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WILL* Central Components

WILL* works by combining an academic foundation in women, gender, and sexuality studies (WGSS) with a vibrant community of students to create a shared intellectual space of analysis and action. By connecting curriculum with related programming and a student leadership organization, students implement what they learn, develop leadership skills, and emerge as engaged citizens.

WILL*’s theory-to-practice model ensures that students take the foundational feminist theories from the classroom and apply them outside of the classroom. The central components work together to create and a more robust and well-rounded student experience.

The WILL* program has been replicated at both public and private universities with great success. This model can be adapted to fit the needs and realities of your campus. Going strong since its founding in 1980, WILL* at the University of Richmond focuses on a student-driven experience that emphasize an academic foundation, leadership, activism, and community.

Academic Foundation

The academic foundation provides students with a common intellectual framework through coursework in women, gender, and sexuality studies. As a result, students come to their work and conversations both in and out of the classroom with a similar knowledge base that ensures a nuanced understanding of feminist concepts and theories. Having a shared intellectual background allows students to delve deeper in their interactions as they work together to build and implement their ideas through the student leadership organization. 

At UR, each WILL* student earns a minor in women, gender and sexuality studies (WGSS), which includes an internship, in a WILL*-specific way:

  • Students take two WILL*-only courses: one at the beginning of the program (WILL* Colloquium: Gender, Race and Activism) and one the semester before they graduate (WILL* Senior Seminar). The WILL* experience is thus "bookended," creating intellectual community and continuity over the course of the four year-program.
  • Students are required to take the course Gender and Work, which examines the gendered nature of both historical and contemporary workplace issues from a global perspective.
  • Students are required to complete an internship either simultaneous with or subsequent to Gender and Work.

Career Preparation

WILL* takes career preparation seriously. Students learn to translate their academic experience into job preparation by participating in a series of skills-building workshops, creating e-portfolios, and working closely with Career Services. Additionally, WILL's supervised internship also prepares students for the world of work.

In place since 1980, the internship epitomizes two central goals of WILL*: connecting the curricular and co-curricular and putting theory into practice. Internship sites reflect student interests; whatever the site, students must examine the experience, in all its complexity, through a WGSS lens. Students record their observations and analysis in a required journal and subsequent paper. Through this experience, students learn to navigate workplace culture and to better understand structural issues related to work-life balance.

Leadership

WILL* cultivates student leadership and informed activism. WILL* gives students the tools to take initiative and integrate their classroom learning with out-of-the-classroom engagement — both on their own and as part of the student leadership organization. This dedicated space for students creates community, engenders leadership, and offers a structure conducive to activism. For example, one student took the tools she gained from WILL* and implemented a leadership program for HIV-positive girls in Rwanda.

The student leadership organization is one of the key co-curricular features that distinguishes membership in WILL* from simply completing a major or minor in WGSS. WILL* students have the organizational structure to take action on the issues they study in the classroom. Theory and practice are thus connected and mutually enhanced. Students have an elected leadership team, which plans required educational meetings and community engagement events, as well as optional social activities for the entire membership. Students form a deep sense of community as they support one another and work together to achieve their goals.

Activism

Students engage with the broader campus community and greater Richmond community through their participation in a wide-ranging series of events and programs. These events include lobbying for women’s issues at the Virginia General Assembly, mentoring in local schools, and working at local domestic violence shelters. 

Students also complete a gender action project as part of their coursework, generally as first year students, in order to gain the tools necessary to successfully bridge classroom learning and community engagement. Recently, students taught sexual education courses at a local high school, conducted a positive body image campaign on campus, and held a series of events related to ending global human trafficking as part of their projects. 

Community

Students form deep connections and close friendships with one another across their four years in the program. WILL*’s holistic theory-to-practice model, which engages students both in and out of the classroom, allows them to draw on a strong base of support that enables them to stand up for their beliefs and put their WGSS knowledge into practice.

Collective experiences both in and out of the classroom also build a shared intellectual community among students. To further cultivate this community, WILL* brings scholars, activists, and/or performers to campus as part of an annual speaker series. These programs, open to the entire campus and Richmond community, spark campus-wide discussion, and often action, on important social justice issues. These co-curricular events work hand-in-hand with the WILL* curriculum to create integrative learning experiences for WILL* students. For example, WILL* students often meet with the speaker in small groups; read the person’s book in class; and/or attend a workshop facilitated by the speaker in addition to the public lecture.

Student Voices

“[Through WILL*], I learned how to think critically and to question systems. I learned to explore the meaning of equality and freedom on a deeper level and to analyze the myth of meritocracy in America. I learned to talk productively with people who have different beliefs than my own. I learned to access resources and meet people with similar beliefs. I learned to become confident in myself and to trust my intellect and instincts, and to not be afraid to make mistakes or change my mind.” —WILL* student, 2012-13