WMST/ISAT 485: Gender and Science—A Cross-Listed Course that Crosses the Boundaries of Gender Norms in the Sciences

This semester Dr. Louise Temple (ISAT) and Alysia Davis (WMST) “team-taught” a cross-listed Women’s Studies/ISAT course called Gender and Science.  I met with these professors to ask them a few questions about their unique course and teaching strategy that combines two groups of students from different schools of thought.

The course is focused on the struggles, successes, and accomplishments of women in the sciences, as well as examines the reasons why women are so often distanced from the scientific field.  Some specific topics discussed in the class include:

-The use of masculine language in the sciences

-The human as a subject of research

-The human as the researcher

-The status of women in the sciences

-The ways in which women scientifically study and are scientifically studied

The course began with a short “Science and Me” assignment in which the students wrote a brief description of their own experiences with science throughout their lives and educations.  Personal experiences are a vital tool of the course and are particularly useful because the students come from varying educational backgrounds and fields of study.

These topics of study are complemented by the discussion held between the different groups of students.  Although this semester the class has seemed significantly segregated between the ISAT and Women’s Studies students, Dr.’s Temple and Davis both agree that each side of the classroom is progressing equally and showing the same interest and authority over the material.  In light of the students’ achievement, it seems that team teaching a group of students from “both sides of the tracks,” if you will, has been a success.

Next year, the course will be offered during the fall semester to facilitate a partnership with the Institute for Visual Studies in order to incorporate a visual component to the course.  A partnership that Alysia Davis says will, “ask the students to apply the critiques we’re developing to the production and visual representation of scientific evidence.”  Davis described this approach as an attempt to display a more accurate depiction of scientific evidence, like common images of the sperm and the egg.  Instead of the sperm appearing active and the egg stationary, as the two cells are usually shown, the course and Institute for Visual Studies will explore ways to display the egg in its realistic and active state.  These visual scientific images are important because they work to develop and perpetuate gender norms—the active sperm relaying the message that men are active, and the motionless egg encouraging the idea that women are passive.  These scientific images are as gendered as they are taken for granted, and are a prime example of the pioneering studies of this course.


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