Brandt Shares the Impact of Women’s and Gender Studies in the Liberal Arts

High Point University Professor Jenn Brandt

Dr. Carole Stoneking, dean of the David R. Hayworth College of Arts and Sciences, talks with Dr. Jenn Brandt, director of Women’s and Gender Studies and assistant professor of English.

High Point University Dean Dr. Carole StonekingWith 44 majors and 43 minors, students at High Point University are given ample opportunities in varied topics of interest. Not only are the programs offered diverse, but the professors are as well, making the culture at HPU unique and rewarding. We now offer a program that allows students to minor in women’s and gender studies. Directing the program is Dr. Jenn Brandt. Brandt has wasted no time since coming to HPU. She is currently working on partnerships with the community and growing the program. It is people like Brandt that make our university a better place.

What is the impact of offering this minor here?

Women’s and Gender Studies offers a 20 credit minor. This can be used to support and deepen students’ studies in virtually every major on campus. By putting gender at the center of inquiry, courses in WGS investigate the ways in which our societal understandings of “women” and “men” shape the material realities of women’s and men’s lives, as well as larger political, economic and cultural institutions. In addition to acknowledging the diverse contributions of women to society, the field of WGS expands on this knowledge through an exploration of the dynamics of human development and social practice on a local, national and global level. In the spring we will be offering “Introduction to Women’s and Gender Studies” for the first time. This course will introduce students to the field and its methods, as well as give them a sampling of the breadth of the discipline, covering topics such as gender in the media, health disparities, gender and public policy, and international women’s issues. Additionally, we currently offer and cross-list courses with communication, English, global studies, history, political science, religion and philosophy, service learning, sociology, Spanish and sport management. This allows students to specialize and intensify their knowledge within their major fields, and exposes students to new disciplinary perspectives and points-of-view.

High Point University Professor Jenn Brandt Reflecting on the presidential election, did gender issues play a major role in the election?

Regardless of one’s political leanings, it is impossible not to see how gender has been a campaign factor for both parties. From policy pertaining to healthcare to equal pay, women’s issues have been key this election year. Leading up to the election, Martha Raddatz’s moderation of the Vice Presidential Debate, along with Candy Crowley being the first female to moderate a Presidential Debate in twenty years, has had many people talking not only about women and politics, but also about the role of women in journalism and gender and the media. Now that the results are in, both parties are looking at the gender gap and its role in the election, particularly differences in voting habits in relation to race and ethnicity. It is also a little disheartening to note, though, that while women gained a record number of Congressional seats this year, that only brings their participation up to a mere 18 percent.

You are hosting the film “The Invisible War,” on Nov. 13. Tell me about why you are bringing this to campus, the importance of it to HPU?

WGS is proud to be among the distinguished universities, community groups and military bases to screen “The Invisible War” since its premier at the Sundance Film Festival in January of 2012. This investigative documentary from Academy Award nominated director Kirby Dick brings to light the epidemic of sexual assault in the military. These acts of violence are being committed against both female and male military personnel, with the Defense Department citing that more than 20 percent of women in the military have reported incidents of sexual assault. “The Invisible War” investigates these crimes from a number of angles, interviewing survivors and higher ranking military officials. It is important to note, though, that the film is not anti-military. All of the individuals interviewed are extremely proud of their military service, and screening this film on campus brings another dimension to Veterans Day and the sacrifices of those who serve. After the screening there will be a Q&A with Elle Helmer and C.J. Scarlet. Ms. Helmer, who is featured in the film, is a former 2nd Lieutenant and Public Affairs Officer with the U.S. Marines Corps. C.J. Scarlet is a former U.S. Marine and former Director of Victims’ Services under the North Carolina Attorney General’s Office.

Typically Women’s and Gender Studies is thought of as a topic for women. Why should males enroll in a WGS course?

Right now, nearly a third of our minors are male. While WGS celebrates the achievements and accomplishments of women, it has also been instrumental in making gender visible. By that, I mean the ways in which masculinity is as much of a social construct in society as is femininity. Our minors—both male and female—are preparing for careers in public service, education, counseling, healthcare and the media. By understanding the ways in which gender functions in society, they not only have a deeper understanding of themselves and human nature, but they possess a special skill set that makes them more competitive when applying for jobs and graduate school.

How do gender roles impact today’s work environment?

In this economy, students are obviously concerned about employment after graduation. While a wage gap still exists, the good news is we are getting closer to pay equity. The larger issues of gender in the workplace have more to do with just dollars and cents. They begin in college with the student’s choice of major, and extend to later decisions that involve pay negotiation, promotions and benefits and the work-family balance. In the Introduction to Women’s and Gender course we spend a good deal of time discussing the gendered dynamics of paid versus unpaid labor, as well as provide students with the knowledge and practical skills to begin negotiating straight out of college to get paid what they are worth.

Why is it important for the current generation to discuss gender?

Whether we recognize it or not, gender affects virtually every area our lives. In fact, because it seems so “natural,” we are more apt to accept things without questioning the ways in which gender is instrumental in larger structures of privilege and power. The more we are thinking and talking about gender, the more informed and aware we will be personally and socially. This knowledge empowers both women and men to make educated and socially responsible decisions about their lives and the ways in which their choices impact others along intersections of gender, race and class.

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