This page focuses on the course WGS.645 Gender, Health and Marginalization Through a Critical Feminist Lens as it was taught by Prof. Chris Bobel, Prof. Silvia Dominguez, and Lecturer Norma Swenson in Fall 2014.
This course used a feminist interdisciplinary lens to look critically at how practices like privatization, shrinking public “safety nets,” deregulation, and the commodification of health services intersect inevitably with gender, race, and class, for both men and women.
This course was part of the Graduate Consortium in Women’s Studies, which brings together scholars and teachers from nine Boston-area institutions to advance interdisciplinary Women’s Studies scholarship.
Course Goals for Students
- Become familiar with the three analytic frameworks elucidated in the course
- Be able to utilize and synthesize these frameworks in analyses of a given women and health or gender and sexuality issue
Possibilities for Further Study/Careers
- Further exploration into health law programs describing legal activism in promoting health rights
- Public health programs specifically addressing human rights and health, or women and health or gender rights
- Women’s Studies at advanced levels on specific topics, both historical and contemporary, illustrating and documenting how Intersectionality, feminism, or a health and human rights lens is applied and can be implemented
- Further study of other fields such as political science, economics, and medical sociology or medical anthropology that focus on structural critiques of capitalism
Below, Silvia Dominguez, Norma Swenson and Chris Boebel respond to questions about how they taught WGS.645 Gender, Health and Marginalization Through a Critical Feminist Lens.
Norma Swenson: I have been addressing controversial topics in public and in classrooms for so many years. Because such plain speaking is often rare in academic environments and elsewhere, I usually feel a moral obligation to do so. Doing so may mean taking some risks, but I find them to be worth it. Some people may be upset, but being prepared to acknowledge how upsetting the truth and lived experiences may be is simply part of the work. Avoiding such material would diminish the opportunity to enlarge all students’ understanding and development. But it goes without saying that any instructor must feel confident and comfortable before introducing these ideas.
Chris Bobel: I think it's fair to say that all of our teaching material is controversial or sensitive—such is the reality of teaching Gender Studies (and one of the reasons I love this work so very much!). One of the tasks before us is to explore why some material is coded as sensitive or taboo. We pick at the very social construction of the "topics we should not discuss." To this end, I find directness is important. Being direct communicates to students that challenging topics are serious topics and deserve our attention. Also, it is important to allow students ample time to process such material. Students must not feel hurried. Feelings inevitably rush in and they will complicate (and often enrich) the intellectual work we do together. It's important to allow for this and to listen carefully as students engage in this work.
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Chris Bobel: Based on both written and verbal feedback from students, my impression is that we managed to create a secure space for intellectual risk-taking. It seemed like a truly productive learning community. The students reported feeling heard by the faculty and each other, while feeling pushed to develop more cogent analyses. My sense was the time flew and that we could have continued our dicussions beyond the stroke of 8:30pm, the official end time of class. At the end of one class session, we said our thank yous and goodbyes, and no one moved. It was a touching moment.
Norma Swenson: We found that since the op-ed assignment was the most unfamiliar to students, it was also the most challenging. Even after detailed feedback, quite a few did not get the principles involved in writing a proper op-ed. Several others did prepare good op-eds, with one or two even getting theirs published!
Norma Swenson: The student-led discussions seemed to be one of the weakest parts of our course planning and the greatest source of complaint in the midterm evaluations. We graded them on some elements of the presentations, but the leadership required for these discussions was not among the course objectives. At first, the mid-term criticisms and complaints from students were devastating. But we recovered, analyzed the results, and made changes that we believe made the second half of the course much better and more successful.
Chris Bobel: I was pleased with the overall design of the course. Our readings were robust and varied in terms of style and source. We offered a nice blend of cutting-edge work and classic texts. We worked hard to pair empirical research with other types of text, such as first-person narratives, white papers, fact sheets, Op Eds, NGO research briefs, etc. I think the students appreciated this diversity of sources. This collision of perspectives and approaches kept their attention and facilitated a thorough exercising of the topics. We also showed a number of short film clips and a few longer documentaries. Students reactived positively to these curricular choices. They also seemed to enjoy our series of guest speakers.
Silvia Dominguez: I learned to present frameworks upfront and then have students apply them to different subjects. While I had done that before, I never realized how useful it was and now I am using this method in all my classes. I also gained tremendously from the students from their presentations and discussions. It was also the first time I used neo-liberalization as a framework and now I am using it in all my classes. Having to figure out rubrics among the three of us was also another exercise that benefitted me pedagogically.
Norma Swenson: We asked students to engage in self-assessment at the end of the term. There was clear consensus among the instructors about the principle of self-assessment and how valuable it can be for students. In order to encourage honesty, we did not take their self-assessments into consideration during grading. My advice about self-assessments is simple: request but do not require it.
Norma Swenson: This co-teaching experience was unique for all of us and we developed a strong sense of solidarity quite early on that remained throughout the course. Even so, there were points in the process where we did disagree, and each of us likely had moments of uncomfortable concessions. But we are all grownups, and these moments were managed without damaging our underlying supportive relationship.
I have a few pieces of advice for other educators looking to co-teach. Over-budget the time needed to establish the initial rapport and basic agreements with your co-teachers. Be prepared to pick up the slack from your colleagues at some point during the semester, as internal crises will happen and life can get in the way. Spend quality time before the course agreeing on the evaluation and grading standards for student performance. Realize that every instructor brings a different set of values and experiences to the course, and these should be thoroughly hashed out well in advance, instead of assuming agreement. That said, be prepared for disagreements along the way.
Chris Bobel: Each member of our teaching team brought very different experiences and values to this enterprise. This was, moment to moment, illuminating and growth-producing and at times, frustrating and challenging. We struggled, especially, in developing rubrics we used to evaluate student work. Through many discussions once the course was underway, we did eventually manage to establish shared standards for evaluating student work. But in retrospect, we needed to have more concrete discussions on this crucial task during the planning stages of the course so that we could have provided students with better clarity and direction from the first day of class forward.
My advice for educators embarking on co-teaching is to be as transparent as possible regarding disparate teaching styles and priorities in the planning stage of the course. Work out an equitable division of labor that an be maintained throughout the course. Also, do not be afraid to let the students see your differences. Our team often demonstrated healthy and productive conflict when our perspectives collided. We often used humor to diffuse some tense moments. For students who aspire to teach at the college level, I think it is important for them to see, up close, the very real challenges of college teaching and the rich potential of collaboration.
Silvia Dominguez: It was difficult to come to consensus at times on expectations and assignments due to our differences in disciplines. We discussed our points of view and made decisions that accommodated our differences. Having to figure out rubrics was very much a challenge given out different disciplines but we made it work somehow. The different disciplines of the students was also difficult to manage but doable.
- Students must apply to the Graduate Consortium in Women’s Studies.
- Doctoral students receive priority; master’s students and advanced undergraduates may be admitted if space permits.
WGS.645 is offered intermittently and is considered a special topics course about “Issues of Representation: Feminist Theory.” The specific topic changes every time it is taught.
The students' grades were based on the following activities:
Each seminar in the Graduate Consortium of Women’s Studies is limited to 20 students.
During an average week, students were expected to spend 12 hours on the course, roughly divided as follows:
- Met 1 time per week for 3 hours per session; 14 sessions total; mandatory attendance.
- Student-led discussions of the readings, topics, and questions for the week.
Out of Class
Students spent their out-of-class time completing the weekly assigned readings, preparing discussion questions, or working on assignments.