Our alumni work in fields ranging from research and higher education to social justice and nonprofit organizations, where they apply what they have learned to real-life problems.
If I had to describe my women’s studies degree in one word, it would be "relevant."Sara Jaye Sanford, '07
When I tell people that I am a Women’s Studies major, they often ask me one of two questions: what job could you get with that major or what exactly is Women’s Studies? After my internship this summer at the Family Crisis Resource Center in my hometown of Cumberland, Maryland, I have found a field of work which my Women’s Studies background compliments perfectly. Through this internship, I have also been able to see Women’s Studies teachings in practice, hands-on. The Family Crisis Resource Center provides a shelter for domestic violence victims and their children who are trying to live in a safe environment where they can ultimately take advantage of the center’s services in order to gain independence from their abusers. From providing safe and secure accommodations for domestic violence victims to organizing a weekly progressive girl’s empowerment group that focuses on helping low-income girls boost their self-esteem to holding weekly group counseling meetings for current or past victims of domestic violence, the Family Crisis Resource Center offers a wide range of services.
I found my internship work to be, at times, both frustrating and rewarding. According to national studies, women in abusive relationships go back to their abusers seven different times before they finally leave their abusers for good. There were many times that women in the shelter seemed to be on the right track to independence when they again chose to go back to their abusers due to a multitude of reasons. However, what kept me going through the frustrating times in this particular field of work were the success stories of the people I worked with. I was able to help one woman go back to college as I was also able to help a mother and daughter go back to school to get their G.E.D. Because there was an unusually high number of children in the shelter over the summer, I was able to hold various events for them, including a back-to-school event, an ice cream party, movie nights, and a game night.
So to answer everyone’s questions: what job could I get with a Women’s Studies major and what exactly is Women’s Studies? Before this internship, I was unsure of what I wanted to do with a double major in Government and Politics and Women’s Studies. However, as a junior, I am now leaning towards a dual degree in both law and social work, through which I could work for a non-profit as a lawyer while fighting to extend and protect the rights of women in situations such as domestic violence. Theory and academic jargon aside, Women’s Studies, to me, has always been very basically about working towards equality between men and women. While typically reading through lengthy textbooks or having in-depth discussions about feminist theory in my Women’s Studies classes, I have, through my internship, experienced the most gratifying part of this major: putting into practice the theories and lessons from my classes by bettering the lives of women while ultimately working towards equality between the sexes.
The WMST faculty has been nurturing, encouraging, and involved through every step of my undergraduate career. From helping me plot my coursework, to mentoring me in my independent study, to giving me the courage to study abroad in India for a year, and finally in helping me develop a thesis, the faculty has allowed me to grow in a direction best suited for my potential while simultaneously preserving my independence. I have found they are consistently and genuinely enthusiastic about listening, discussing, debating, and advising Women’s Studies students.
I think that the BA in WMST works well for students who are ready for a writing intensive,norm-challenging, truth-testing discourse in an intimate academic setting. WMST is not an easy field. It will frustrate you, defy your sense of reality, pressure you to constantly read between the lines, and force you to reconcile with words, thoughts, ideas, theories, and histories that once seemed clear and straightforward. It is for these exact reasons I would recommend a WMST degree. The most rewarding academic endeavor is often the most difficult.
One of the strengths of the WMST department is its small size. Particularly at a large research university like Maryland, many students are hard-pressed to find the attention and focus they need from faculty. WMST students do not just talk to their professors and advisors, they get to know them. I have never been turned away by a professor and the majority always leave their door open (even after office hours). The faculty truly value their students.
Another strength of the program is the freedom to pursue interdisciplinary interests and activities. As a WMST major I was able to participate in the University Honors Program, conduct an independent study project with a professor from the Sociology Department, and study abroad in India for a full year. I can graduate knowing that the WMST faculty has invested in me as a student and as a person, and that is a truly wonderful feeling.
While the WMST program was wonderful in its variety of courses from which to choose, I wanted to graduate feeling as though I had developed some type of focus or specialization which I felt was missing from the program. The opportunity of an organized research project over the course of a year provided that sort of specialization for which I was searching. Additionally, I was aware that by completing this research I would establish a greater relationship to the faculty of the program, allowing me to also learn from their variety of experiences and backgrounds.
The WMST program is unlike any other program that I encountered at the University. As a triple major (Psychology, Criminology, and WMST), I encountered a variety of courses. However, no course taught me to question, re-evaluate, and analyze the social underpinnings of our society like those within the WMST program. This sort of “out of the box” thinking freed me from what I deemed to be an otherwise “conventional” education. Additionally, no where else at the University did I encounter professors who so greatly inspired me to follow my dreams. The community of WMST was extremely encouraging, and the faculty go to great lengths to help students to succeed. As a first year law student, I am utilizing the writing skills I developed as I prepared my thesis. My writing improved dramatically into the analytical framework critical to legal writing. Additionally, the work has fine-tuned my interest to women’s health public policy which I plan to pursue upon graduation. While the honors program is rigorous, the sense of accomplishment after completing such a tremendous project is well worth the effort. The demonstration of such effort is helpful for any future endeavors, whether they be grad school or work.
I opted to do women’s studies honors because I wanted something that would really challenge me my last couple of years here, and I really wanted to be able to study and research on my own. My experience working with women’s studies professors was amazing. They were all incredibly supportive. It really is a unique opportunity to work with faculty who are so committed to your learning. My thesis advisor gave me a lot of freedom with the project, which was a great fit.
I would strongly recommend the BA in Women’s Studies to other undergraduates, for a variety of reasons. First, far more than some liberal arts degrees, it is very grounded in concrete, contemporary issues in our society and culture. Another reason I strongly recommend women’s studies is that it is interdisciplinary. This was great for me, since I had an interest in taking classes in a variety of fields. But furthermore, the degree is flexible so that you can also tailor it towards your own interests and really prepare yourself for whatever professional future you’re interested in. Because of this, women’s studies can be a great preparation for and complement to almost any graduate program, professional or academic.
Finally, a huge focus in every women’s studies class I have ever taken is critical thinking. You really can’t approach any issue from a feminist angle without being able to critically analyze it, and those skills are so necessary in every academic field (and in my experience, in life in general). I know that my training in women’s studies has affected the way I see and analyze the world.
I think that my women’s studies degree has been really helpful since graduating. I work for an organization that I started interning with (for women’s studies credit) that seeks to improve the health of women who partner with women. My women’s studies classes helped me get perspective on and learn some basics about women’s health. But most importantly, since health disparities for LGBT people are so inextricably intertwined with our political status, women’s studies really helped me to be able to understand and analyze the intersections of all the factors involved. If I had to describe my women’s studies degree in one word, it would be relevant! Everyone should take at least one class.