Delectable Diversity: Gender and Sexuality Studies in General Education
By Sara E. Cooper, professor of foreign languages and literatures; Gail Walton, assistant professor of child development; and Christopher Ivey, assistant professor of biology—all of California State University, Chico
California State University, Chico
Here at Chico State, a residential university campus located in the northern reaches of California's agriculturally rich Central Valley, we take food seriously—including food for thought. In Fall 2012, incoming students will be treated to the newest Chico State recipe, an extensively redesigned program for General Education (GE). What may be the tastiest tidbit for some (and more like bitter greens for others) is a Gender and Sexuality (G&S) Pathway that has a prominent place at the GE table.
Why Gender and Sexuality?
In June 2008, the California State University system chancellor directed campuses to shift their GE programs' focus "from curricular content to what students learn through the breadth of their general education experiences" (Reed 2008). In response, Chico State's new dean of undergraduate education and provost launched a review and revision of GE.
After a year of contemplation, faculty proposed a new program organized primarily around pathways: thematic groupings of courses that would give students the option of a more cohesive GE experience. Only courses approved as foundation or attached to a pathway would continue to hold GE status. With faculty and administration alike concerned about having a piece of the GE pie, many faculty members turned into aspiring GE chefs. A group of Chico State faculty who taught courses in two former GE themes, Women's Issues and Gender Perspectives, decided that Gender and Sexuality simply had to be on the menu for future students.
Our Place in the GE Pantry
Informed by a vision of cohesive, coherent, and relevant general education, Chico State's newly refashioned program includes two levels of courses. Foundation courses will enhance first-year students' basic skills, such as writing and critical thinking. Remaining lower and upper division courses have been organized into ten pathways: International Studies; Global Development; Sustainability; Health and Wellness; Great Books and Ideas; Food Studies; Ethics, Justice, and Policy; Science, Technology, and Values; Diversity Studies; and Gender and Sexuality. Each of these reflects core values that Chico State holds dear and that are linked to the school's strategic priorities.
All pathways must be associated with at least one foundation course, and G&S Pathway faculty found two with complementary flavors. G&S faculty are now working with faculty in journalism to develop meaningful links with their Professional Writing for Public Audiences course, and with faculty in psychology on their Applications of Critical Thinking and Decision Making course. Through these partnerships, first-year students will get a taste of their possible main courses in GE.
Each pathway offers up to three courses within each of eight GE areas (five in the lower division and three in the upper division). Within the lower-division arts area, for instance, G&S's three classes are Art Appreciation: Multicultural Perspectives; Art History Survey Western 1880 to Present; and Shakespeare in Film. Each of these pre-existing courses is being revised to meet GE requirements and to include significant G&S content. G&S faculty have accepted the maximum number of courses possible into our pathway, for a total of twenty-four (not including introductory or intermediate foreign language courses, which count toward any pathway's lower-division humanities requirement).
Each pathway also offers at least three writing-intensive courses and one capstone. The capstone course provides a venue for both weaving together principal ideas and delving deeply into a particular subject. All students are required to take their three upper-division GE classes, including a capstone, within a single pathway. Students who complete at least eighteen units in one pathway will earn an interdisciplinary minor.
New Course Designs
More than thirty G&S faculty members are working together this year to share resources, finish course revisions, and establish links within the curriculum. Of the courses being designed specifically for the G&S Pathway, two are in the upper division: Christopher Ivey's Biology of Sex and Gail Walton's Children's Gender and Sexuality Development.
Ivey's course will examine the biological foundations of sex, gender, and mating behavior from an evolutionary perspective. To understand sex, one must first address why it exists. Sex is an inefficient and even dangerous way to reproduce, and many species persist without it. Although people often have difficulty imagining life without the male–female dichotomy, many plants and animals have shifting or multiple genders, even within single individuals. Much of the course will focus on nonhuman organisms to explore biological norms. The course will also examine human mating behavior and sex expression, primarily in comparison with that of other primates.
The writing-intensive capstone Children's Gender and Sexuality Development will encourage students to explore more inclusive and fluid views of gender and sexuality than expressed in default assumptions about the gender binary and heterosexuality. Main objectives include sensitizing students to differences in the ways children develop, and increasing students' awareness of stereotypes, inequalities, and discrimination related to gender and sexual identity. By discovering the biological, cognitive, social, and cultural elements that influence the early development of gender and sexuality, students can start to examine and perhaps challenge their preexisting ideas. A few topics covered in the course include biological influences, gender identity disorder, transgender variations, homosexuality, and LGBTQ parenting.
With these and other courses, G&S Pathway faculty members are working together to blend many flavors—theory, scholarship, civic engagement, and attention to cultural difference.
A Feast for the Heart, Mind, and Soul
G&S faculty designed our pathway according to the central tenet that general education should prepare students to be critical thinkers, engaged citizens, and ethical members of a global society. The catalog description of our pathway (soon to be available online at www.csuchico.edu/ge) reminds readers that participating students and faculty
…come to understand how sexuality and gender are related to practically every academic major, profession, and aspect of life. We learn about the significance of promoting gender and sexuality equity for all people, including those who don't fit neatly into the mainstream gender and sexuality identities of our culture, for example LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning). Finally, in this pathway we can become more comfortable and sensitive working with a broad spectrum of people, thereby becoming more successful in our diverse world.
The G&S Pathway is truly interdisciplinary, featuring course offerings from nineteen different departments and programs, from four of the university's seven colleges. Disciplines as diverse as religion, communication, literature, political science, Chicana/o studies, journalism, and nursing provide the breadth necessary for a liberal education, while one underlying set of intellectual questions ensures coherence.
In addition to providing compliance with CSU system mandates for GE, the G&S Pathway and others will contribute to the implementation of Chico State's new Diversity Action Plan—a strategy aligned with AAC&U's work to "make excellence inclusive" (Diversity Scorecard Committee 2010, 5). Incorporating gender and sexuality studies into the core curriculum sends a strong message of welcome and support to students, faculty, and staff who want an inclusive place to develop their strengths. G&S faculty are excited to be in the vanguard of what hopefully will become a national movement toward improved campus climates and more relevant curricula and scholarship that responds to the needs of diverse communities rather than only to those of the assumed mainstream (Christensen and Eyring 2011).
That's our goal here at Chico State: to bring to the table all the best ingredients and find innovative ways to prepare and present them. Just as with the popular annual community event Taste of Chico, we trust the results will be delicious.
Christensen, Clayton M., and Henry J. Eyring. 2011. The Innovative University: Changing the DNA of Higher Education from the Inside Out. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Diversity Scorecard Committee. 2010. To Form a More Inclusive Learning Community: The CSU, Chico 2011–2016 Diversity Action Plan. http://www.csuchico.edu/prs/dap/index.shtml.
Reed, Charles B. 2008. General Education Breadth Requirements—Executive Order No. 1033. Memorandum to CSU Presidents issued June 18. http://www.calstate.edu/eo/EO-1033.html.