Studying these cells could lead to new treatments for diseases ranging from gastrointestinal disease to diabetes.
Five years ago, Dr. Ruth Perry, professor of literature and founding director of MIT's Women's Studies Program, developed a concept for advancing the "new scholarship on women" at the graduate level.
"The mainstreaming of women's studies at the undergraduate level has produced a powerful reconfiguration of knowledge," said Professor Perry, explaining her thinking at the time. "But it must continue to evolve more advanced interdisciplinary coursework to reinvigorate feminist research, scholarship, and theory, and to train future women's studies scholars."
Her ideas on the subject led to discussions with colleagues at other institutions and brought about almost instant and universal agreement. The exceptional concentration of highly regarded graduate institutions and prominent feminist thinkers in the Boston area was seen as a unique opportunity to pool these resources toward this end.
As a result, MIT and six other colleges and universities-Radcliffe, Boston College, Brandeis, Harvard, Northeastern and Tufts-have established the first Graduate Consortium in Women's Studies in the United States.
In its pilot program, based at Radcliffe, the consortium is offering team-taught courses to doctoral students at the member institutions. The first course, "Feminist Perspectives in Research: Interdisciplinary Practice in the Study of Gender," is being team-taught by sociologist Shulamit Reinharz of Brandeis, and two Northeastern scholars, historian Laura Levine Frader and literary critic Mary Loeffelholz.
More than 50 qualified students applied for the spring semester course, and 25 were enrolled.
Over the next four years, the consortium expects to offer between 16 and 24 courses that will reach approximately 200 doctoral degree students and involve 50 faculty as teachers.
The consortium also plans to offer symposia and conferences that will be open to everyone, including a forum in May on "Women and the International Corporate Economy."
Professor Perry, who founded the MIT Women's Studies Program 10 years ago and who co-chairs the new consortium's board of directors with Joyce Antler of Brandeis, said that the curriculum development on consortium courses "is light years ahead of anything I've seen anywhere else."
Commented Ms. Antler, "The consortium's inter-disciplinary, cross-institutional, and team-taught seminars chart a new direction in graduate training. I expect it will become a national model for women's studies pedagogy."
A version of this article appeared in the March 10, 1993 issue of MIT Tech Talk (Volume 37, Number 25).