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Women's studies affecting all fields,
says new program director
October 26, 1998

In 1974, when she was an assistant professor at a small Midwestern college, Mary Crawford was asked to teach a course on the psychology of women. To her surprise, she found that few studies had been done in the field.

"What was there were theories and models based on men's experience," she says.

Now, however, the resources are many, says Crawford, a professor of psychology, who has headed the Women's Studies Program since August.

"Today, there is a tremendous amount of scholarship on women's issues, and it's affecting every field: the humanities, the arts, the social sciences and the natural sciences," she says. "They all have feminist scholarship that came out of women's studies."

Crawford describes students in women's studies as "the most creative and original group of students that I've ever encountered. They've had to be," she says, "because taking a women's studies major up until recently was quite a bold and daring thing to do."

She says many of the students in the program have a strong vision of the way they want the world to be for girls and women.

"They're responsive, intellectually curious and get involved in the issues," she says.

Crawford hopes to build on the successes of previous directors. She plans to expand course offerings and build enrollment, particularly in the graduate certificate program. Crawford directed a similar program at the University of South Carolina.

Her most recent predecessor, Susan Porter Benson, says the Women's Studies Program "touches virtually everything that happens at this university in an interdisciplinary way. The major is broad and flexible, with courses interweaving gender, race, class, and other factors that contribute to the diversity of women's lives."

During Benson's five years as director of women's studies from 1993 until this past summer, enrollment in the program increased, a minor was added and continues to grow, and a 12-credit graduate certificate was offered that can be taken in conjunction with another degree or as a free-standing certificate.

More students are entering the program and fill as many 100-level courses as are offered. About a dozen students graduate from the program each year.

Benson says one of the strengths of the program is its relatively small size. This allows for individual attention and advising, particularly in core courses for the major, such as research methods, the internship seminar, and the senior seminar. In these classes, students learn how to conduct research and how to write a major research paper.

The women's studies major gives students a broad interdisciplinary grounding, but also teaches people to write, revise and do peer review.

"We give them excellent experience in the most important intellectual tools: critical thinking, speaking and writing and collaborative work.

"We teach them that collaboration doesn't undermine or threaten individual work, but encourages and sustains it," Benson says.

Women's studies students are a socially engaged, socially concerned group who find their senior seminar a place to examine some interesting questions, says Benson.

Research projects have included papers on Puerto Rican women and the impact of migration to the mainland on sex roles; a combined police station and women's center in Connecticut and how it deals with domestic violence; and film adaptations of novels, particularly how female film-makers adapt novels written by men.

Women's studies majors are required to take a semester-long internship with a strong academic component. A special seminar on issues of women in the workplace must be taken with the internship, and students must write small research papers on their work.

Many graduates of the program go on to graduate school. Social work, law, liberal arts and business are popular choices. Other students go straight into social service agencies, where many work in community organizations.

Benson says that she hopes graduates take with them "a vision of the world, a consciousness of how life looks different when viewed through the lens of women's lives and gender, and the ways in which race, class and gender work together in women's and men's lives."

Crawford, the new director, has been a professor of psychology and women's studies at West Chester University of Pennsylvania since 1978.

She has also served as graduate director of women's studies and a professor of psychology at the University of South Carolina, where she was interim director of women's studies, and has held positions at Trenton State College, Hamilton College, Buena Vista College in Iowa, and the University of Illinois.

She earned a Ph.D. in experimental psychology from the University of Delaware in 1975.

A fellow of both the American Psychological Association and the American Psychological Society, Crawford has authored or co-authored a number of books including: Talking Difference: On Gender and Language; Sex Differences in Human Cognition; and Coming Into Her Own: Fostering Educational Success for Girls and Women, now in press.

She has edited many scholarly publications and has been invited to speak across the country and in the U.K. on the psychology of women.

Sherry Fisher