After several years of hard work and advocacy, California State University, Dominguez Hills (CSUDH) will begin offering women’s studies as a major in fall 2020, after many years of the discipline being a minor course of study.
“Women’s studies courses have been offered at CSUDH since the 1990s,” says Jenn Brandt, associate professor and program coordinator of women’s studies. “When Mitch Avila came in as dean (of the College of Arts and Humanities), raising the program to a major was one of his priorities. There’s so much growth going on at Dominguez Hills, this was the right time institutionally for us to support this new major.”
Avila’s enthusiasm for the project was a big factor in helping it get started. “Providing a space for women’s voices to be heard not only advances the interests of women, but it corrects our distorted models of the world,” says Avila. “It allows us to form more accurate and objective models of reality and advances our shared interest in promoting a more just and equitable society.”
“On top of that, it allows us to hire some really terrific faculty whose own stories and research will benefit the entire campus,” Avila continues. “I couldn’t be more pleased for this major to be launched—it will have a lasting impact on the future of Dominguez Hills and the region. Every student coming through Dominguez Hills should take a women’s studies course!”
“The major aligns really nicely with the social justice mission of the school,” says Brandt, who joined the CSUDH faculty in 2018. “Also, in terms of what’s going on politically, there’s been an uptick in interest across the country, with the Times Up and the #MeToo movements. There’s been a resurgence in interest in women’s studies.”
Brandt points out that because women’s studies teaches students to critically think, question, and examine the structures that shape the world around us, it’s a very relevant major today.
“Women’s studies applies to just about any field anyone would want to go into,” says Brandt. “If you want to be a teacher, for example, it’s vital to have an understanding of the way gender impacts how we learn and how we develop. Or if you want to go into business, you need to know how marketing techniques rely on gender. When you actually start to think about how much of our world is shaped by our understanding of gender, you begin to see the real, practical aspects to the major.”
Currently, the program has two full-time professors, Brandt and Tahereh Aghdasifar. Lecturers and faculty from other disciplines teach other courses in the major. This interdisciplinary approach allows the department to offer a wide array of classes in a variety of academic contexts.
Philosophy Professor Dana Belu, who served as interim program coordinator and spearheaded the launch of the major proposal, will be teaching a women’s studies course this coming year. She is excited at the more robust selection of courses that a major-level program can deliver. “Now, we’re able to offer a much fuller array of classes for our students. We can now offer women’s studies curriculum not just from a multicultural perspective, but also explore women’s studies theory, transnational/global feminism, and queer studies. It’s a much richer offering for our students.”
CSUDH President Thomas A. Parham agrees that the new major is a vital addition to the campus curriculum. “A university education cannot be complete unless it involves a thorough interrogation and understanding of the history and contributions of women in this society, and throughout the world,” he says. “A women’s studies major helps all of us to affirm their dignity and humanity, chronicle their achievements, muse on their narratives, bear witness to their struggles, and celebrate their contributions. I am so pleased that all CSUDH students will now have access to this essential line of academic study and research.”
Karama Blackhorn, director of the CSUDH Queer Culture & Resource Center and women’s studies lecturer, is excited about the new major because “the curriculum itself epitomizes the moment.” Blackhorn continues, “How we talk about race, gender, and sexuality is intertwined. As a major, Women’s Studies is a space where CSUDH is saying that we’re not only diverse, we’re going to talk about it, digest it, have a space for it, and make sure that there’s an academic and critical approach to that diversity.”
A number of students already declared women’s studies as their major and have begun working toward their degrees. The first Bachelor of Arts in Women Studies is expected to be granted in May 2021.
The establishment of women’s studies as a major degree program comes during the 100-year anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment. One project that the Women’s Studies Program is especially proud of is hosting a grant-funded exhibit examining women’s suffrage. “100 Years of the Women’s Vote” was to have opened last spring, but the COVID-19 pandemic made it impossible to invite the community to view the exhibit on campus. Instead, Brandt and a cohort of women’s studies students converted it to an online presentation.
Brandt is pleased with the results. “It’s a really good showcase of the kinds of work our students are doing, and also speaks to the relevance of this topic, both historically and in a contemporary sense,” she says. “Students looked at the historical suffrage movement, getting the right to vote, but they also looked at contemporary issues such as reproductive justice, queer justice, and domestic violence.” The online exhibit can be visited at https://scalar.usc.edu/works/100-years-of-the-womens-vote/index.
Belu encourages anyone who’s interested in the new major to reach out to faculty members. “Our faculty is very friendly and welcoming,” she says. “We really want to work with everyone who is interested in taking classes or declaring a major or minor. We’re committed to women’s studies and want it to help students better understand not just the issues that women are dealing with in their daily lives, but also the power structures that shape their identities. We want to inform and educate all of our students. Everybody is welcome!”