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February 23, 2004

Alumni spearhead drive to film professor’s course

By Scott Rappaport

Each fall, 500 students enroll in Professor Bettina Aptheker’s Introduction to Feminism course at UCSC. The class is always full, and the waiting list is always long.

Women’s studies professor Bettina Aptheker has been teaching her acclaimed Introduction to Feminism class at UCSC for the past 24 years.
Photo by Scott Rappaport

A scholar of history with a national reputation for her talents as an instructor, Aptheker has been teaching this popular course for the past 24 years.

Starting out in 1980 as the sole lecturer in UCSC’s Women’s Studies Department, she became the department’s first ladder-rank faculty member in 1987 and was honored with the Alumni Association’s Distinguished Teaching Award in 2001.

Students often describe their time in Aptheker’s class as a “life-changing experience” and an “eye-opener.” A deeply compelling speaker, Aptheker, incorporates art, poetry, guest speakers, historical essays, slides, videos, and music into a multifaceted, multimedia course that lingers in the minds of undergraduates long after they leave the classroom.

One of those former students decided last year that the time was ripe to capture Aptheker’s lectures on film. Eric Zamost first took her course in 1989 and also served as an undergraduate assistant for Aptheker’s class the following year.

“I saw the tremendous positive effect Professor Aptheker’s classes had on her students, and wished she could reach an even broader audience,” Zamost explained. “I had been wishing for years that someone would film her Introduction to Feminism course, but eventually it became clear that wishing alone was not going to make it happen. So I approached her with the idea and found her receptive.”

Zamost teamed up with fellow alum Nicolette Czarrunchick, manager of UCSC's Women’s Studies Department, to start a letter-writing campaign to raise money for the project. So far, that has brought in approximately $4,000. Women’s studies lecturer Peggy Downes Baskin also contributed a gift of $10,000 to help cover filming costs. Czarrunchick said they hope to ultimately raise another $20,000 for editing and distribution expenses.

The goal is to produce a broadcast-quality, multicamera video of Aptheker’s course through one full academic quarter, and to make DVD copies available--at cost--to universities and high schools throughout the country. The tapes could also be used in the future as source material for a potential documentary film about Aptheker’s life.

“There is a filmmaker who has been helping us with the project,” Aptheker said. “She’s been a videographer for many years, contributing to PBS, as well as a host of other companies. Right now we’re in the preliminary stages of discussing the possibility of doing a documentary. She’s reading a draft of the memoirs I just finished.”

To date, more than 66 hours of raw footage has been filmed, covering 18 lectures from Aptheker’s class. The topics range from racism and violence against women, to body image and women’s history. She said they hope to have the DVDs edited and ready for distribution by 2005, which would coincide with the 30th anniversary of the Women’s Studies Department.

“We particularly want to get the DVDs into the high schools because domestic violence, childhood abuse, and sexual violence are very pervasive in our society,” Aptheker noted. “And mostly there is very little analysis at the high school level of why that is, and how girls and women can protect and empower themselves.”

Aptheker added that she borrows from the best work of feminist scholars to synthesize and organize new ways of thinking.

“My class deals with the many gender, race, class, and sexuality interests in people’s lives,” she observed. “There’s a lot of theory available, but it’s not often presented in an accessible way that high school students--or incoming university students--can understand.

Contributions to this project can be sent to the Women’s Studies Department, University of California, Santa Cruz, 1156 High Street, Santa Cruz, CA 95064. For more information, contact department manager Nicolette Czarrunchick at (831) 459-4324.

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