The readings are interesting but Professor Halberstam rarely keeps lectures centered around them and you're going to spend almost the entirety of discussion sections having your TA explain what's going on. To be honest, I think the grading was subjective and I really wouldn't recommend the course. I ended up with an 89.8 (which they wouldn't round up even though I went into the final with an 88.9 and got an A), so it's not like I did poorly but when I went to office hours my TA didn't explain what I needed to improve in essays or what had particularly brought my grade lower on the various assignments.
If you can get out of taking Dr. Ambrose's Wednesday section, DO IT. She is probably the least engaging individual I have EVER met. She is a cool person outside of the classroom, but going to her recitation is useless. She provides no help or context, and is one of those professors that pretends to facilitate academic discussion but never actually does. Try and get into any other section-- I don't know how that would be possible because the lecture professors assign them randomly, but good luck with her.
This class was amazing. The readings were so fascinating, and completely changed the way I think about race, power, sex, gender, and colonialism. We read some truly incredible theorists. I love the field, and I love the ideas we were brushing up against. It was also incredibly frustrating. The readings were maddeningly inconsistent - sometimes they would be well-written, readable, and easy to understand, sometimes they would be dense and written in so much jargon that they were unreadable. I still don't understand Hortense Spillers. It often felt like we didn't really have time to unpack what we were doing, and that we were missing out on a lot of context for the readings. This isn't really the professors' fault - almost all social theory writing is unreadable, because that's how academia is. But the course was rushed, and we didn't properly unpack a lot of the complex ideas. That made the course a lot harder than it needed to be.
Do not take this class if you value your tuition money! Poor lecture held only once a week. Professor Ciolkowski was clearly very passionate about her work, however, this passion frequently obstructed her ability to teach the material of the course. She constantly brought up outside work (often from popular culture or her work as a Victiorianist) to the point where we would spend only a fraction of the lecture talking about the reading at hand. Now, this would not be so horrible, as the examples she brought up were often interesting and somewhat relevant, if it were not for the most egregious flaw of the course: lecture was only once a week. When the midterm and final exam are assessing knowledge of the reading, the lectures ought to encourage knowledge of the reading. When there is only one lecture, all of the information of copious reading must be condensed into one hour and fifteen minutes. There is not time for an excess of outside material yet, without fail, every time Professor Ciolkowski would try to fit an excess of material and often sacrifice examination of the readings for that material. The design of this course is inherently flawed or, at the very least, does not allow for Professor Ciolkowski's lecturing style. To speak to the quality of the course in general, I felt that the reading excessive and incohesive as that lectures were similarly ill-planned. In particular, Professor Ciollkowski's lectures were often more about what she found interesting rather than what the readings were actually about, which ultimately hurt the students taking the course since the midterm and final assessments were structured around understanding of the readings. Furthermore, the connections between the themes of each week were scarcely stressed. It felt as if I was taking a sample of several different classes as opposed to one, complex class, and the themes scarcely built upon one another especially in lecture. Overall, I would describe the class as overambitious and unsuccessful in it's goal to be equally complex and wide-reaching and I would attribute this failure to the fact that lecture was only held once a week. Students were only given one lecture from each professor every other week. As a result, I felt that I was getting a quarter of two separate classes (the two professors had completely disparate lecturing/teaching styles) rather than a whole one. So not only was I disappointed in the quality of the class, but, furthermore, I felt I was paying the professors for time not spent teaching.
I really liked Professor Ciolkowski—she was so helpful, nice and bubbly, and I loved hearing her thoughts about the texts we read. A lot of people, for whatever reason, don't love her lectures, but I do. This class is the hardest class I have taken, by far. The reading for this class is unreasonably heavy—at least 200 pages per week, and you must read closely or else you won't be able to do the weekly writing assignment, which is also super lengthy. The midterm is fairly hard, but as long as you read the texts carefully and can summarize the arguments, you'll be fine. Also, the class is a pain because you have to do event reports twice a week. Overall, the workload shouldn't deter you from taking this class, but be prepared for an insane workload, and maybe take one less class that semester (i.e. 4 instead of 5). I learned so much from this class, and I feel infinitely more informed about women and gender issues, as well as race. This class really opened my eyes to the issues in the world.
I think Prof. Kessler-Harris is one the best professors I've ever had. Yes, it's a lot of reading and writing. Get over it. Why would you go to Columbia if you couldn't handle hard work? Honestly, I learned so much! Also, it is clear that she loves the topic. She also know so much about it. She is not just rambing on about a bunch of facts. The title of the course does not come off with that tone most people assume is annoyingly feminist and male-bashing. But it's not like that. It's about giving recognition to women from all sorts of backgrounds (nationality, age, race, etc) by showing they do have a voice. It's amazing to see how much has changed/how little has changed over the years. Also, keep in mind the course is called women and gender, so towards the end of the course you also talk about the difference between sex and gender. One of the things I found most interesting is how our laws are worded to carefully pick and choose who gets which rights... rights that should be human rights. Every class I left, I left in awe as to what I had just heard. If you are ready for a challenging semester, but one that leaves you amazed time after time, definitely take her class. On a final note, for all the guys out there, would you please also get interested in this course? Thanks.
I disagree with the other review of Fall 2008's Intro to Women and Gender Studies. Perhaps because I did agree with many of the topics, I never felt pushed to adhere to a particular opinion. I felt that Professor Tadiar, Professor Kessler-Harris and the many TAs brought very different perspectives to the class. Both of these Professors are incredibly experienced in this field and offer great insight from very different background: Kessler-Harris from the history of the movement, and Tadiar about the more recent, international movement of Feminism. Despite their accomplishments, I found the lecture somewhat boring at times, but it was enhanced when I did the readings on time. My discussion section could be incredibly frustrating at times, but also enlightening because we did have a lot of debate. My TA (Minnie Chiu) was unbelievably available outside of class, and she talked me through my large essays. She also wrote back two pages typed responding to one of my essays. Although we did hop around to various topics, an Intro class on such a broad topic probably necessitates that. This class truly changed the way I see everything, and sparked a deep interest for me in Women's Studies and Feminism.
I entered this class expecting to learn about the feminist movement... typical women's studies stuff. Instead, we ended up with a jumble of different lessons on really random topics. I'm not saying that I didn't learn anything useful, I just felt that the class had such potential and that the professors focused on the wrong things instead of teaching the basics. The reading was HEAVY and, I felt, highly theoretical most of the time, which did more to obscure what we were talking about than to enlighten us, making whatever the topic was much less relateable, as if feminism is something only accessible to the hyper-intellectual. In addition, I felt that the entire course worked under the assumption that everyone in the room held the same very liberal political beliefs-- there was very little room for dissension in that respect. For me, this kind of defeated the whole point of being able to openly discuss/debate, etc. I feel like there was a lot of capitalist bashing, etc, and if we wanted to get good grades on our papers, we had to pretend to adhere to more socialist ideas. Overall, I left the class feeling more confused and frustrated than I was going in-- they could have done a MUCH better job. It's a shame. Also, Kessler-Harris was strict about laptop usage (even though we couldnt get wireless in the classroom), so we had to take all notes by hand.
Natalie Kampen is one of the most engaging professors I've heard lecture. She "gets" her students, and speaks accordingly. Always willing to help out, she's pleasant to deal with. Take this course!!!