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DATE: August 17, 2005

UM-Dearborn to launch women's and gender studies major

DEARBORN---The University of Michigan-Dearborn will launch a new bachelor of arts degree program focusing on women's and gender studies, to prepare students for careers in legal, educational, health, governmental, business and social service arenas focused on women's issues, diversity enhancement and gender equality.

The new degree program, which was approved by the U-M Regents at their July meeting, will begin offering classes this fall.

The presence of a women's and gender studies degree program signals the importance of inquiry into the histories and status of women of diverse social locations and backgrounds, and the influence of gender as an organizing principle on every aspect of life, according to philosophy Prof. Maureen Linker, director of UM-Dearborn's women's and gender studies program.

"As evidenced by a number of indicators, such as the fact that only 14 percent of our national elected officials are women, the ideal of sexual equality in society has not been reached," Linker said.

"Women students currently make up 52.6 percent of our campus's undergraduates, with 60.6 percent of them being undergraduates in the College of Arts, Sciences, and Letters," she noted. "This new degree program opens up space for those students to imagine alternatives to gender inequalities in the home, workplace, and academy. While some faculty in other departments include some gender-related material in their classes, a women's and gender studies major will allow students--both men and women--to ask questions about gender differences and women's lives in an academic setting devoted to rigorous intellectual inquiry."

The new program will provide a more in-depth and coherent curriculum than is currently available to students through UM-Dearborn's existing minor and certificate program in women's studies. Following national trends, it is expected that many students will pursue women's and gender studies along with another major, allowing students to benefit from an undergraduate experience that integrates complementary skills from across the college and campus, Linker said.

In addition, students will have an opportunity to gain the knowledge and analytical tools for effective leadership on gender equity issues in metropolitan Detroit and the world, according to Suzanne Bergeron, associate professor of women's studies and social sciences, and director of UM-Dearborn's Women in Learning and Leadership program.

"Due to the changing nature of the U.S. workforce, corporations are looking for managers and personnel directors who have sensitivity to issues such as sexual harassment, flex-time, parental leave, and pay equity," Bergeron said. "Social service agencies that serve women are growing, thus increasing demand for graduates with specializations in women's and gender studies. There is also a demand for expertise on gender issues in fields such as law, teaching, counseling, medicine, and government service.

"The commitment to a coherent curriculum focused on the connections between gender and other forms of difference and power, especially along race and ethnicity and class lines, is crucial in the Detroit metropolitan area, which has been cited in research as one of the most racially segregated communities in the U.S.," she said. "The establishment of major in women's and gender studies acknowledges the legitimacy of gender-based scholarship not only within the program itself, but will encourage such inquiry throughout the University through collaborations between disciplines and programs."

For more information about the new degree program, contact the women's studies office at 593-1391.

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