This Course at MIT

"This Course at MIT" pages provide context for how the course materials published on OCW were used at MIT. Please help us develop this project by completing the This Course at MIT Survey.

Course Overview

This page focuses on the course SP.401 Introduction to Women’s and Gender Studies as it was taught by Dr. Andrea Walsh in Fall 2010.

This course presents an introduction to Women's and Gender Studies (WGS), and challenges students to explore key issues in WGS scholarship and apply critical analysis and questioning to both historical and contemporary aspects of the study. Students are encouraged to bring their backgrounds and topical interests to both the in-class discussions and course assignments.

Course Outcomes

Course Goals for Students

The primary goal of this course is to familiarize students with key issues, questions and debates in Women’s and Gender Studies scholarship, both historical and contemporary. Another goal is to involve students in their own learning, and motivate critical reading. Students will be introduced to many of the critical questions and concepts that feminist scholars have developed as tools for thinking about gendered experience. Students will also explore the complex ways in which gender intersects with class, race, ethnicity, sexuality, and age within various spheres and institutions of society.

Possibilities for Further Study/Careers

Students often take this course as part of the WGS major, minor, or concentration and continue to complete coursework in WGS.

 

Curriculum Information

Prerequisites

None

Requirements Satisfied

  • HASS
  • CI-H

Offered

Every spring and fall semester

The Classroom

  • Medium-sized classroom with rows of tables and a blackboard on the side.

    Students are regularly asked to engage in group discussions during each class session.

 

Student Information

On average, about 25 students take this course each year.

Breakdown by Year

The course often has a 70% majority of sophomores and juniors, 15% seniors, and 15% freshmen, though this varies by term. Typically, graduate students do not enroll in this course.

Breakdown by Major

Students come from a range of departments including biology, brain and cognitive science, electrical engineering and computer science, mechanical engineering, political science, management, and materials science and engineering. There are also a few WGS majors who usually take the course.

Typical Student Background

  • Students are typically interested in gender issues, sometimes as a result of previous course background (other WGS classes at MIT or in high school). Students may also show interest through personal or political experience.
  • At MIT, since some majors reflect a minority of women, those individuals may be particularly interested in the status of women in STEM fields.

Enrollment Cap

  • Enrollment is restricted to 25 students because it is the CI-H limit for enrollment. The enrollment cap allows each student to have more opportunities to participate during class.
  • Usually 40 students express interest in enrolling in the course, and are selected based on level of interest and need. Because the course is offered every term, students are offered a spot in the next semester’s class if they are unable to get into the current semester’s offering.
 
 

How Student Time Was Spent

During an average week, students were expected to spend 12 hours on the course, roughly divided as follows:

In class

3 hours per week
  • Mandatory attendance at two, 1.5-hour-long class sessions each week
  • 26 class sessions total
  • In an 80-minute class, the first 5 minutes might be spent on introductory announcements of assignments due, followed by 40 minutes of lecture, and 20 minutes of discussion, though this varies from class to class. A typical class may include in-class writing for about 5–10 minutes to stimulate discussion, with subsequent discussion referring to either in-class work or a homework assignment. Discussions may be structured within pairs or small groups, while other times may include the whole class. Sometimes the writing advisor gives presentations of 10-15 minutes that are related to major assignments as well as writing strategies and skills.
  • In the second half of the term, students are asked to give 15-minute oral presentations in pairs. Usually one pair, and occasionally two, presents per class. In these cases, the breakdown of time spent in class might be 30 minutes of lecture, 10 minutes of general discussion, and 15 minutes for the oral presentation that includes 5 minutes of class discussion. Because this class is a CI-H, students regularly practice both written and oral communication skills.
 

Out of Class

9 hours per week
  • 3 major writing assignments
  • 1 oral presentation on a current event, to be delivered in class, with a partner
  • 1 reflection assignment in response to attending a WGS-related event
  • Short homework assignments throughout the course
 

