Starting off the 2023-2024 year of Brace Student Fellow Presentations, Max Berkenblit ’24 proposed an introductory-level curriculum that teaches women’s gender and sexuality studies on December 4 in Abbot Hall.
Titled “An Introduction to Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies: A Series of Teach-Ins,” the proposal consisted of four lessons that focused on community, empathy, and understanding. Berkenblit worked with specific themes, or “pillars” for his course, and emphasized the messaging he hoped to leave the attendees with.
“[Empathy, acceptance, and understanding] ended up being the pillars that informed my course, and these ended up being the qualities that I wanted to impart on students. At the end of the day, I care more about if a student can question a source, than if they know all the gender terminology. If they question a source and act with empathy, then they can work to understand another person’s pronouns or gender,” said Berkenblit.
Berkenblit also highlighted the prevalence of gender and land rights. Berkenblit explained how the different lessons within his presentation highlighted different themes, and in particular, one of the lessons focused on the legacies of colonialism.
“For the first lesson, I want to ground the course in the context of decolonization and have students recognize where they are, both physically on Phillips Academy’s land and also where they stand on the American landscape of privilege and power. Lesson two is about gender, and it’s what I like to call the base layer of the cake of women’s gender and sexuality studies. Lesson three focuses on intersectional feminism, particularly examining students’ connotations of it. Lesson four is about sexuality, which has to go with a lot of the other [lessons],” said Berkenblit.
Before the event, Berkenblit shared his thoughts on the process of starting his work on the presentation and the final product. Berkenblit discussed how his idea initially formed, what inspired him to think of creating his curriculum, and why such a curriculum is essential to Andover students specifically.
“I was sitting in a cafe, looking at the State of the Academy [SOTA] data from last year, and I saw a kind of concerning trend of a lot of students identifying the word ‘feminist’ with the Oxford English Definition, but they didn’t identify with the word feminist themselves. [They are] supporting feminism without wanting the name attached. That kind of got me thinking on why that was happening, and the implicit bias many students may hold without realizing it,” said Berkenblit.
Brigitte Leschhorn, Instructor in English, served as Berkenblit’s faculty advisor through the process of the presentation. She reflected on the process of working with Berkenblit, and how it allowed her to examine the rhetoric of different words through the lens of a student.
“I think that a lot of different rhetoric over the years has been used, and the history of that rhetoric of the different words has been a very interesting component to learn about because it has to be discussed within the lessons themselves. Getting to know about Max’s own research around terms like intersexuality and feminism was a really important component of me seeing it from the lens of a student rather than from the lens of someone who has worked with those terms in a more professional capacity,” said Leschhorn.
Tasnia Begum ’26, another attendee, commented on how students who are familiar with gender studies are more likely to participate in intensive gender studies at Andover. Begum continued by remarking that the introduction of a curriculum would then alleviate certain unawareness surrounding the subject.
“I appreciated what someone said about how a lot of people don’t want to try to learn things for the first time. For example for a lot of students in the PASC [Phillips Academy Sustainability Coalition], it’s not their first time learning about sustainability or doing things regarding sustainability. People who have done it previously will do it at Andover. Same for gender studies, you’re not going to learn about gender studies more intensively unless you have done it before,” said Begum.
With the unique format of his presentation as an introduction of the curriculum, Berkenblit showed how Brace presentations have limitless possibilities. He expressed his hopes for students to use the resources and opportunities that they are provided with at Andover, especially in the Brace Center.
“I hope that people see that Brace presentations can be anything that you make of them. Historically they’ve been a research paper on one topic, but All-Gender Housing was actually passed at Andover because of a Brace presentation. I hope that going forward students can see that there are a lot of opportunities for them to pursue their interests…and that they should utilize resources from the Brace Center,” said Berkenblit.