Letter From the Director

Sharlene Hesse-Biber, Ph.D. Professor of Sociology  Director, Women’s and Gender Studies Program

Dr. Sharlene Hesse-Biber, Director

Welcome to the Women’s and Gender Studies Program (WGS)!

Our program is one of the first interdisciplinary programs founded at Boston College and we continue to offer an amazing array of courses that cross many disciplinary borders (e.g., social sciences, ethics, politics, literature, art, history, theology). In light of the coming academic year, I want to briefly examine some of the unique contributions our Women’s and Gender Studies Program makes with regards to principles of interdisciplinarity and social justice.

I want to stress the importance of what it means for a program to have an interdisciplinary perspective. There is often some confounding of an interdisciplinary approach with a multidisciplinary one. Julia Thompson Klein (1990; 1996) wrote extensively about this by noting that multidisciplinarity juxtaposes disciplines "with little to no interaction or transformation; additive, not integrative or transformative in approach" (Klein, l990:24). Multidisciplinarity can often mask itself as interdisciplinary when it simply adds a "speaker a week" or a reading a week from a different discipline, with little integration of topics or issues occurring from week to week.

The praxis of interdisciplinarity is a pedagogical process that consists of placing in conversation or dialogue knowledge from one or more disciplines. It is a pedagogy that challenges students to integrate new knowledge from other disciplines into their world view. A disciplinary way of knowing, in contrast, takes the stance of first defending one’s disciplinary position or moving toward converging ideas that often shuts down the exploration of alternate ways of knowing. Interdisciplinarity strives to encourage a mental model of openness to other points of view and seeks out multiple perspectives onto a given social issue or policy-making initiative. In my own teaching within an interdisciplinary environment, I often observe first-hand the difficulty some students encounter when asked to switch their knowledge building mind-set in the service of integrating new knowledge from a range of disciplinary perspectives. Interdisciplinary praxis strives to embrace the space in-between knowledge perspectives. It is a transformative pedagogical process requiring students to deconstruct their own disciplinary knowledge home in order to interweave new disciplinary knowledge together into a new and complex pattern of understanding.

Many feminist scholars have engaged with interdisciplinary perspectives and use a range of descriptive terms for engaging with the interdisciplinary process. What is similar about many of their comments is the image of working at the border or crossroads of disciplines. For example, Paula Gunn Allen (1992) uses the term "border studies," to describe the work of scholars whose research crosses the borders of multiple disciplines. Teresa de Lauretis (1988) notes that working from an interdisciplinary perspective often requires creativity and risk-taking as scholars negotiate a " delicate balance" between being " at home" and being " in exile" (de Lauretis, 1988: 138-139).

Our Women’s and Gender Studies faculty strive to embrace and bring into dialogue a range of new disciplinary perspectives in the service of uncovering rich new meanings that can also include the reassessment of theoretical constructs and ways forward in terms of social justice issues that lie beyond students’ disciplinary boundaries.

Although the experience of being in an interdisciplinary classroom sounds auspicious, the knowledge and synergy gained in crossing disciplinary boundaries provides for the asking of a range of new questions; calling forth new knowledge that honor those voices often left out of the mainstream.

I can’t wait for you to join our program to begin crossing new knowledge borders that awaits you!

My best wishes on your academic journey.

Sharlene Hesse-Biber, Ph.D.
Professor of Sociology
Director, Women’s and Gender Studies Program

P.S., While the rise of Covid-19 presents a threat to the Boston College classroom, the Women’s and Gender Studies Program is confident in its ability to adapt and react to the ongoing crisis to ensure your personal success now and throughout the academic year. Please continue to count on us to provide ample resources and support, whether we are teaching (in the classroom or online), researching, or engaging with interdisciplinary programming on campus to spark important BC conversations at this time.


  • de Lauretis, Teresa (1988). "Displacing Hegemonic Discourses: Reflections on Feminist Theory in the l980s" Inscriptions 3(4):l27-l45.

  • Klein, Julie Thompson (1990). Interdisciplinarity: History, Theory and Practice. Detroit, Michigan: Wayne State University Press.

  • Klein, Julie Thompson (1996). Crossing Boundaries: Knowledge, Disciplinarities, and Interdisciplinarities. Charlottesville, Virginia: University of Virginia.