rape culture and other problems facing society, including racism, anti-LGBTQ+ bias, poverty and sexism. Through our coursework, we were given the opportunity to study systems of privilege and oppression through an interdisciplinary lens that sheds light on the complex ways these systems function and the complex solutions they require.

In fact, many women’s studies majors use our education to go onto careers where we dedicate ourselves to improving the lives of marginalized people and society in general. In Fort Wayne and beyond, we apply our skills and knowledge at nonprofit organizations, such as the Center for Nonviolence. Some of us have careers in higher education, where we oversee rape prevention programs and LGBTQ+ resource centers. Others have gone on to graduate or law school, where we continue to develop knowledge, produce scholarship and effect change related to social justice. Even those of us who go into careers in government, human resources and business are using our knowledge about diversity to positively transform our workplaces.

This past year, the Women’s Studies Program graduated its largest class in the history of IPFW. The program also reaches hundreds of students each year through its general education offerings, where many students encounter for the first, and sometimes only, time during their university educations, in-depth and sustained conversations about gender, race, class and sexual diversity and where they are challenged to take responsibility for solutions to social injustices here and around the world.

Despite the success of women’s studies graduates and the demonstrated need for more individuals prepared to build an equitable society, the Women’s Studies Program at IPFW is today in jeopardy. As the program embarks on its 45th year, the University Strategic Alignment Process, under the leadership of Chancellor Vicky Carwein, has targeted the Women’s Studies Program for reductions in resources or outright elimination. Why it has been placed on this list is unclear to us. It is true that women’s studies is a small program, but small programs provide unique learning opportunities and a sense of community that is essential for many students to succeed in college. Our women’s studies education offered both of us and many others hands-on experiences that gave us space to apply what we learned in the classroom to the real world – through service-learning projects, internships and organizing on campus and in the community.

While it is one of the smaller majors at IPFW, women’s studies is an incredibly efficient program, with only one dedicated full-time faculty member and a part-time secretary. In fact, the vice chancellor of academic affairs at IPFW has highlighted in a recent report its “high instructional efficiency.” The program has never been a drain on the university’s resources. In its worst year, it generated more than twice as much revenue through the student credit hours it produced than it cost to operate it.

Furthermore, women’s studies programs throughout the U.S. are strong and growing despite declines in higher education budgets and enrollments. According to a 2016 National Women’s Studies Association report, the field as a whole has held steady or seen gains in faculty positions over the past three years, and the number and percentage of departments reporting an increase in tenure-track faculty positions has nearly doubled when compared with data from the 2012 Budget Survey. Clearly, majors such as women’s studies are the future. If IPFW truly desires to be a forward-thinking university, as it claims it is trying to be, it should not be stripping resources from women’s studies. It should instead be investing in women’s studies, helping it expand its reach, attract new majors and graduate more students who can make the changes our society desperately needs.