When graduate student Amanda Stephens’ feminist activism class met last Tuesday, they did not sit through a lecture, discuss a reading or take a test.
They took what they discussed and learned all semester into the streets.
Stephens and the class participated in a what she described as a small-scale protest directed at IU-Purdue University Fort Wayne shutting down the women’s studies program next semester.
“It’s a huge issue because women’s and gender studies programs are under constant threat of elimination,” Stephens said. “Programs that focus on marginalized groups have to fight for their existence.
Both declining student enrollment and budget constraints contributed to the university’s decision to cut women’s studies, philosophy and geology and merge other departments, according to an Oct. 28 IPFW press release.
The class stood outside the Sample Gates and held posters that said things like “Women’s Studies are Human Studies” and “Women’s Studies Gives a Voice to the Voiceless.” After the protest, the group sent the photos of the event to the women’s studies department at IPFW.
As part of the IU Department of Gender Studies, Stephens said the class decided to participate in this activism as a way to show support for IPFW’s women’s studies program.
Stephens said universities tend to value programs, like business or engineering, that translate directly to job skills instead of gender studies programs that teach critical thinking and analytical skills.
“They also learn about issues facing marginalized groups, which is easily as important,” Stephens said. “That’s why we went out there on Tuesday — because these classes matter.”
Senior Emily Keaton, one of Stephens’ students, also said she felt showing support for another university was important.
“We wanted to let them know that we stand with them and are rooting for them,” she said.
Keaton said she feels connected to the issue because she went to high school in Fort Wayne, Indiana.
She said she knew students at IPFW who participated in protesting on the IPFW campus.
“It made me really sad because I know when I took my first gender studies class, I developed critical-thinking skills I never had,” Keaton said. “I view material in such a different way.”
Stephens also has a personal connection to the closure of the department: her former professor Janet Badia is the current director of women’s studies at IPFW.
“She started to educate me about feminist theory and discrimination women writers face,” Stephens said. “She really inspired me to keep going.”
In addition to her connection to the director, Stephens’ experiences as a lawyer and Ph.D. student in gender studies led her to spearhead her class’s work with this issue.
“We had to go out and support this program because what happens is every time a women’s studies program is threatened, it also affects our work,” Stephens said.
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