Program in Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies enters new era

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Program in Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies enters new era

Feminist studies program changes name, introduces PhD minor, expands reach

by Alison Dahl Crossley on Monday, September 9, 2013 - 9:28am

2013 feminist studies graduationIn 1981, Stanford launched a new academic program devoted to the study of women and gender. Unlike many other campuses, the program was not named "women's studies." Rather, the professors who founded the program purposefully chose the more overtly political name of "feminist studies."

Over 30 years later, the program is changing its name—not to repudiate its political roots, but to include additional approaches. The new name, the Program in Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, retains the program’s commitment to social activism and highlights its attention to gender and sexuality.

According to Program Director Christine Min Wotipka, “there was strong interest in keeping the word ‘feminist,’ in terms of the history and that we are one of the few programs in the country and the world using the word feminist. There was also interest in being more inclusive, in reaching out to students and faculty who wouldn’t necessarily embrace the word ‘feminism’ to describe themselves.”    

The program will also begin to offer a new interdisciplinary PhD minor in addition to its pre-existing undergraduate degrees.

What’s in a name?

Feminist studies programs distinguish themselves from women’s studies programs with an explicit link to the feminist movement, indicating a dedication to social change and equality. Wotipka and others felt strongly about keeping this part of the name.

They also wanted to make clear that the program included the study of gender and sexuality. The new name, the Program in Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, better reflects the range of scholarly approaches employed by students and faculty in the program, according to Wotipka.

It is "exactly right that the new title has retained 'feminist' in the title, as well as the social justice which comes with it."

Faculty considered a name change for at least three years. In January 2013, the program committee formally proposed the change to the university.

Sophomore Ky Walker said that the new name, by emphasizing that the program embraces not only feminist studies, but also gender and sexuality studies, “gives the program even more depth.”

Sophomore Solveij Praxis said that it is “exactly right that the new title has retained ‘feminist’ in the title, as well as the social justice which comes with it.”

Like feminist studies, gender and sexuality studies also examine social constructions of gender and sexuality using interdisciplinary perspectives. However, gender and sexuality studies are removed from some of the debates that have caused tensions in the field of feminist studies, such as the meanings of feminist ideologies and identities.

The new name more accurately conveys the research and philosophical questions that motivate program faculty. “The new name better communicates to community partners, faculty, and, more broadly, observers of universities and academics what we’re actually thinking about,” said Associate Director Patti Hanlon-Baker.

Wotipka and Hanlon-Baker hope the expanded name will appeal to a broader number of people, particularly those who study topics of gender and sexuality but may not consider their work feminist. In addition to its current partnerships and affiliates who mostly reside in the School of Humanities and Sciences, the program hopes to reach individuals in the Schools of Business, Education, Law, and Medicine. 

A new PhD minor

image from graduationAlong with a new name, the program is now offering a PhD minor in the field of feminist, gender, and sexuality studies.

In 2011, former feminist studies program director Heather Hadlock and sociology graduate student Alison Fogarty administered an online survey to gauge interest in the PhD minor at Stanford. Graduate students from 21 different disciplines responded and the majority were very interested.

The minor offers students interested in feminism, gender, and sexuality an opportunity to work with peers and faculty from around campus with similar interests. As Fogarty explains, “the new PhD minor is a wonderful opportunity for graduate students to obtain a more inclusive, interdisciplinary education, allowing students to incorporate feminist and queer perspectives in their research.”

Not only will PhD students join a community of scholars from across campus, they will also learn new theoretical paradigms. “A minor offers PhD students an opportunity to broaden the questions they might ask,” said Hanlon-Baker. “The faculty are from different departments, so students are being challenged to think about their home disciplines from different perspectives.”

“A minor offers PhD students an opportunity to broaden the questions they might ask.”

The PhD minor is the first step in creating a larger graduate program. This is an exciting prospect for Stanford, according to Wotipka.

Both the name change and PhD minor aim “to create growth and stronger connections among departments and programs who are doing similar work,” Hanlon-Baker said. “If there are more opportunities for collaboration, shared thinking, and shared resources, I think those are all benefits to Stanford University.”


Program in Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies: Since its founding in 1981, the program has cultivated an intellectual community with over eighty affiliated faculty from more than twenty-five academic disciplines. Undergraduate and graduate students, faculty members, the Women’s Community Center, and the Clayman Institute for Gender Research have all worked closely with the program.

The new PhD minor is open to all Stanford graduate students. Students are required to take a graduate level course in feminist theory, two elective graduate level courses in feminist, gender, and sexuality studies, and three quarters of the feminist, gender, and sexuality studies colloquium. 


More Gender News: For more about the history of the Program in Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies read "Reflections on teaching, insights into feminism" and "Diane Middlebrook, Ovid, and the metamorphosis of Stanford feminism."

Christine Min Wotipka
Director, Program in Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies

Christine Min Wotipka is Associate Professor (Teaching) of Education and (by courtesy) Sociology and Director of the master’s program in International Comparative Education and International Educational Administration and Policy Analysis at the Stanford Graduate School of Education. Professor Wotipka’s research interests include gender and higher education, and globalization and citizenship education. 

Patti Hanlon-Baker
Associate Director, Program in Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies

Patti Hanlon-Baker teaches courses focusing on education equity, gender politics, and environmental ethics. Her research interests center on how feminist critiques reveal the ways in which various discourses influence perceptions and expectations of women’s bodies and experiences

Alison Dahl Crossley
Postdoctoral Fellow, 2013-2014

Alison Dahl Crossley is a postdoctoral fellow at the Clayman Institute for Gender Research. Her research focuses on the continuity of contemporary feminism, particularly how young feminists fuel the movement during periods that are not amenable to social movement mobilization.