GSFS Majors Push for Permanent Faculty 

Oliver Bok, Editor in Chief

While Oberlin may have been one of the first schools to admit women, the College is the last among its peer schools to go without a full Gender Studies program — a fact that a recent student petition seeks to change.

Four hundred and forty-six students signed a petition calling on the College to create an introductory course for the Gender, Sexuality and Feminist Studies program and hire a permanent faculty member trained in GSFS to teach it. A group of GSFS majors drafted the petition that the majors printed on Oct. 26.

“I really think it’s a problem with wanting to say, ‘We’re the first coed school’ and saying all these great things about how progressive and feminist we are as a school, but then just really not having administrative support for the academic side of things,” said Talia Nadel, College junior, GSFS major and major representative. “It’s pretty upsetting.”

The GSFS program currently operates as an interdisciplinary institute instead of a department, meaning the program has no permanent faculty devoted solely to GSFS. To GSFS majors and minors, the result is a department constantly in flux.

“There is a lack of stability,” said Anthony Moaton, College junior, GSFS minor and major representative. “I think people are finally wanting something like, let me just go to this GSFSspecific person, let me take this GSFS-specific course, because in every other department there is that. We need this.”

The lack of an introductory course also leads to problems when GSFS students take Feminist Research Methodologies, a course intended to be at the 300-level. “The Feminist Research Methods course has to do a lot of catch-up. Instead of being able to just dive right in, there’s a lot of ‘How do we do some basic feminist theory,’ because we don’t have the intro course,” Nadel said.

Feminist Research Methodologies is the only specifically GSFS course that the College offers. The class is usually taught by postdoctoral fellows brought in on a one-year basis. To Dean of Arts and Sciences Tim Elgren, the College already has plenty of professors with GSFS expertise. The problem lies in freeing their schedules. “We have many people here who are trained in [GSFS] that simply aren’t available to teach at that level. They can’t offer the course because their own departments require them to do other things. We have these people here. This is a structural problem.”

Elgren also expressed wariness about bringing in a new faculty member to run a program like GSFS.“It’s problematic for me to think about bringing in a junior faculty member and putting them in the middle of 20-plus people who contribute, and having that person be the core of this really important program,” Elgren said. “That’s a flawed structure; that is not a position you put a junior faculty member in.”

Elgren did not rule out bringing in a new faculty member. However, he emphasized that it would need to be done intelligently. “If we’re going to bring in a person, we need to bring in the right person in the right circumstances for that person to thrive and be here a long time and really be a major player in that program for the College,” Elgren said.

According to Elgren, the decision primarily lies with the Education Plans and Policies Committee, the faculty committee that ranks hiring priorities. Nadel stated that the student push for a permanent faculty member coincided with a report on the program compiled last year. “We had an outside departmental review at the end of last school year, and what they had said was basically to have an intro course in GSFS, and they also said that you really need somebody who is trained in Gender, Sexuality and Feminist Studies, not just people from other disciplines.”

However, according to Nadel, when GSFS faculty presented the outside review to administrators, a dean questioned the extent to which students actually wanted permanent GSFS faculty. That’s where the petition came in: to demonstrate student interest.

“If words aren’t enough, and if a legitimate review isn’t enough, then maybe a petition will send the message loud and clear,” Moaton said. Nadel also said that they were “horrified” to find out that faculty members aren’t compensated for doing GSFS work, such as coming up with the curriculum and advising for the institute.

To GSFS Director Carol Lasser, GSFS desperately needs increased support. “It’s really been a struggle over the past few years to do a good job with the program,” Lasser said. “We could really do a much better job; we could have a program that Oberlin could truly be proud of. It seems absurd that at the oldest coeducational college probably in the world, that we don’t have deep-rooted support for GSFS. We have lots of faculty across the institution who are interested, we have lots of students who are interested, but we’ve really been struggling to keep this program afloat, and without new resources we’re not going to be able to do that much longer.”

Elgren met with Moaton and Nadel to discuss the petition on Wednesday. Both Elgren and the students declined to discuss the content of that meeting with the Review. The Review interviewed Moaton and Nadel for this article before they met with Elgren.