Effort to establish gender studies department makes gains

The effort to establish a gender studies department within the University of Edinburgh reached a key milestone last week with the opening of a new full-time position for a Gender Studies academic.

The position, announced last Monday by Dash Sekhar, Vice President Academic Affairs of Edinburgh University Students Association (EUSA), would involve co-ordinating a network of academics across the university with the intent of organising a gender studies course for the 2016-17 school year.

Creating the position was one of the key objectives for Sekhar in his push to transform the department’s foundation from a campaign idea to a practical reality. The announcement is the product of an intensive behind the scenes campaign established over the summer.

“This is the start of something big”, Sekhar told The Student.

The roughly £40,000 a year position entails working with students to design a curriculum detailed enough to meet demand but with enough breadth to span various disciplines university- wide.

While the position would carry additional teaching responsibilities, its primary remit is to “make a leading contribution to the development of a rigorous but accessible and relevant introductory course on Gender studies open to first year students across the University,” according to the official description.

“What I want is students to have access to gender courses and be exposed to gender courses early in their degree, so that then they’re equipped with skills to integrate good gender research generally into their degree program”, Sekhar told The Student.

“That’s a short term goal, of course”, he added.

Essential to the project’s success, Sekhar says, are two objectives: the creation of pre-honours offerings to give students options in their initial years of university, and the eventual creation of a dedicated gender studies centre that networks together interdisciplinary subjects into one coherent system.

“The key problem was that there wasn’t really anything to do with gender available to people outside of SPS”, he explained.

“If you search ‘gender’ and ‘Edinburgh’, you won’t get gender courses. That’s the problem. The problem is there isn’t a coherent offering that’s available across the university.”

After winning a campaign centred on studies, Sekhar entered office determined to keep the issue at the top of the agenda for every summer meeting he had with university officials. He now credits that prominence as one reason negotiations went more smoothly than he anticipated.

“I expected more big rallies and demos to get the University moving on it”, he recounted.

“But what transpired is there are a lot of different ways of winning.”

The plans have enjoyed support across the university, Sekhar says. Over 20 academics in various disciplines lent their support, eager to expand within their respective fields. Vice Principals admired the student-based structure and cross university applicability.

But the linchpin for the effort’s fortune was Fiona McKay, head of the School of Social and Political Sciences (SSPS), Sekhar explained.

McKay championed the strategy of building the early roots of the centre within the SSPS rather than on its own, a strategy Sekhar believes provided a less hazardous pathway to success.

The academic awarded the new position will work with VPAA-elect Imogen Wilson starting this summer.

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