Department seeks name change to reflect women's, gender and sexuality studies

HERSHEY, Pa. — Penn State’s Department of Women’s Studies is requesting Board of Trustees approval to change its name to the Department of Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies to better reflect the scope of its academic and research expertise.

The Board of Trustees’ Committee on Academic Affairs and Student Life today (March 19) recommended the change, which would be in name only and would not change the relationship of the department to its home, the College of the Liberal Arts, or with other departments at the University.

“Because the field of women’s studies has broadened considerably in recent years, many departments of our peer institutions have made similar name changes,” Carolyn Sachs, head of the Department of Women’s Studies and professor of rural sociology in the College of Agricultural Sciences, said. “We would like our department name to reflect the depth and breadth of our scholarly expertise.”

The proposal has been reviewed and is supported by faculty in the department and in related units, and by the University Faculty Senate Council and Susan Welch, dean of the College of the Liberal Arts. The full board will vote on the name change Friday (March 20).

The department offers bachelor of arts and bachelor of science degrees in women’s studies, minors in women’s studies and in sexuality and gender studies, and dual-title master’s and doctoral degrees with nine partners in five colleges. The name change is expected to make the department and its academic offerings more attractive to a broader range of students and also will provide a stronger institutional home to the sexuality and gender studies minor.

As explained in the proposal, gender studies examines ideas of femininity and masculinity across cultures and historical periods and how these concepts are represented in literature, popular culture, the arts, science and medicine. Sexuality studies is an interdisciplinary field devoted to the analysis of human sexuality and explores the historical, political, biological, cultural, sociological, educational, legal, health, aesthetic and psychological contexts of human sexuality. Several department faculty write and teach in these areas.

“I am very positive about this change, which reflects the continuing evolution of women's studies departments here and across the country,” Welch said. “It better reflects the broader focus of the department to include gender and sexuality studies and gives more visibility to the minor with that title. In these ways, the name change will serve our students.”

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Last Updated March 20, 2015