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Women's studies on the chopping block.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

(GUELPH, Ont.) Guelph University's women's studies program would have celebrated its 30th anniversary this year, but instead the program unraveled in a matter of hours this April. More than 150 students picketed a university senate meeting, megaphones in hand, hoping to convince last-minute voters not to cancel the program.

"It was a shock and surprise," according to women's studies professor Helen Hoy. "When the decision was made, a number of students shouted with outrage and tears were rolling down their faces."

Students and professors learned only in late February that the program was in danger. A senate review two years earlier called it an "intellectually stimulating program ... in the vibrant, young discipline of women's studies." Plans were in place to expand the program to cover gender and sexuality.

Money was cited as one factor that led to the program's demise, but according to Hoy the argument holds no water. The program was run on just $78,000 per year and had only a part-time coordinator and staff person. As philosophy professor Karen Wendling pointed out, "It's the cost of two university advertisements in the Globe and Mail."

Norman Lewis, coordinator of the program, proposed to cut the budget even further in an effort to save it. But the dean of arts claimed the women's studies program was no longer viable.

"Requests for more permanent staff and better space to strengthen the program were seen as signs of a failing program," said Hoy of the program that will graduate 51 students this year. Rather than improve the program, the administration chose to cut it.

"When you cut a women's studies program, you're signalling that feminist thought, theory and discourse aren't worth it," said Jack Hixson-Vulpe, one of the students who organized against the administration.

It also sends the message that women's studies is unnecessary.

"As long as sexual assault, homophobia and hate crimes happen every day, we need programs like this," said Anastasia Zavarella, another student organizer. "It should remind us that women's studies is relevant."

Meanwhile, administrators at Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax were ready to slash their women's studies program, but bowed to pressure at the last minute. Mount Saint Vincent's women's studies program was the first in Canada, and for a long time the university prided itself on being a women's university.

Organizing efforts there were headed by students Magan Alisha and Heather Rycroft. Meetings with deans and administrators, as well as media attention prompted the university to reconsider. The program will be reassessed in two years.

"The program is safer, but it's a concern to be aware of in the future. We have to be an active program, and as long as we remain relevant we can do it," said Alisha.

For the students at Guelph, their fight continues. They already have plans for actions they will take this fall to pressure the administration to re-implement the program.

"We're prepared to dig our heels in," said Zavarella. "I want this program to be around for my sister."

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Title Annotation:cancellation of Guelph University's women's studies program
Author:Belyk, Vivian
Publication:Herizons
Geographic Code:1CONT
Date:Jun 22, 2009
Words:503
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