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Inside Iowa State, a newspaper for faculty and staff, is published by the Office of University Relations.

October 7, 2005

ISU faculty assist with gender studies effort at Ukrainian university

by Samantha Beres and Anne Krapfl

The last few years in post-communist Ukraine read like a TV drama -- only they're not. Victor Yushchenko, the handsome banker-turned-politician, was poisoned weeks before the national election last fall. When he lost the election and called foul play, a revolution followed. After a revote 37 days later, he was declared president of Ukraine. Most recently, he sacked his own prime minister.

To help with the growing pains of this emerging democracy, the women's studies program at Iowa State has developed a partnership with the Center for Gender Studies at Kharkiv National University in Ukraine.

Content and method

It's a three-year project that started in fall 2003 and officially wraps up next August. Faculty from both universities are working together on self-contained curriculum units that look at how gender relates to democracy and market economies. They focus on issues people are going through, for example, what's going on politically or the influence of Western ideas. Faculty at both schools will use these "modules" in existing courses.

Through seminars and classroom observations, Iowa State faculty also are sharing their teaching methods with the Kharkiv faculty, introducing an active, student-centered approach that is a far cry from the old European model of lecture- and lecturer-centered.

"They're going through a transition from a planned economy to a market economy, from a one-party government to a democratic system. It's the very kind of a transition that has caused a lot of upheavals in the society," said Jill Bystydzienski, director of the women's studies program.

She added that women have been the victims of the transitions. When jobs are cut, women are the first to go. In scientific institutes, it was the women who were phased out. "So you have this situation where women who are highly educated are selling whatever they can in street markets," said Bystydzienski.

Campus exchange visits

Four faculty from Kharkiv are visiting Iowa State through November. They're observing in classrooms, attending programs in the Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching, offering seminars on gender aspects of research and higher education in Ukraine, and working on the curriculum units. Iowa State faculty teams twice have visited Kharkiv and a third visit is planned next spring.

Bystydzienski said an important idea to convey in Ukraine is that a successful democracy requires participatory citizens, which in turn requires critical thinkers. Education can help launch that process, she said.

In addition to use of the curriculum units, Iowa State's women's studies faculty are acquiring current information on the post-socialist countries, especially Ukraine, to use in their classes.

"It adds a comparative view to our teaching, which is something we don't have a lot of," said Sharon Bird, associate professor of sociology and affiliate of the women's studies program.

Bird piloted last spring one of the first curriculum units completed. She developed it with associate professor of philosophy Sergey Zherebkin of Kharkiv. It's designed for use in upper undergraduate or graduate courses and was intended to cover about three 50-minute classes.

"I found that it took about twice that long. The students were interested and had a lot of questions," she said.

The unit looks at masculinity in a post-Soviet state, in which feelings of nationalism remain strong. In other words, it matters in that society whether you're of Ukrainian or Russian (or another) ethnicity. Students were asked to consider the subordination of some ethnicities and the effects on both the men and women.

About a dozen curriculum units should be completed by next August.

Expensive yet poor quality Internet service in Ukraine has altered initial plans to share the curriculum units, via online distance education, with women's studies programs in Ukraine and other former Soviet republics. Allan Schmidt, assistant director of CELT who is assisting with the partnership, said other formats, such as CD-ROM, are being studied as alternatives.


"They're going through a transition from a planned economy to a market economy, from a one-party government to a democratic system. It's the very kind of a transition that has caused a lot of upheavals in the society."

Jill Bystydzienski