Semester Breakdown

WEEK M T W Th F
1 No classes throughout MIT. No session scheduled. Lecture session. No session scheduled. No session scheduled.
2 Lecture session; assignment due. No session scheduled. Lecture session. No session scheduled. No session scheduled.
3 Lecture session; assignment due. No session scheduled. Lecture session; assignment due. No session scheduled. No session scheduled.
4 Lecture session. No session scheduled. Lecture session. No session scheduled. Essay revision due.
5 Lecture session; assignment due. No session scheduled. Lecture session. No session scheduled. No session scheduled.
6 No classes throughout MIT. No session scheduled. Lecture session; assignment due. No session scheduled. No session scheduled.
7 Lecture session. No session scheduled. Lecture session; assignment due. No session scheduled. No session scheduled.
8 Lecture session. No session scheduled. Lecture session; assignment due. No session scheduled. Essay revision due.
9 Lecture session; assignment due. No session scheduled. Lecture session. No session scheduled. No session scheduled.
10 Lecture session. No session scheduled. Lecture session. No classes throughout MIT. No session scheduled.
11 Lecture session; essay revision due. No session scheduled. Lecture session; assignment due. No session scheduled. No session scheduled.
12 Lecture session. No session scheduled. Lecture session. No classes throughout MIT. No classes throughout MIT.
13 Lecture session; assignment due. No session scheduled. Lecture session. No session scheduled. No session scheduled.
14 Lecture session. No session scheduled. Lecture session. Essay revision due. No classes throughout MIT.
15 No classes throughout MIT. No classes throughout MIT. No classes throughout MIT. No classes throughout MIT. No classes throughout MIT.
Displays the color and pattern used on the preceding table to indicate dates when classes are not held at MIT. No classes throughout MIT
Displays the color used on the preceding table to indicate dates when lectures sessions are held. Lecture
Displays the color used on the preceding table to indicate dates when essay revisions are due. Essay revision due
Displays the color used on the preceding table to indicate dates when no class session is scheduled. No class session scheduled
Displays the symbol used on the preceding table which indicates dates when assignments are due. Assignment due
 
 

Instructor Insights

By making the structure of the course fairly transparent, students will be able to understand why they are studying the content.

—Dr. Andrea Walsh

Below, Dr. Andrea Walsh describes various aspects of how she teaches SP.401 Introduction to Women’s and Gender Studies.

  • A variety of stereotypes surround WGS courses; these stereotypes haunt the WGS classroom. A little ways into the semester, we openly discuss these images in light of negative stereotypes surrounding the terms “feminism” and “feminist” in the U.S. I encourage students to identify these images and I seek to counter these stereotypes. Most of these stereotypes portray the ideas that WGS is dogmatic, and that there is a “party line” to be parroted to earn a decent grade. Sometimes there is a myth that these classes are “consciousness-raising groups” and lack academic rigor. A few weeks in the classroom and exposure to a rigorous workload, accompanied by a style of lecture and discussion that is open and welcoming to different points of view, usually counter these myths.
  • One challenge common to most introductory classes is that there is a lot of material to cover, historically and theoretically. My advice to instructors is to acknowledge that you cannot cover everything, but that you can provide perspectives for thinking critically about a wide range of issues. Structuring the course carefully, identifying major perspectives early in the course, and “signposting” these perspectives throughout the semester are ways to approach this. By making the structure of the course fairly transparent, students will be able to understand why they are studying the content.
  • In addition to delivering knowledge, interdisciplinary and introductory courses, such as this one, help students develop the tools and framework to move forward in a particular field. WGS courses also prepare students for future research and writing in both humanities and social sciences. Students should be reminded of different ways to approach an issue such as the role of women in the military or the gendered wage gap in the US and other countries.
  • Students come into this course with a varied background in terms of their knowledge of history, and especially U.S. history. In addition, some students have previous background in WGS, while others have none. I give students the freedom to explore issues of their own interest by offering choices in essay topics and oral presentations. Oral presentations on current events are intended to increase students’ engagement with the course content and to recognize its contemporary relevance. They also encourage students to practice their oral presentation skills.
  • Keeping the diversity of people’s educational and cultural backgrounds is essential and important. As the course continues to evolve, I would like to integrate more global material. One way in which I try to advocate a global point of view is through documentary films, which are a major resource in presenting social problems, understanding different cultures, and analyzing social movements.
 

Course Team Roles

Lead Instructor (Dr. Andrea Walsh)

In preparation for each class, Dr. Walsh keeps up-to-date with new material in the field, re-reads old material, consults with colleagues on course design, and reviews student homework. These help her prepare for the themes that may emerge during lectures and discussion. She also prepares a one-page lecture handout that is distributed at the beginning of each class session.

CI Writing Advisor (Dr. Elizabeth Fox)

Students are asked to consult with the CI writing advisor during the process of planning for and writing one of the major writing assignments. These meetings can be scheduled at any point in the writing process: brainstorming, crafting the first draft, or revising. Most often, students are encouraged to meet with the writing advisor when writing and revising their first essays.