Pomona Needs a Real Gender and Women’s Studies Department

It is no secret that Pomona College has the biggest name-brand and deepest pockets in the Claremont consortium. With an endowment larger than that of Claremont McKenna College, Harvey Mudd College, Scripps College, and Pitzer College combined, Pomona holds a disproportionate amount of power and resources — and with this comes the responsibility to provide students with the academic opportunities that they are entitled to.

However, Pomona is blatantly failing to fulfill this responsibility in regards to its Gender and Women’s Studies program.

Pomona has not given its Gender and Women’s Studies program department distinction, thus limiting the program’s scope and resources. Its faculty consists of only one full-time professor devoted solely to GWS, Rushaan Kumar, who joined the college just this year. The other faculty, including the head of the program, are split between GWS and their other specialized fields.

Professor Kumar is a visiting assistant professor with a two-year position, meaning that Pomona has yet to invest in a tenured position for his discipline. In neglecting to hire a more expansive and tenured Gender and Women’s Studies faculty, Pomona is implicitly perpetuating the myth that GWS is a 'soft' discipline not deserving of the same resources allocated to similar departments such as Politics, Media Studies, or History.

The field of Gender and Women’s Studies should be taken seriously, now more than ever. In the aftermath of the election, our campuses — and the world around us — are becoming more politically polarized. As Trump and his administration continue to undermine the right of many marginalized identities to exist, direct action from both ends of the political spectrum is on the rise.

Gender and sexuality are two fundamental categories of social analysis and critical theory through which we can examine these societal patterns. The field offers a multitude of interdisciplinary perspectives, ranging from social science, literature, history, and politics, with which students can study the intersection of gender, sexuality, race, class, national identity, and transnational social movements. This critical approach to identity and structural oppression is imperative in the politically fragmented era we are currently navigating.

Sahana Mehta SC ’20 has jump-started a petition to advocate for more funding, a larger full-time faculty, and formal department distinction for the Gender and Women’s Studies program.

Mehta, who is in Professor Kumar’s Intro to Gender and Women’s Studies course, said, “The class has been one of my most rewarding academic experiences. There are so many ways in which the discipline enriches your worldview study from several different angles. It has taught me to destabilize the notions that I’ve been taught to perceive as feminism.”

Mehta’s petition will hopefully push the other colleges in the consortium to invest in their respective Gender and Women’s Studies departments. Pitzer’s GWS department currently offers a major and a minor. However, its course options are limited, and the college’s website refers students to Scripps’s Intercollegiate Women’s Studies and Teaching and Learning Center for more course offerings.

CMC is even worse in this regard; the college offers only a sequence in Gender Studies and students are forced to major off campus. Harvey Mudd offers a concentration in the field and, like CMC, encourages students to pursue further study off campus.

Scripps College has a Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies department that, although small, should serve as an example for the other colleges in the consortium. Scripps houses its own Intercollegiate Feminist Center and employs two full-time faculty members: Professors Piya Chatterjee and Jih-Fei Cheng.

Because it is the most developed department of its kind across the consortium, Scripps’s Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies department often caters to students from the other four colleges.

While cross-registration at the 5Cs should be encouraged, the responsibility of providing access to an expansive Gender and Women’s Studies department should not fall upon women’s colleges alone, especially not in a consortium of four other undergraduate institutions. Gender and Women’s Studies provides an intersectional approach to gender and sexuality that is invaluable to all students in the consortium, not only those who identify as women.

As prestigious institutions endowed with millions of dollars, the 5Cs should invest in creating Gender and Women’s Studies departments that are as well-resourced as more popular disciplines of study. And Pomona, as an institution with a $2 billion endowment, should be the first to follow Scripps’s lead.

Tiara Sharma SC '20 is from Boston, Massachusetts. She plans on majoring in English and maybe Philosophy. 

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