Women's History Program Evolves with New Degree Track

SLC's Women's History Program was the first of its kind. Photo by janaki chadha '17

SLC's Women's History Program was the first of its kind. Photo by janaki chadha '17

Speculation about the future of SLC’s Graduate Program in Women’s History has been circulating since the end of last semester, on everything from the potential addition of online courses to a change in the name of the degree offered. Though the possibility of such proposed changes being the subject of discussions among senior staff or trustees can’t quite be ruled out, none of them are currently happening or even in the works. There has, however, been a new development in the program: the addition of an accelerated degree option. 

As stated in the description of the program on the College’s website, the option is designed for students “especially concerned with practical applications of historical knowledge to issues of gender policy and advocacy.” Instead of writing a thesis, students in this track work with professors on an independent capstone project and write a research paper on topics such as racial justice, reproductive rights, and gendered violence, with the goal of preparing for careers in public service and the non-profit sector. Rather than spending two full, academic years in the program, students in this track receive their degrees after fifteen months of continuous study. 

On the conception of the program, Program director Priscilla Murolo reflected, “I knew that there were some of our students who were looking for practical applications of historical knowledge,” but said the culture of the program did not support that at the time, so practical application of history is the main focus of the new option. “I think that the accelerated program appeals to people because of [that]. Sometimes people come in and they’re very committed to the idea of writing a thesis, which is fine. But other times people come in and they really want—they want to work at NGOs, they may not want to go out and get PhDs,” she continued. “And a lot of people come in and say when they begin the program, I want to get a PhD and be a professor. Now, that’s a wonderful ambition, but for a lot of people it’s not a very practical ambition because a professoriate that is employed full-time with benefits is smaller and smaller and smaller every year.”

She added that part of what the program is responding to is the financial realities of many prospective students. “Sarah Lawrence is expensive, and the graduate students don’t get anything like the financial aid that the undergraduates get,” she said. “So to say to somebody, you can do this in fifteen months, means that they don’t have two years worth of living expenses. So they pay the same, but the time that they’re out of the labor market is cut short.” She sees the new degree track as a way the program is adapting to a rapidly changing world, largely one in which securing a fulfilling job after graduation is more difficult than it was at most other points in the College’s history.

The regular, two-year track of the program that requires a standard thesis is, of course, still offered, and there are no plans of that changing. And though the program as a whole, like any educational department or institution, is continually evolving, as Professor Murolo sees it, its core values are not losing relevance anytime soon. “As long as male supremacy exists and there is some shred of memory on the part of women that there’s been resistance to that supremacy, there will be people who are interested in these issues.”

Janaki Chadha '17

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