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Women's Studies Gets a Big Boost at Northridge

April 14, 1985|JAMES QUINN | Times Staff Writer

After working summers at an aerospace firm, Cheryl Jeanjaquet, a senior biology major at California State University, Northridge, said she wonders what faculty feminists are "fussing about. I see women doing the same jobs as men, and I don't see any problems."

In the opinion of senior drama major Tami Wiegand, campus feminists "spend too much time complaining, and I get tired of hearing it."

Citing a failed attempt last fall to prohibit the sale of Playboy and Penthouse magazines on campus, Wiegand said women studies teachers at Northridge have "run out of valid issues, so they continue fighting battles that don't matter, or ones they already won."

It's not for lack of trying that Northridge feminists have failed to convince female students such as Jeanjaquet and Wiegand that, as feminists see it, the struggle for women's rights is far from over.

"Much of the campus feels women have gained everything they need," said Mary McEdwards, a Northridge speech communication professor who was one of the founders of the university's women's program. "We spend a lot of our time showing young women that sexism is still there and that the gains of the past could be lost unless there is vigilance."

A recent university decision is aiding in the feminists' drive to convert the skeptical.

Last September, the basic women studies course--which combines a study of women's history and current economic problems with old-fashioned consciousness-raising--was designated as a course students could take to fulfill one of the university's requirements for graduation.

The designation quadrupled the number of students taking Women Studies 200, from about 200 last year to 800 this school year. As in the past, about 90% of the students in class are women, according to Elizabeth B. Berry, an associate vice president for academic affairs and a co-founder of the women's program.

Berry said that if the trend continues, within four or five years as many as a fifth of all graduates will have taken the course.

"And the beauty of this course is that 99.9% of the students leave the class changed in some way," she said. "So we expect our influence and our impact to grow over the years."

Designation as an elective also brought into the classes women and men with no prior interest in women's rights, "those who just needed to fulfill a requirement and needed a class at Tuesday and Thursday at 9 a.m.," Berry said.

"It's tougher to convince these uncommitted students, especially since a raised consciousness can bring tumult to one's life," she said. "But these are the students we've been hoping to reach."

Frustration at the lack of new converts should not suggest that campus feminists are without support or clout, however.

In the seven years since the university joined what was then a nationwide rush to establish women's studies programs, teachers of feminist courses at Northridge have become a highly visible and politically formidable force.

Feminists conduct a continuing series of on-campus workshops and panel discussions on women's issues. The Women's Center at Northridge offers classes on self-defense and consciousness-raising, plus information on child care and women's medical and legal problems.

A section of the school library has been set aside for feminist-related books and periodicals.

Of the dozen faculty members who have taught women studies courses in recent years, six have also been members of the faculty senate, whose members constitute only about 3% of the 1,500 faculty members on campus.

The current faculty senate president and the previous president have been women studies teachers.

In addition to Berry, who wields considerable influence because of her associate vice president post, women studies teachers include Loralee MacPike, acting dean of humanities, and Patrick Nichelson, chairman of the religious studies department, the only man who has taught a women studies course at Northridge.

The membership lists of the 13 permanent faculty committees, each of which is influential in a different area of university life, are studded with the names of women studies instructors.

'Active Bunch'

McEdwards said she is unsure whether feminists moved into campus politics "because we were feminists and needed clout, or whether we got into women studies because we were already naturally assertive, involved people. But in any case, we're an active bunch."

However, feminist clout was insufficient to carry the issue in October when the women studies faculty petitioned student and faculty trustees of the campus bookstore to remove sexually oriented magazines on grounds they degrade women and encourage violence against them.

Feminists initially were successful, gaining a favorable vote from the student government association, narrowly losing in the faculty senate, and then, on Nov. 28, securing a 5-4 vote by trustees ordering the bookstore staff to remove the magazines.

Nationwide Attention

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