On February 10, the GSFSSA announced via Facebook that the office of the Dean of Arts would be suspending the Graduate Options in Gender and Women’s Studies and Development Studies, effective fall 2021. The Graduate Option in Gender and Women’s Studies is currently available in 16 Masters programs and 11 Ph.D. programs, and the Development Studies option is available in six Masters programs.
In response to the cancellation, students in both fields of study issued an open letter highlighting the importance of the programs and the impact that this will have on McGill University and its students. The letter reported that “this decision was made without faculty or student consultation,” and that the suspension will impact both current and prospective students. At the time of print, the letter has been signed by more than 170 graduate students and nearly 250 undergraduate students. The letter has been widely disseminated by student groups, including the Gender, Sexuality, Feminist, and Social Justice Studies Student Association (GSFSSA), QPIRG McGill, and the Association of Graduate Students Employed at McGill (AGSEM).
Both students and faculty oppose the suspension, citing that the Graduate Options are vital to McGill and the wider fields of Gender Studies and International Development Studies. In an interview with the Daily, Dr. Alex Ketchum, a professor in the Institute for Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies, stated that “in addition to creating communities of research support, the Graduate Option provided valuable professional training [… and] another framework of mentoring and research opportunities. On the academic job market, being able to speak to both disciplinary and interdisciplinary fields has been valued and important.”
She added, “it was through the Graduate Option that I was able to gain mentors who trained me in how to organize events and write grant applications. Now through my grants, I am able to employ and train research assistants who are students at McGill in these skills. The Graduate Option continues to amplify feminist interdisciplinary research and support scholars across the university from undegraduates, graduate students, and professors.”
Emily Douglas, a Ph.D candidate in Philosophy with the Option in Gender and Women’s Studies, told the Daily that one of the things that drew them to McGill was the option to specialize in Gender and Women’s Studies.
“As someone who works interdisciplinarily and will apply to jobs in Gender Studies, Sexuality Studies, and associated departments, it is crucial to have an institutional marking of my competence and skills in order to be recognized as a part of the field,” they said. “The courses I have taken associated with the Graduate Option provided me with space to explore new ideas and methodologies, as well as to find a supportive feminist and generally anti-oppressive group of peers across departments.”
They also emphasized the mentorship they received from the faculty members they worked with, noting that they still correspond with some of them today. They added, “future students who would be eligible for the Option are at a great loss with its suspension, and I sincerely hope that McGill reconsiders its choice: for a program that takes relatively little financial resources, the Option has clear and direct benefits to the intellectual community.”
Clinton Glenn, a Ph.D candidate in Art History with the Option in Gender and Women’s Studies told the Daily that “The graduate option courses are invaluable – often times as grad students we become stuck in our own disciplines, so to have the opportunity to hear different perspectives and share my research has been one of the most rewarding parts of my academic career thus far.”
He also stressed the importance of consulting those most impacted by the changes, saying “I would have hoped that if the university was thinking of evaluating the effectiveness of the programme they would reach out to students in the programme to learn more about our experiences and whether eliminating it would have a potential impact on future cohorts of graduate students. I hope that the outpouring of support from the McGill student body, faculty, and alumni will show the university administration how important and vital the graduate option is to our training and development as graduate students.”
The GSFSSA told the Daily that they are “disheartened and frustrated by the sudden decision to suspend our Graduate Option without any consultation. As passionate undergrad students of GSFS we stand in solidarity with IGSF and the Grad program against the unjust actions taken by the Faculty of Arts. We want to point out that this decision was not made in a vacuum, but within a greater institution that does not value the incredible work of Gender, Sexuality, Feminist and Social Justice Studies.”
The Daily also reached out to representatives from the Institute for the Study of International Development (ISID), but at the time of print, they have not responded to request for comment. This article will be updated online when comment is available.