(Posted February 2, 2015)

HUNTINGDON, Pa. -- Anna Nycum, a junior from Marion Center, Pa., had always been curious about the role of gender across different cultures and societies. She's getting the chance to satisfy her inquisitiveness as the gender studies program at Juniata adds more courses addressing these kinds of issues.

"The courses in the program do not look at gender as just its own exclusive, separate entity, but rather the ways it intersects with other social factors," says Nycum, "Gender is interwoven in culture and society and the gender studies program presents it as such."

"I have taken many different classes under the 'gender studies' secondary emphasis, including 'Sociology,' 'Gender and Conflict,' and 'Gender and Society.' I can say that they provide really great theoretical frameworks to understand how gender is socially constructed and enforced in societies. It really challenges your prior notions on gender and is very interesting because it affects our everyday lives."

Ezra Halstead, senior

Gender studies programs across U.S. colleges and universities have become popular over the past several decades. According to a study conducted by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, there were only 276 gender programs nationwide in 1977. Today, that number has almost reached 650.

Juniata has started to create more gender-based courses -- so many it has become a secondary emphasis, or minor. It has provided students with the opportunity to see the world with an open mind -- teaching them how gender roles have formed over time based on various global and cultural contexts.


Juniata's gender studies program first emerged in the early 1990s when a core group of faculty on campus who were interested in women and gender topics met and discussed the prospect of developing gender studies into a program. At the meeting, they realized that there were enough courses on campus across various departments to create a secondary emphasis.


But the groundswell over gender studies did not start with just faculty members. "Students were commenting on the fact that other schools were making these programs and we did not have one," says Belle Tuten, W. Newton & Hazel A. Long professor of history, who currently teaches "Women in Medieval Life." Tuten says, "A bunch of us decided to get together and form a working group to come up with a secondary emphasis. The secondary emphasis has changed as people have or have not offered different courses over time. It does not have a particularly cohesive structure -- it's very open."


Since then, the College has hired more faculty who are proficient in topics relating to gender studies, including feminist theory. In order to develop gender studies into a secondary emphasis, the faculty needed a core course. At first that course was "Gender and Conflict," taught by Celia Cook-Huffman, professor of conflict resolution. This class provides an overview on how understanding topics of gender is vital to teaching students about appropriately managing and evaluating conflict.


Today, the core course for the gender studies program is "Gender and Sexuality," taught by Alison Fletcher, associate professor of history. This introductory class explores how gender and sexuality have transformed from the 18th century and beyond based on different historical, literary, and theoretical contexts.

"As a historian, one of the things that I want to get students to really think about is that our understanding of gender and sexuality has a history. It's not fixed and it changes," says Fletcher, "In 'Gender and Sexuality,' I try to help students understand the emergence and transformation of various sexual and gender subcultures and the different forms of cultural expression."


Other courses that fall under the gender studies program include, "Women and Literature," "Gender and Society," "Rhetoric of Coming Out," "Women in Sub-Saharan Africa," and "American Families."


The process of adding a secondary emphasis involves just a few, simple steps. First, the student interested in tacking on a secondary emphasis to a program of emphasis (P.O.E.) must review his or her department's requirements to ensure that he or she is able to meet them before graduation day.


Next, the student must fill out a secondary emphasis form, which requires signatures from both of his or her advisors as well as the department chair. Once the form is turned in and approved by the registrar's office, the student is ready to discover all that a secondary emphasis has to offer.


"Gender is a big part of my individualized P.O.E., Discourses of War and Peace. It deals with the way language affects the way we interact," says Ezra Halstead '15, "I have taken many different classes under the 'gender studies' secondary emphasis, including 'Sociology,' 'Gender and Conflict,' and 'Gender and Society.' I can say that they provide really great theoretical frameworks to understand how gender is socially constructed and enforced in societies. It really challenges your prior notions on gender and is very interesting because it affects our everyday lives."

By Laura Bancroft

Contact Gabe Welsch at welschg@juniata.edu or (814) 641-3131 for more information.