Institutionalising gender equality work within a university

Strategies to ensure that gains in gender equality work at universities are not lost when the individual staff members driving them move on

Kathryn Rebecca Maude 's avatar
American University of Beirut
3 Mar 2022
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How to embed gender equality work into an institution's teaching and research practices so it is not lost when key individuals move on

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Universities’ efforts to work towards gender equality in research and teaching are often tied to the labour of individual faculty members. If and when those faculty members change institution, their work moves with them and the university risks losing the progress it has made. It is important, therefore, to institutionalise gender studies research and teaching within the systems of a university, so that administrations retain it as a priority and there is continuity of gender-informed teaching for the student body.

Here are three suggestions about how to institutionalise gender studies that your university could implement.

1. Start small and build up

When thinking about big issues, like how your university can work towards gender equality, it is tempting to start from the top-down by creating a large-scale strategic plan or high-level committee. While these initiatives have their place, starting small and building momentum gradually can be more sustainable. This suggestion holds true in both research and teaching.

Starting a gender studies reading group on campus can make a space for faculty members to meet each other and organically build research collaborations through slow and thoughtful engagement with each other’s ideas. Alongside a regular writing group where people can share their work informally, this kind of small-scale research collaboration brings in new colleagues and makes space for graduate students to get involved in gender studies work.

In terms of teaching, try to use the expertise already present on campus. Rather than trying to start a major in gender studies consider starting a minor – at the American University of Beirut, our Women and Gender Studies minor requires the students to take any five courses in gender studies from across the university. This approach doesn’t tie us to any particular core courses, and means that students can take courses that count both towards their general education curriculum and their minor.

2. Focus on teaching

Teaching is one of the central missions of the university, and it is often forgotten about in large-scale strategic planning. One of the best ways to ensure continuity in research and outreach on gender is to focus on embedding it into teaching – once courses are on the books and students are committed to programmes, the university will continue to invest in work on gender, including in hiring.

One way to invest in gender studies in teaching is to ensure that degree programme courses are taught through a gender lens. Can you work to ensure gender is embedded in the core curriculum for a range of degrees on campus? Courses like Introduction to Public Administration, Introduction to Statistics, and Labour Economics can be taught using feminist examples and the learning outcomes for the wider degrees such as Political Studies or Economics can then include understanding gender debates in the field.

Once these required courses have been taught through a gender lens, there is the option to get new courses on the books. That could mean moving from an Introduction to Statistics course taught with examples on gender, to a Gender and Statistics course that runs every semester and can also contribute to the gender studies minor programme.

Another way to invest in gender studies in teaching is to tie scholarship programmes and financial aid to students completing gender studies courses. Students should be able to take courses that bring in gender as a method of analysis and count towards their degree programmes. This requirement shouldn’t be a burden, but an opportunity for students to broaden their horizons. For example, a scholarship could fund a whole semester of courses for a student (15 credits) on the condition that they take three credits in gender studies. This incentivises departments to offer these courses.

3. Think breadth as well as depth

Sustainability of gender studies research and teaching relies on there being many centres at the university that focus on gender rather than just one. Instead of investing time and money in a single research initiative or a single degree programme, consider having a central body that coordinates the range of work already being done at the institution.

Ensure work in gender studies at your institution is embedded across all faculties, schools and departments, rather than having a concentration in one area such as the humanities. Having a range of research centres and different disciplinary approaches makes space for exciting collaborations, as well as ensuring a wide range of courses in gender studies for students to take. Also consider links to external organisations that are already doing work related to gender. NGOs, activist organisations, local community groups, and local event spaces may already have programming on gender and welcome support from faculty and students.

Rather than having a major degree programme in gender studies, consider embedding gender studies in the core curriculum. At liberal arts institutions, all students have to take courses from the general education curriculum, so this is a great place to embed gender in a permanent way and reach all the students on campus. We have a new strand of the general education curriculum called “social inequalities”. All students have to take a course that fulfils this requirement, meaning all students will have to engage with critical work on social change.

The measures I suggest here build things up slowly in incremental steps in order to ensure the long-term sustainability of gender studies research and teaching in university settings.

Kathryn Maude is assistant professor of women and gender studies at the American University of Beirut.

Kathryn will take part in the THE and UNESCO IESALC webinar "Gender equality in 2022: How global universities are performing” on 8 March 2022. Register for free to attend https://timeshighereducation.zoom.us/webinar/register/1616439759292/WN_dT2C5wYDTWOojK8RoUzhkg

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