Marie Curie. Amelia Earhart. Helen Keller. Sacajawea. Sculptures of all these women adorn the International Promenade for their significant contributions to history. The Women’s and Gender Studies program at High Point University acknowledges and pays respect to these and other historical contributions, while focusing on the current and constantly changing experiences of men and women around the world.
“I think students are surprised when I tell them we’re only going to talk about women’s history for the first week of class,” says Dr. Jenn Brandt, director of women’s and gender studies at HPU. “They quickly realize, though, that an introduction to women’s and gender studies focuses on how the historical fight for women’s equality has relevance to their economic, political and social realities today.”
Instead, Brandt wants to use the new HPU minor as a way to make students think about today’s world and the roll genders play in everything from the products we buy, the media we consume and the roles we fill at work and home. Students taking courses in the minor are challenged to think critically in a variety of fields including Communication, English, History, Foreign Languages, Political Science, Psychology, Religion and Sociology.
To celebrate “Women’s History Month,” the department of women’s and gender studies held a series of events, including three film screenings at the Extraordinaire Cinema and a lecture from Danielle Henderson, author of Feminist Ryan Gosling.
“Henderson’s goal is to write about feminism and theory in a way that is accessible and fun. Her talk will appeal to students at HPU who may be unfamiliar with feminism, but are interested in social media, popular culture and writing,” says Brandt.
Brandt hopes that by presenting gender studies in a new and fun way, it will attract more students to the minor. She says the courses help teach students about the world around them, and challenge them to think about important and complex issues including globalization, health care and media.
“In class we discuss a number of current events and politically-charged issues. By the end of the semester, it is not a matter of students agreeing with one point of view or another, but that they understand and can articulate why they take a certain position as opposed to another,” says Brandt. “My job is to empower them with enough information to make the best decisions for their own lives.”
Brandt says the topics covered in her classes are important for both women and men. She wants students to be active participants in the all of their decisions from what kind of clothes they buy to what type of family they want to have.
“Many students grew up in dual income homes, but haven’t really stopped to consider what that means,” says Brandt. “As gender roles change, so do our options. Today, more and more dads are staying home with the kids while mom works. I want students to think about their options, so they can decide what they want for their families.”
Brandt says students are usually surprised by how much they enjoy the classes, and she’s happy to see them engaged in all of the discussions and campus-wide events.