2016 Liberal Arts Forum
Guest Speaker Stephanie Coontz Speaks About Changes in Family Structure and Social Norms
By Aria Cummings
The Liberal Arts Forum takes place every winter quarter, centered on a different theme deemed significant to students, faculty, staff, alumni, and community members. This year’s focus was the changing nature of the American family structure and how the idea of “traditional family” has evolved over time. The Liberal Arts Forum is put on by Evening and Weekend Studies program.
The guest speaker chosen to speak at this year’s forum was Stephanie Coontz, a retired Evergreen faculty member who has written several books. Coontz taught history and family studies at Evergreen for more than 30 years, and is the author of The Way We Never Were: American Families and the Nostalgia Trap; A Strange Stirring: The Feminine Mystique and American Women at the Dawn of the 1960s; and Marriage, A History: How Love Conquered Marriage. She has also appeared on late night television, talk shows, and several prime-time documentaries.
Coontz now serves as co-chair and director of public education at the Council on Contemporary Families, a nonprofit, nonpartisan association of family researchers and practitioners based in Chicago at the University of Illinois. Their website states their mission “is to enhance the national understanding of how and why contemporary families are changing, what needs and challenges they face, and how these needs can best be met.”
At the forum, Coontz talked about how American families have transformed away from nuclear families towards more diverse family structures. This includes cross-cultural families and LGBTQ families. She also focused on single-parent and working-parent families, as society has shifted away from the structure of stay-at-home moms and breadwinning dads. She not only observed the changes in families but discussed the cultural shift toward these structures becoming normalized.
After Coontz spoke, the forum transitioned into a small group seminar in which groups were given a few questions to talk about regarding the changes in family structure and had the opportunity to ask Coonts questions that came up during the discussion.
Other questions Coontz answered were how she felt about government policies’ influence on family structure. Coontz responded, commenting about how proud she was of those who are advocating for LGBTQ rights, and specifically mentioned how lawmakers are taking steps towards enshrining more legal protections for the transgender community.
This forum challenged my ideas of what defines the “traditional” family structure is, and how it will keep on changing into the future, as culture norms shift and continue to incorporate more diversity.