Why Major in Gender Studies?

Author: Linnie Caye

A Distinct Approach: Gender Studies at Notre Dame

Many people see the term “gender studies” and take that to mean “women’s studies.” To be sure, that’s an important part of Notre Dame’s Gender Studies Program.

But Gender Studies isn’t just for women or just about women. Gender Studies applies to everyone – male and female, heterosexual and homosexual — you and me. Gender affects all of us and your understanding of gender will impact your life, whether you go into business, law, medicine, sports, film, or any number of professions.

Studying Gender will enrich your primary major by making you more aware of how representations, ideologies, and discourses in a number of fields are filtered through changing understandings and meanings of gender. Gender Studies is an interdisciplinary program that examines the gender in relation to discourses and disciplines from all over the campus, including courses in Anthropology, Peace Studies, Philosophy, Art History, English, Film, Political Science, Romance Languages, Theology, and more. Gender Studies considers issues of masculinity, femininity, heterosexuality and homosexuality in relation to related issues of sexuality, race, class and ethnicity. In Gender Studies, you’ll be able to consider the dynamics of gender in numerous cultural and historical contexts, to consider gender in Medieval plays, during the French Revolution, in early twentieth century American popular culture, in contemporary Latin America, and other times and places. Courses in Gender Studies might have students read theorists such as Judith Butler, Luce Irigiray and Mary Wollstonecraft, or writers such as Virginia Woolf, Jane Eyre and Zadie Smith. You might study Sinatra or Shakespeare or Hitchcock. You might focus on vampire literature or the politics of war and peace.

Two Ways to Study

“Without a doubt, the highlight of my Gender Studies career has been traveling to Guatemala to do original research in various Catholic parishes and then working closely with Prof. Susan St. Ville to turn that research into an interdisciplinary senior thesis that looks at historical, sociological, and theological impacts of the Church’s presence in Guatemalan women’s lives. It is an experience I will never forget.”
- Amanda Lewis, Sociology Major, Gender Studies Major

Gender Studies offers students a supplementary major and a minor. In the supplementary major, students choose a concentration in Arts and Literature, Religion and Family, or Gender and Society. These concentrations allow students to focus their study of Gender to prepare them for their senior capstone project – a one semester thesis or an internship.

Doing Your Own Research

Some of the most rewarding academic experiences come when you build on the work you do in class by pursuing your own research. Students in Gender Studies who wish to write a thesis will find an advisor among the Senior Fellows and Research faculty in Spring of Junior year to develop a proposal for a thesis to be written in Fall of Senior year.
To get a head start, students can start working on their thesis in summer with a grant from the Genevieve D. Willis Gender Studies Senior Thesis Program. This grant provides support for archival research, travel, or just time, to help students launch their thesis project. Those students awarded grants are encouraged to participate in the Gender Studies Research Workshop, where they receive regular feedback from faculty, graduate students, and other undergraduates. In addition to providing summer grants, the Genevieve D. Willis Gender Studies Senior Thesis Program awards an annual prize in a competition for best thesis in Gender Studies. Thesis students present their work to faculty and friends at a year-end celebration.

Putting Your Degree to Work

“My Gender Studies courses have reconfirmed my passion for working toward equality and fairness in this world. This enthusiasm has led me to my summer internship for Women in Progress in Ghana, Africa, where I will assist in crafting the business and marketing plans for Ghanaian women running their own start-up companies.”
-Kelly Pierson, Marketing Major, Gender Studies Minor

Students who major or minor in Gender Studies enter numerous professions, including business, medicine, non-profits, NGOs, academics, retail, entertainment, and publishing. Even before you graduate, you’ll have the opportunity to gain hands-on, professional experience through our internship programs. Internships are available during both the summer and academic year. Summer interns can work locally, across the country, or around the world, thanks in large part to The David and Shari Boehnen Summer Internship Grants. Any student enrolled in the supplementary major or minor who will complete an unpaid summer internship can apply for one of the grants, which help pay for living expenses. Students have interned with groups like:

• Good Shepherd House (Chicago)
• Houston Area Women’s Center (Houston)
• Society for Women’s Health Research (Washington, D.C.)
• Catholic Relief Services (West Africa)
• World Health Organization (Brussels, Belgium)

“With a generous grant from the Boehnen Fund for Excellence in Gender Studies, I spent the summer between my junior and senior year rewriting the College HAS Issues program for first year students, educating them about the realities of sexual assault on our campus, how they can protect themselves, and how they can prevent this kind of violence from occurring within our community. Using the background and vocabulary I had learned in my Gender Studies courses, I challenged myself to communicate about issues of sexual violence in a way the first year students could understand and wrote a program that was interesting, accessible, and 100% focused on this gender issue. Almost 2,000 first year students saw my program in the first week of the Fall semester, and Notre Dame will be using my program again at the start of every new academic year.”
-Miriam Olsen, Program of Liberal Studies Major, Gender Studies Minor

For senior majors or minors who want to intern during the school year and earn course credit, the Gender Studies Program has established semester-long internships with a variety of organizations in the surrounding community. These include positions at:

AIDS Ministries/AIDS Assist of North Indiana
• Boys & Girls Clubs of St. Joseph County
• Notre Dame’s Gender Relations Center
• School Age Mothers Program (SAMP)
• S-O-S Program at Madison Center
YWCA of St. Joseph County

Students who major or minor in Gender Studies can join the Gender Studies Honors Society if they maintain a 3.5 GPA in Gender Studies. The Honors Society edits an annual undergraduate journal in Gender Studies and participates in various Gender Studies events.

For more information on the Gender Studies Program, including course descriptions, research opportunities and internship details, please feel free to contact us directly.

Gender Studies Program
325 O’Shaughnessy Hall
University of Notre Dame
Notre Dame, IN 46556
Phone: 574-631-4266
Fax: 574-631-2107

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