The Women and Gender Studies Program (formerly Women's Studies) at Hunter College was one of the first such programs in the country. Officially established in 1975, the program emerged as part of a much larger intellectual and pedagogical movement in the United States and soon across the globe that sought to redress a wide array of silences, distortions and biases in undergraduate university curricula. Along with its counterparts at Hunter and elsewhere are Africana and Puerto Rican/Latino Studies, Latin American and Caribbean Studies, Asian-American Studies, Native American Studies, Chicano Studies it brought not only the richness of interdisciplinary learning but also the vitality of new and previously unrecognized voices and visions to the study of history, literature and languages, social sciences, natural and health sciences, and the arts.
Because of its location in a predominantly urban, public sector institution that historically was the first to serve young women of all races and class backgrounds, Hunter's Women and Gender Studies Program was from the beginning conscious of its special mission of diversity and inclusion. Prior to the 1950s, Hunter College enrolled more African-American women than any other institution outside the traditional black colleges. After becoming co-educational in 1964, three-quarters of its student body remained and remains today's female, the majority of them women of color, immigrants and working class. In past decades, Hunter's Women's Studies faculty played a pivotal role in securing the College's Pluralism and Diversity requirement. The program also received major foundation funding to develop CUNY-wide curricula to explore the intersections of gender, race, ethnicity, sexuality, and class; to host resident scholars from Asia, the Caribbean and Latin America on the theme of Gender and Feminism in Third World Contexts; and to offer pioneering after-school instruction for diverse middle-school girls. More recently, it has become the unofficial home at Hunter College of sexuality and queer studies and is in the process of making this component a central and visible part of the major.
Recognizing the diversity of gendered experiences is only one element of the Program's mission. Equally important is to develop and apply a shared framework of gender analysis across all fields of knowledge. Both a basis of critical inquiry and the ground of a feminist pedagogy, gender as a category of thought:
** Has multiple and sometimes contradictory expressions across times, cultures, and situations;
** Intersects in critical and dynamic ways with class, race, ethnicity, religion, sexuality, age, geographical location, and other markers of social identity;
** Applies as much to men as to women and to transgender persons that is, involves the study of shifting masculinities as well as femininities and sexualities;
** Deeply affects nearly every area of human experience, psychology, art, science, medicine, politics, religion, sexuality, economics, culture, diplomacy and war.
Women and Gender Studies at Hunter seeks to apply this critical perspective through (1) its 24-credit major, including the proposed new three areas of concentration of Sexuality and Queer Theory, Immigration and Globalization, and Culture, Race and Class; (2) its wide range of core and cross-listed course offerings, open to all students; and (3) the array of public events, lectures, panels, films, and other activities it sponsors for the college and larger community every year. In addition, the Program has a commitment to teaching the relation between feminist theory and practice by maintaining strong links to New York City-based, national and international activist groups and by exemplifying different roads toward social change at the level of the community, the society and the globe. Through supervised internships open to Women and Gender Studies majors as well as public events in collaboration with allied groups both inside and outside the college, our faculty and students try to put into practice the ideals of social, gender and racial justice and to work for a better, more peaceful world.
Majoring in Women and Gender Studies offers practical as well as theoretical benefits. Understanding the relationship of feminist theory to everyday life has inspired our program to stress building and maintaining a strong sense of community and intellectual as well as emotional support between faculty and students and among students of diverse backgrounds and orientations. This affects the quality of life for students while they are still at Hunter College. Looking forward to the future, the skills and knowledge students acquire from the program will help prepare them for work and further training in fields such as public policy, law, education, social work, health care, journalism, and the arts and sciences. Our graduates have excelled in many of these professions, and some have gone forward from undergraduate internships to full-time jobs in the field or with the agency where they worked as interns. Overall, the program seeks to instill in our students a critical understanding of the ways in which societies and their dominant institutions are gendered as well as racialized and class-divided and a commitment to bringing that understanding into their future areas of work, activism and everyday life.