|Letitia Campbell, Class of 1996 and Rhodes Scholar |
I never realized how important things like gender studies were until I landed in a place where they exist only in embryonic form! Gender studies is a critical initiative because it persists in the belief that analysis of a culture and its artifacts are intimately related to political ends. The fact that gender studies as an interdisciplinary phenomenon is an outgrowth of feminism (both within and outside of the academy) is no secret, but the foregrounding of this ideology is an epistemological statement about the possibility of objectivity as much as anything else. This self-reflexivity is also central to gender studies in the classroom, for here we are asked to use the knowledge of the academy to examine our own lives and to use the knowledge of our own lives to examine the academy.
Does this relevance mean that the material will (or should) be easier to digest or write about? Not necessarily. Without doubt, the most intellectually demanding work I did at Davidson revolved around issues of gender, identity, and politics, and some of the most wrenching writing experiences I lived through involved the same. What it does mean is that gender studies is a rich conversation between different types of knowledge, different aspects of life that are traditionally kept separate by the strictures of disciplinary boundaries or institutional practices. Not only did the gender studies program encourage me to look at gender and its relationship to power, identity, sexuality, etc. in a more sophisticated way, but it also (and perhaps more importantly) taught me to look always for the relationship between academic knowledge and social change, or lack of change (as is too often the case). bell hooks says that "if we are to live in a less violent and more just society," then we must educate ourselves and others to be "critically aware and socially active" (Yearning, South End Press, 1990, 63).
Similarly, the Davidson mission statement says that the College's goal is to "liberate the minds of young men and women for useful lives of leadership and service." If this is the proper end of education, and I believe that it is, then the Gender Studies program and others like it are not marginal, but central, to the task at hand.