Earlier this year, Lindenwood University announced the implementation of a Gender Studies program minor. Despite being known as the Lindenwood College for Women until 1969, the university hadn’t offered a degree program in women’s or gender studies until now.
Gender Studies program founder, Dr. Heather Brown-Hudson said, “This University still didn’t have a course of study that was gender related – that was women specific – that was to do with any oppressed people – there was nothing. We were one of the only institutions in the bi-state area that didn’t have any course of study like this.”
Dr. Brown-Hudson said, “We [the proposal committee] didn’t think we were going to have any roadblocks. The only roadblock that was brought up was that if we talked too specifically in the title of the program – if we insinuate that we’re talking about sexuality – it might give red flags to the administration.” According to Lindenwood’s public website the university is committed to providing an “integrative liberal arts curriculum” as well as supporting “academic freedom,” both attributes the university claims to have provided for over 185 years. However, refining the title of Lindenwood’s newest program would suggest a more conservative approach and practice by the university.
To this end Dr. Brown-Hudson said, “They are [conservative], but my goal was not to instruct the instructors or instruct the administration, or change their mind – I wanted to offer this as soon as possible for my students, and I wanted to teach all the same contents, whether it was called men have sex with men or gender studies, which is general and safe, I didn’t care…I wanted to get this done, get this passed. I have zero regrets about it.”
The process to implement the new program, in terms of bureaucracy, was fairly rapid. Dr. Brown-Hudson stated the progression from start to finish was completed in approximately one year. She said, “We proposed it and it was accepted right away. I think it was just due.”
As Lindenwood continues to expand and add new programs, the dangers of disinterest and insufficient staffing could be key determinants of a program’s success or failure. As recently as 2011, the School of American Studies Dean, David Knotts, cited those exact problems for a struggling graduate major. When asked if Gender Studies may be subjected to a similar fate, Dr. Brown-Hudson said, “As far as the minor, absolutely not – that’s why we started with a minor. Yes, I would have loved to gotten the words ‘Gender Studies major’ in the catalog and rushed hastily…but I didn’t want to do that.”
While Dr. Brown-Hudson’s ultimate goal is to develop a Gender Studies major, she’s currently concerned with maintaining the initial interest the program has generated. She’s founded a Gender Studies Club that plans to advertise the minor by hosting a “Gender Bender Dance.” Despite the fun, lighthearted nature of a proposed dance and club, she said, “We’re very serious about challenging our students…When your standards are higher, they [the students] meet them or they drop. I’d rather have fifteen students willing to work hard…I can’t lower my standards or dumb things down.”
The program’s formation coincides with watershed moments like marriage equality and topical discussions like equal pay for women. Dr. Brown-Hudson said, “I made sure this was going to be a global study of not only gender, but of race, class, sexuality, and history combined with philosophy and religion. I don’t think it [changing legislation] would render the course of study irrelevant or anachronistic…that doesn’t negate the importance of understanding the struggle, because it was not isolated struggle – it was ongoing – it spanned generations.”
Dr. Brown-Hudson noted that students minoring in Gender Studies would be better prepared to for positions with companies or organizations concerned with marginalized people (i.e. Planned Parenthood, women’s shelters). She said, “This course of study provides you with all the benefits of a general liberal arts degree…it builds a foundation with transferable skills and confidence.”
The Gender Studies minor is listed in the undergraduate catalog with two required courses: A Global Introduction to Gender Studies and Gender Theory. The intro course introduces key issues and movements, while the theory course explores those theories associated with key issues or movements. Dr. Brown-Hudson concluded, “What I’m devoted to doing is offering what I think is needed that we don’t already have in the humanities curriculum, and that is Gender Studies.”