Gender studies minor approved despite mixed opinions

May 9, 2013 | 11 a.m.

Curriculum becomes institutionalized with one course to be added in 2014

News | Greta Sowles

Gender studies minor approved despite mixed opinions

The new minor is met with a mixed reception.

Despite a lengthy debate among faculty, a proposed gender studies minor received a majority vote in faculty senate on May 1, officially making a 44th minor available to Bethel students in the 2013-2014 academic year.

The minor will total between 19 and 21 credits. Apart from History of Sexuality in the United States, a history course that will begin in the spring of 2014, all of the classes in the minor are currently offered. The minor does include one gender-tagged course, which requires that a student integrate gender-related coursework into a course project within an existing major that may not necessarily be gender related.

The minor will not enter the catalog until the 2014-2015 academic year, but students can add the minor beginning next year. Many of the classes in the “choose from” multidisciplinary category, about 9-10 credits of the minor, are classes commonly taken by students to fulfill their contemporary Christian issues, or “P-tag,” requirement. Because the classes are already offered, institutionalizing the minor does not increase costs for the university.

The proposal process began eight years ago, when a team of Bethel faculty members formed a committee to discuss the establishment of a gender studies or women’s studies minor. The proposal stalled until 2007-2008, when Curtiss DeYoung, co-chair of the reconciliation studies department, re-established the committee. Since then, the history and philosophy departments, which will house the minor, have worked to develop its consistency with Bethel’s core values.

The vote at the faculty senate meeting was one of the final steps in the process. Although discussion of the minor had prompted fierce disagreement in over 40 posts on c-faculty, the faculty email forum, the vote to establish the minor was achieved quickly. “The room didn’t feel angry; it felt collegial,” said Ray VanArragon, chair of the philosophy department. “We can work together even if we have disagreements in this particular field of study.”

Both Sara Shady, co-director of the minor, and Dan Ritchie, who disagreed vehemently with the establishment of the minor, were surprised that there was not more disagreement between representatives at the senate meeting. “I would not have been surprised for the outcome of the meeting to be for them to table the minor until the fall to give us more time to talk about it,” said Shady.

Although Ritchie was not present at the senate meeting, he was one of the more outspoken professors in opposition to the minor, and was frustrated when it passed without table. While he hopes that the minor goes well, he added, “I don’t believe we can control the meaning of the messages that we give on sexuality. We’ve supported gay marriage in terms that fail to distinguish it from the marriages we enjoy within the Bethel community. We’ve displayed the symbolic colors of the gay movement. And now we’ve institutionalized a field of study that has a track record of suppressing dissent and turning a deaf ear to women who are suffering in Islamic countries.”

Instead of institutionalizing the minor, Ritchie proposed continuing to teach gender studies courses and suggesting new ones. “Apart from the ideology of gender studies, adding majors and minors and programs is a trend within higher education that’s making it economically unsustainable,” he said. “The smorgasbord approach of offering more and more options is making higher education as it's currently practiced irrelevant to millions of students and parents as we move away from a core.”

Many other Christian colleges in the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities and the Christian College Consortium, including Biola University, Calvin College, George Fox University, Messiah College, Seattle Pacific University and Wheaton College, offer gender studies or women’s studies programs.

Shady and VanArragon insisted that Bethel’s program will be different from those in secular schools. “There is a commitment that all courses in the minor will be approached from a rigorous academic and biblical perspective,” Shady said.

Shady and VanArragon said that the faculty of the philosophy and history departments are collectively very excited about the minor, but they are also tired. The professors realize that the concerns that others have raised will not disappear. “I hope that as time goes on and we start graduating people with gender studies minors, that [those opposed to the minor] will feel better about it and understand that we take their concerns seriously,” VanArragon said.

In addition to addressing these concerns, the faculty involved with the minor must now launch it, recruit new people to teach classes, develop new courses and educate students about the program.

“It’s really important for students to have a place where they can, from a Christian perspective, encounter a variety of perspectives on gender and come to some of their own conclusions on that before they leave the Bethel bubble and are faced with all of these things,” Shady said.

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