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Peace Studies, Women’s and Gender Studies majors develop at Marquette

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Dr. Zurcher is the director of the Women's and Gender Studies interdisciplinary program at Marquette. Photo by Aaron Ledesma/

This fall, there are 1,682 business majors at Marquette. There are 1,161 undergraduate students enrolled in engineering programs, and the College of Communication’s undergraduate enrollment is currently at 947.

With so many students enrolled in one of the 210 established and predefined academic majors offered at Marquette, who would take the time to construct a course of study for themselves?

As it turns out, every year there are a few.

Interdisciplinary majors target this crowd of self-motivated, creative individuals wanting to integrate a number of academic areas into their studies.

Two relatively new interdisciplinary programs — Women’s and Gender Studies and Peace Studies — have recently graduated their first majors from the College of Arts & Sciences.

Women’s and Gender Studies: More than just feminism

Amelia Zurcher, associate professor of English and director of the Women’s and Gender Studies program, emphasizes that WGST has moved beyond mere feminism.

“People automatically assume that WGST means eating disorders and sexual violence, but there are very few international issues that aren’t gendered in some way,” Zurcher said.

WGST focuses not just on one idea of feminism, but many different feminisms, gender and a variety of disciplines and experiences uniting to examine and address this multi-faceted issue at play in our society, Zurcher said.

“We are so far past feminism,” Zurcher said. “We are, like, 30 years past feminism.”

As an interdisciplinary major, WGST stresses intersectionality — the intersection of different fields of study to understand our world.

“Gender intersects with lots of different categories — religion, class, economic status, age,” Zurcher said. “Everyone has gender. It’s a basic way of understanding the world and our identity and of organizing our experiences. We can’t understand how power operates in our society unless we understand gender issues.”

Last Monday, College of Education junior Natalie Campbell presented research she conducted for ten weeks this summer with the Women’s and Gender Studies Fellowship in Uganda.

“I applied for the Women’s and Gender Studies (WGST) Fellowship because it was one of the rare opportunities available to undergraduates for research,” Campbell said. “I thought the WGST Fellowship would help me to understand some larger sociological issues that can be revealed by studying gender. For me, I did this through looking at females’ leadership roles in schools.”

Campbell, sponsored by the WGST Fellowship although not enrolled in the WGST program, worked at a secondary school with the Uganda Rural Fund.

“Studying female leadership roles in the classroom was not just about learning about women,” Campbell said. “Through focusing on female leadership … I was able to delve into some of the larger social, political and economic forces that influence gender equality.”

Julia Novotny, a senior WGST major, said that her interdisciplinary studies have helped her become a well-rounded person.

“It really serves the critical thinking aspect, because you’re approaching the subject from all different angles — you’re not one-sided about the issue,” Novotny said.

There are challenges to being an interdisciplinary major, Novotny said, especially because the WGST program is all too often understood to be the study of feminism alone.

“You tell a man that you’re a WGST major and they think, ‘Here’s a raging feminist — great, that’s the last thing I need to deal with right now,’” Novotny said. “I’ve had some people who thought it was the study of domestic housework. You’d never want to introduce it as just the study of feminism, because in my experience that right away puts off so many people. I tell people it includes topics of sociology, psychology, anthropology, and that it’s not only the study of rights and equality for women, but that it benefits men and other gender-questioning individuals within our social context as well.”

A lot of universities are moving toward interdisciplinary studies, Zurcher said, and Marquette is no exception.

“Gender studies is absolutely an interdisciplinary field,” Zurcher said. “That’s where it’s always been. It’s exciting. It’s bringing lots of things together at the same time.”

What is lacking for the WGST program, according to Zurcher, is institutional support. While the program is slowly gaining students — it graduated two majors in 2010, five in 2011 and will have at least five more graduates in May 2012 — its faculty and curriculum are not likewise increasing.

“We don’t have a feminist theory class here,” Zurcher said. “We don’t have people with degrees in gender studies.”

