Liberate your curriculum - Gender Studies at Edinburgh University

Thursday 04-12-2014 - 10:56

Today on Day 10 of the 16 days of action we want to liberate the curriculum. EUSA's Vice-President Dash Sekhar tells us about the groundbreaking student-led campaign to create a gender studies department at the University.

Last year, some friends and I were having a drink in the Union bar. One of our friends, a visiting student from the States, was talking about her course choices. She did an English and Gender degree back in her home university, and mentioned that she was having to take modules completely unrelated to her degree since she couldn’t access any of the Gender courses here. The conversation then went wider – several students, while vaguely interested in gender academia, mentioned a lack of access to those subjects. Another student mentioned that while she had a lot of options available specifically within her department (Sociology), there was no option for her to graduate in “Sociology and Gender” – simply Sociology.

This lack of gender studies at Edinburgh University goes against the whole ethos of the university since–is that it prides itself in being “exemplary in all areas of academia” rather than concentrating on specific strands. Instead, options for Gender studies  are uncoordinated one-off options found in Honours-level of certain very specific subject areas. Contrastingly, there are 40 groups within UK universities focusing on gender or women’s studies. These range from research networks to full Centres which effectively function as academic departments. While the majority of these centres are research only, 13 institutions run taught degree programmes. As a campaign team, we decided that lack of gender studies at Edinburgh University is something to tackle.    

Thanks to some great work from our previous year’s Women’s Convenor and VP Societies and Activities, a list of academics within the University with a speciality or interest in Gender was readily available. Over the summer months I met these academics as well as the other interested parties. Through those meetings it was decided that a clear Gender degree should be offered at Edinburgh. Now we just need to work on achieving that aspiration. The objectives we agreed at those meetings were twofold:

  • A Pre-Honours, multidisciplinary introduction to Genders which would be open to all students in the University (and make the Honours courses accessible), created by both students and staff.
  • A Gender Studies Centre run by the University to help coordinate both the above course and Gender Studies in general, which would help fuel research links as well as coordinate a coherent Gender Studies program at Edinburgh.

Academics are largely enthusiastic for these developments, especially appreciating the will for change coming from students. Critical to this will also be the student involvement in the creation of the course; through the students’ association we have direct links to our liberation groups to keep the degree programme relevant to current struggles, and to ensure that students involvement in course creation. (Student involvement in course design is sometimes considered to be a radical idea at Edinburgh University). A potential stumbling block is the coordinating and funding a Centre for Teaching and Research for gender studies, but is something we’re committed to working towards. 

We now have over 25 academics interested in the project and contributing towards creating the framework and material for such a course, as well as helping put together an accessible and exciting Gender Studies event for International Women’s Day to help celebrate Gender academia. The initiative is growing fast and has continuous momentum within the University; we are expecting big announcements early next semester – and will keep you posted!



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