Course Spotlight – Gen&WS 527

After so much hiring in the last few years, GWS has a wide variety of new courses at the cutting edge of feminist inquiry. We’ll be introducing a few of these amazing courses through a new feature called Course Spotlight. First up is Gen&WS 527 taught by Professor Ruth Goldstein.

Course Title: Gen&WS 527: The Environment of the Womb: Epigenetics and Parent/Child Health

What is this course about? This course explores the ways that human and environmental health are deeply related through three different kinds of environments: the ecological environment, the socio-political environment, and the uterine environment. It also asks about the nature of genetic inheritance. An emerging science called epigenetics offers an approach to think about environmental and behavioral impacts on human reproduction. Epigenetic study in biology focuses on inheritable changes that affect gene expression (silenced, active), changed that could come toxic exposure to chemicals or social trauma, things beyond the genetic code of one’s parents. The uterine environment – the womb – is considered primetime for epigenetic changes because life is in formation. While centering the reproductive human body, this course will also ask what the gendered term “maternal/fetal health” leaves out — namely, that transfathers who give birth too. The class expands the scope to “parent/child” health — where kinship is not strictly about biologic belonging or coming “straight from the womb.” It is also about love and a safe home or chosen family. “The Environment of the Womb: Epigenetics and Parent/Child Health” offers students a socio-environmental approach to reproductive justice. Undergirding our analysis are questions of what ultimately constitutes “health” and who has access to living a healthy life — in a body and on a planet that feels safe to inhabit.

What does feminist pedagogy look like in your classroom? A feminist pedagogy in my classroom allows for different kinds of learning styles. While discussion-based courses offers the kind of interactive learning atmosphere that I enjoy, I recognize that not everyone feels comfortable speaking in class. I also consider how some folx might learn better through reflection and writing or non-verbal forms of communication.

What does course accessibility and universal course design look like in practice in your classroom? All my slides have captioned images and videos. I also take seriously different learning styles. This is reflected in the assignments that I give. 

What is a favorite learning activity that you assign in this course? I enjoy providing a “choose you own adventure” style of assignment for the midterm and final. This takes the form of asking students to define what inheritance means to them as the main prompt. But the form of response can take shape any number of ways: as a typical academic research paper, as an “epigenetic manifesto,” as a creative short story (footnoting class resources and writing a short “artist’s statement” with a brief analytical component to the story, creating a performance piece (dance, standup comedy, slam poetry), photo-essays, drawings, or sculpture (also with an accompanying analytical piece). I welcome the creativity and students have continued to surprise and delight me with their ingenuity.

Describe a recent “AHA!” moment with your students in this class? There are so many AHA moments! That gender is fluid, that gender means more than cis-woman, that “women” aren’t the only ones who give birth, that our bodies remember and that our genetic code doesn’t necessarily dictate our destiny, these are some of the exciting moments where possibility to think and act otherwise in improving how we live together on this planet come to mind.

What is one idea or theme you want your students to take away from this class? Firstly, I always want students to take away a sense of empowerment from all my courses. Although many of the themes can feel emotionally heavy and politically complicated, I want students to have confidence in thinking critically and in taking thoughtful action. I also hope that students walk away from this course with a sense of how environmental and reproductive justice are interconnected.

How do you hope this course will help your students beyond the semester they’re working with you? I hope that students will never be intimidated by any book or person that purports to know more or better than they do. I hope that this course will help students develop the critical thinking skills AND the resources to connect in solidarity with people who share their concerns about human and environmental health on this planet.