This September marks the three year anniversary of the University of Edinburgh’s latest Social and Political Science course, Understanding Gender in the Contemporary World: Key Concepts, Controversies and Challenges. First introduced to undergraduate students in 2016, this course offers an interdisciplinary approach to gender studies, reflecting on ways in which concepts of gender determined our understanding of society. By introducing students to an extensive range of worldwide gender issues, as well as specific cultural practices, the course aims to equip students with the necessary tools to identify how relational, symbolic and institutional ideas about gender create power dynamics and intersectional inequalities in today’s contemporary society.
When questioned about the motivations behind bringing gender studies into the 21st century, Dr Claire Duncanson, Course Organiser, commented, “It encourages us to think about familiar topics in new ways, to apply theoretical debates and tools to practical real-world issues, and to consider the importance of gender in the exercise of professional skills and responsibilities”.
Thus far, the course has proved to be a satisfactory movement on the discussion of gender at the university. Second year Politics student Martha Reilly, summed up the benefit of studying such an important topic by deeming the course “as a really enlightening experience that we could all benefit from”. She went on to reflect: “Looking at gender critically and analytically is really helpful in cutting through all the noise of gender discourse”.
The effects of this course can be felt within the wider academic community. One such observation was made by third year Astrophysics student Cameron Perumal, who since completing this course last year comments: “I think this course has paved the way for more courses of its kind – as evidenced by the new student-staff created course on Queer Studies, which in turn leads to more inclusivity”. In a way, such measures taken by the university to diversify its curriculum demonstrates the profound effect of the student voice. For Course Organiser Claire Duncanson, “Understanding Gender is the flagship of the University of Edinburgh-EUSA [Edinburgh University Students’ Association] Gender Initiative, which is enhancing the provision of gender studies courses at the university”. Instead of the university influencing the students, it appears as if the student has successfully impacted and infiltrated the previously antiquarian institution’s infrastructure. Gone are the days of subjugation and oppression within the student body.
Looking at the statistics and founding dates of the various liberation student associations on campus, it is evident that in the case of fighting inequality, it is, in fact, the student who is wiser than the teacher. Societies such as the Feminist, South Asian as well as Chinese Student and Scholar Association societies predate the recently updated curriculum.
Liberation campaigner and Women’s Officer, Esme Allman, commented: “There has been a clear need for courses that interrogate and critique the status quo that overwhelms academia here in the U.K.” The Students’ Association’s continued striving year after year, to accommodate wider acceptance for diversity and liberation within the student population “creates an understanding of identities beyond your own and places an importance on these [such] identities”. Such a need within the Students’ Association has resulted in “an inevitable demand to see that reflected in the curriculum”.
Now more than ever, students at the University of Edinburgh seeking liberation have a platform and a curriculum in which to achieve it. As a Women’s Liberation Officer on campus, Esme Allman sees academic diversification as “a testament to the hard work student activists are doing to make the university a more inclusive learning environment”. This certainly seems to be in the case with the Understanding Gender module. Through research on the course, it is evident that he, she, or they, who demand acceptance for themselves, will one day gain acceptance from all.
Illustration by Tia Byer