Just over a year ago, the Women’s Studies Department launched its new Gender & Health program–and with 72 undergraduate majors and counting, it has already made quite an impression on campus.
Utilizing an interdisciplinary, feminist approach to the study of health practice, policy, and theory, Gender & Health is the first program of its kind in the nation. Students learn firsthand how well-being and medical care vary across segments of the population and are encouraged to regard health as both a social and biomedical phenomenon. “Gender & Health is an opportunity to look at healthcare topics and experiences [as] you wouldn’t in your chemistry or physics classes,” comments senior Brittany Gates. “It’s really opened my mind.”
All Gender & Health students begin the program in WS 220: Perspectives in Women’s Health. This is a course that–as graduate student instructors Kayla Fike and Harley Dutcher put it–is designed to help students unlearn everything they have been told about health. “In the first class, we try to set the stage by discussing how many of the things you thought were true…come from a particular perspective,” says Fike. “And that perspective influences which ideas are taught and emphasized over others.” Recognizing these biases proves both challenging and rewarding for students. “It can feel scary to hear: ‘these are the assumptions you’re making, and this is the footing you’re starting on,” says Dutcher. “But doing so opens possibilities for students to develop new career interests, to consider new ways of looking at the world.”
Indeed, the opportunity for intellectual and personal growth fostered during Perspectives inWomen’s Health continues throughout the Gender & Health curriculum. In courses such as WS 328: Women, Agency, and Sexual Safety and WS 400: Women’s Reproductive Health, students develop knowledge and skills necessary to create a more equitable and just healthcare system. As junior Miloni Shah notes: “I can truly say that from this major, I have a more distinct vision for myself in the medical field, one that [will] encourage women’s advocacy and promote cultural competency.”
Upon graduating from Michigan, Gender & Health students will enter the world prepared to lead efforts of bridging health expertise and feminist practice. To learn more about the Gender & Health curriculum, student experience, and guiding principles, check out the video above or click here.
This story was originally published the University of Michigan Women’s Studies Department.