Presenting alternatives is the goal at Stonehill
North Easton, Mass.
"There is no way a college course is going to change people's lives," says Prof. Rosemary Twomey, head of the history department at Stonehill College. "All that our students can hang on to is certain books and certain authors that we introduce them to here," she adds quickly. And then she explains how important such introductions are in her courses. Unitl now, this feminist explains gently to a male journalist, books have been overwhelmingly dominated by men and by the male point of view.
To correct the imbalance, Professor Twomey teachers a Western civilization course that includes "critical materials that are not yet acceptable to the scholarly tradition." She draws on "articles by women anthropologists who have rebelled against traditional interpretations."
This committed radical historian welcomes Stonehill's atmosphere of academic freedom, which allows her to range far beyond her own field. She touches on anthropology, along with sociology, psychology, and economics, as she retraces history from a feminist perspective. Beginning with prehistory, she leads her students (both male and female) through the 16th-century fascination with witches up to modern times.
Her object, she insists, is not to convert anyone to feminism. Instead, she explains that through her courses, "at least intellectually, these students will have had a number of alternatives opened up to them."
She hopes her students will learn that any set of "facts" is capable of being interpreted in a variety of ways. Once students have reached this point, then it's up to the student, Professor Twomey maintains. She says that "they have to make a decision whether or not they will accept any particular interpretation."
Stonehill, on a quiet rural campus with 1,700 students and 116 faculty members, makes room for feminism as part of an overall response to student needs. The Rev. Robert Kruse, who is academic dean and a Stonehill alumnus who returned after graduate school in Rome to teach religious studies here for 18 years, argues forcefully that "you do want a variety of viewpoints."
"In fairness to your students," he says, "you have to present a wide range of philosophical viewpoints, methodological approaches, and ethical factors."
In a tweed jacket and corduroy trousers suited to this country-house setting, Mr. Kruse stresses that
Dean Kruse describes Stonehill's objective: "To build that critical cast of mind that will enable our students to confront a wide range of viewpoints by taking responsibility for their decisions, and with confidence in their own capacity as thinkers."
Stonehill, perhaps, has an edge in presenting alternative viewpoints, thanks to having been established by the Holy Cross Fathers. The direct link was broken in 1972, but Stonehill remains "Christian in orientation, Catholic in tradition." Today a number of Stonehill graduates work in Holy Cross missions in Uganda, Bangladesh, Peru, and Chile. Mr. Kruse points out that "most of us have friends who are in trouble with dictatorships in one part of the world or another."
Particularly because of Stonehill graduates' experiences in Latin America, the college takes a distinctly open-minded attitude toward Marxism and left-wing thought in general. Dr. Kruse comments very simply and directly that "I'm sympathetic to teaching Marxism and feel there is a great deal in Marxist thought that has to be taken very seriously."
He explains that "the study of Marxist economic theory is very important, because it is an immensely powerful world force. If you really want to understand it, you have got to study it sympathetically, try to enter into their thinking, try to find out why Marxists have such enthusiasm."
He adds that "this is not to say that I have any sympathy with Marxist regimes." But teaching Marxism -- or feminism -- has a place at Stonehill, because familiarity with such perspectives is seen as necessary background for a student if he or she is to become a responsible citizen.
Robert Kruse explains that the college and its faculty have an obligation to make students aware that "any kind of regime, whether Marxist or a Western democracy, is going to have its flaws." As academic dean, he is clearly determined to give Stonehill students a chance to see the flaws as well as the selling points on both sides of the East-West political fence.