Reproduction: Gender, Race, and Power

Fall 2017
Winter 2018
Class Size: 50
Credits per quarter

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Taught by

health science, public health, bioethics
Elizabeth Williamson
English literature, theater studies

This program will offer an overview of human reproduction, paying particular attention to gender and race as vectors of power that affect how reproduction is discussed, legislated, and experienced in the United States. We will explore interrelated lines of inquiry using literature, philosophy, sociology, ethics, human biology, and public health texts; in other words, this program will not attempt to construct a systematic history, but will rather use a series of case studies to develop an intersectional analysis of reproduction as a phenomenon that cannot be separated from issues of race and gender.

The study of reproduction is, by its very nature, interdisciplinary. Students who are successful in this program will gain a foundation in reproductive physiology, basic genetics, and endocrinology, and they will apply their learning to specific issues such as the susceptibility of the reproductive body to societal influences and stress through epigenetics. Our examination of the biology of reproduction will include some lab work in microscopy and dissections, and students will demonstrate their learning through workshops, problem sets, and examinations.

Biology is also shaped and defined by cultural norms. Accordingly, we will collectively dismantle the idea that women are defined as such by an innate reproductive capacity, and the syllabus will include texts that address the experiences of trans and gender-nonconforming individuals. We will also discuss the ways in which contraception, abortion, forced sterilization, genetic testing, and other forms of reproductive control both reflect, and have been used to perpetuate, systemic racism. In all aspects of the program, students will be expected to engage in thoughtful and occasionally challenging conversations about how power and privilege operate on a variety of bodies, including our own.

Through both formal and informal assignments, this program will help students learn to listen and observe attentively, do close and critical reading with challenging texts, contribute clear and well-developed writing, make relevant contributions to seminar discussions, and acquire and demonstrate physiologic reasoning skills. In our pursuit of diverse perspectives and approaches, we’ll welcome a variety of health care providers as guest speakers, and will participate in a few field trips to local clinics, hospitals, and birth centers. The reading list will include texts such as Michel Foucault’s TheHistory of Sexuality , Dorothy Roberts’ Fatal Invention , and Rickie Solinger’s Pregnancy and Power. In order to foster critical engagement with these and other texts, students will be asked to complete weekly papers as well as integrative essays and in-class reflective writing assignments. In the second quarter of the program, students will be given the opportunity to design and execute a self-directed independent research project.

This offering will prepare you for careers and advanced study in:

health professions; social work; activism; graduate school in the humanities, sociology, feminist studies, and political change


Credits per quarter

Online learning:
  • Enhanced Online Learning - This offering requires access to web-based tools, but use of these tools does not displace any face-to-face instruction.

$25 in fall for entrance fees and tickets. 

Class Standing: Junior–Senior
Class Size: 50

Scheduled for: Day

Advertised schedule:

First class meeting: Tuesday, September 26 at 10am (Sem II A3105)

Located in: Olympia

May be offered again in:


2018-02-16winter fee cancelled.
2017-11-15This program will accept new enrollment without signature. Students joining the program will be expected to complete some readings and a writing assignment prior to the start of winter.
2017-01-23This program is now offered to Juniors and Seniors.