The University Record, February 20, 1996

Guide lists more than 300 courses related to women's health

By Deborah Gilbert
News and Information Services

Three enterprising U-M students have compiled a curricular guide to women's health that lists more than 300 courses on the topic offered at the University.

Mona Kumar, LS&A senior, and Valerie Press, an LS&A junior, collaborated with social work graduate student Laura Katz to develop a comprehensive interdisciplinary resource for students and faculty.

Students can use the guide to create their own women's health major through an Individual Concentration Plan, and faculty can thumb through it to discover who is doing research in their field in other departments and schools.

The guide was a labor of love for both Kumar and Press, who had to struggle to create their own women's health majors without the benefit of any such guide. First, they pored over bulletins from all 19 schools and colleges during an internship for the Michigan Initiative for Women's Health (MIWH) last summer. Then they met with faculty to inquire about the courses and nail down their permission to be listed in the guide. Finally they divided the courses into four tiers---courses directly focused on women's health, courses that include women's health with other issues, and courses less related to women's health but that heighten awareness of issues relevant to women's health. The fourth tier lists new courses and will be updated each year.

"We didn't want students to be misinformed as to the degree of focus on women's health in a particular course," Katz explained.

"Most faculty were really impressed with and thankful for our efforts. Others made comments like, 'I'm teaching a course in mental health. What does that have to do with women?' Then we would explain our comprehensive, multidisciplinary approach to women's health and most would agree to be listed," Kumar said.

"We took a complex systems approach to women's health that incorporates women, children, the workplace, relationships, the environment, economic issues and so on," she added. Courses range from the Behavioral Biology of Women to Occupational Health to Environmental Law to Native American Women Writers.

Assembling the guide was "a very empowering experience," Kumar said. "Students talk a lot about how they wish the school had this or that. We took control and created something that will have an impact on students. We learned that you don't have to sit by passively because you are 'just a student.' Students interested in any field could use this format to raise awareness."

"Sorting the courses into tiers and finding the gaps in curriculum also helped us to clarify our own and society's biases," Katz said. "For instance, we discovered that there is very little attention paid specifically to health issues of women of color or of lesbian women. These gaps can be filled."

The students have presented their guide to a host of administrators, including Provost J. Bernard Machen, and to women's studies students. "The administrators and the provost were very supportive and responsive, and a number of students expressed real interest in the women's health major. It was just what some of them were looking foryou could see the fire in their eyes," Kumar said, her own eyes lighting up.

For more information or to get a copy of the guide, call MIWH at 747-0472 or send e-mail to