The Origins of Women’s Studies at Vanier
2019 marks the fortieth anniversary of the founding of the Women’s Studies program (now Women’s and Gender Studies). Vanier College was the first post-secondary educational institution to doctor such a program in Quebec. Its creation is owed to the hard work of Vanier’s faculty members.
Maggie Kathwaroon who is the current coordinator of the program, explained the benefits of the major.
“[the classes and events give] the opportunity to talk about how society views masculine and feminine, male and female, and its impact on how safe we feel” said Maggie. “If you are sensibilized on gender and gender issues, it is something that employers look for in the hiring process.”
Among their events, the Women and Gender Studies program hosts an annual symposium for International Women’s Week.
This year, a panel of five of the women who helped to establish the program were invited to share their experiences creating and developing the program, starting International Women’s Week, and launching important gender-focused initiatives.
They helped to make this program because they were fed up with the lack of women’s perspectives in classrooms. So, in the 1970s, they fashioned the first women studies class, called Alternatives for Women, which is still offered at the college today.
The class pioneered a feminist teaching approach that was dialogue-based and student centered. It was the first universal complementary course, and the founding women fought to have this class credited, which, in the end they accomplished.
The ideas discussed in the class were radical for the time, and included discussions of women’s representation in advertisements, of the scientific and historical contributions of women, and of toxic masculinity and sexual violence.
The women on the panel as teachers, were no longer willing to stay silent on the injustices women were subjected to and still are. Neither were students. The panellists held the mantra of “the personal is political.” That is, personal injustice should not be separated from systemic political issues.
The women closed the panel by stressing that although we have made progress, there are still many changes to be made. There are still marginalized voices that deserve to be heard.
During question period the panel was asked how they would suggest tackling the problem of apathetic youth. One woman on the panel explained that, despite general apathy, a revolution only needs a couple of people to start, and people will join in as it picks up momentum.
She quoted Emma Goldman, a Russian feminist and Anarchist writer, who quipped that “If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be part of your revolution.” She meant that in the fight for a better future, we must not forget to keep in good spirits and to have fun along the way.
Becoming involved in the Women’s and Gender Studies program is a great place to begin the fight for a better future.
Written by: India-Lynn Upshaw-Ruffner