As of now, WGST borrows faculty from other areas of study.

“We need a designated faculty line for gender studies,” Zurcher said. “We need the money to hire them, to pay them benefits and pension and ultimately to promise them tenure in order to create a truly sustainable program. Otherwise, we’re running this in our spare time, out of love.”

Peace Studies: Integrating theory and practice

In about two weeks, Marquette’s Peace Studies program is expected to be given full approval by the University Academic Senate, making it an interdisciplinary major in the same vein as the WGST program.

Justice and Peace Studies has been an available minor since 2005, but program director Michael Duffey said students have always been able to petition the university to turn that minor into an independent study major, a path taken by nearly 15 students in prior years.

“Students already have found that they are motivated by social justice issues,” Duffey said.

The Peace Studies major includes classes in communication, theology, economics and philosophy. An introductory course exposes students to theories, practices and important figures of peacemaking, and in a senior capstone course, students summarize the importance of three areas of peace studies: peacebuilding theory and practice; power, justice and human rights; and social and economic development.

Duffey, who was a member of the Peace Corps in Nepal and has taught in the subject area of peace and justice for 30 years, said almost every student in the program studies abroad.

Marquette alumnus and 2010 peace studies major Mike Ziegler spent the spring 2009 semester in Cape Town, South Africa with Marquette’s Service Learning program.

“(My peace studies major) was one of the reasons why I went to South Africa, just because South Africa has such a rich history in the actuality of peacemaking,” Ziegler said. “So it was interesting for me to go there — a place I had learned a lot theoretically about — and have the lived experience.”

Ziegler completed his peace studies major with an emphasis in theology, taking about six theology classes, along with courses in economics and political science.

“I had such a broad spectrum of interests, but I found the common thread to be what I understood to be acts of justice,” Ziegler said. “There wasn’t necessarily a certain major that addressed everything I was interested in.”

So Ziegler worked with Duffey to draft a proposal for a peace studies major.

“Dr. Duffey was always very supportive of me and did make sure I had thought out the courses I had chosen,” Ziegler said.

An interdisciplinary major was custom-fit to not only Ziegler’s interests, he said, but to his whole person. The peace studies program gave Ziegler the flexibility and broad base of courses he would need “to seek a more creative career path.”

“That’s how I came to be where I am now,” Ziegler said.

After graduating, Ziegler worked for nine months at a Catholic Worker farm in Sheepranch, Calif. that was also a retreat center for people with HIV. Ziegler currently lives in Detroit, and is collaborating with a peace studies graduate from Notre Dame and an anthropology major from University of Cincinnati to establish Henry Tula House, a daytime hospitality center for Detroit’s homeless.

“After discussions of our personal passions and our backgrounds, (they) thought I’d be a good fit for their organization and asked if I wanted to come on as a founding member,” Ziegler said. “I really believe it was a lot of my peace studies that formed me as a person they were able to approach (for this project).”

Ziegler said his peace studies major helped him realize that people were at the center of his personal workings for justice.

“My peace studies major taught me how to work compassionately with other people,” Ziegler said. “And now I have the opportunity with Henry Tula to build relationships with beautiful people that will bring about a more peaceful environment.”

Duffey speaks just as passionately about peaces studies, saying, “It’s in my blood.” CC1 ME2

Changed for the better

Like Duffey, Novotny was forever changed by her interdisciplinary Women’s and Gender Studies degree.

“It challenged me in so many ways I would have never thought about,” Novotny said. “It exposed me to new and important information, and left me with a set of tools to approach things from a new perspective.”

For students like Campbell, Novotny and Ziegler, and program directors like Zurcher and Duffey, interdisciplinary education is, by definition, for the whole person.

“We’re recognizing the world needs interdisciplinary expertise,” Zurcher said. “Interdisciplinary studies are especially suited for a Jesuit mission. Social justice issues are extremely multifaceted, and we need lots of different perspectives all at once.”

Caroline Campbell contributed to the reporting in this story.

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