Thirty-four years and many shared experiences later, the department served as lead host for one of the largest NWSA conferences to date. About 1,500 feminist scholars and activists gathered this summer for an event titled "Resisting Hegemonies: Race and Sexual Politics in Nation, Region, Empire."
(Media-Newswire.com) - When the National Women's Studies Association formed in 1977, one of its founding members was the then-3-year-old Department of Women's Studies in McMicken College of Arts and Sciences.
Thirty-four years and many shared experiences later, the department served as lead host for one of the largest NWSA conferences to date. About 1,500 feminist scholars and activists gathered this summer for an event titled "Resisting Hegemonies: Race and Sexual Politics in Nation, Region, Empire." Keynote speaker was Patricia Hill Collins, a UC Professor Emerita who served as the Charles Phelps Taft Professor of Sociology in the Department of African and African-American Studies and as Women's Studies affiliated faculty.
A social theorist, Collins' research, scholarship and activism have examined intersecting power relations of race, gender, social class, sexuality and/or nation. That background meshed well with a conference theme of race and sexual politics chosen "because of the special need in Cincinnati to address racial, sexual and gender inequalities," says Anne Sisson Runyan, Department of Women's Studies head. "The historic democratic presidential campaign also made it important to focus on race and gender politics."
The opportunity for faculty, students, staff and friends to present and be associated with such a successful conference "was great for our students, especially graduate students," says Runyan.
At the time the department was forming in McMicken, Runyan was an early undergraduate in Canada, where women's studies developed more slowly, she says.
"I recall the excitement of second-wave feminism even as a high-school student who started a women's liberation club and went to my first feminist conference ( at Temple University ) when I was in high school," says Runyan – who also got her first subscription to Ms. Magazine at that time.
"As someone who created and/or grew three women's studies programs and a campus women's center since the '90s, I would say we have come a long way in a relatively short time in terms of the institutionalization of the field and such centers."
Still, according to a recent NWSA study available on the NWSA Web site, among almost 850 women's studies programs across the U.S., many still remain under-resourced ( and many still offer only undergrad minors ) "even as feminist scholarship in most disciplines has ballooned and become a central and considered cutting-edge mode of inquiry," Runyan says.
She is very proud of "so much volunteer struggle bearing so much high level scholarship, program development and interdisciplinary legitimization."
"It is important to note that women's studies is also recognized for cutting-edge feminist pedagogy that was the mother of what is called today participatory learning, service learning and interdisciplinary learning," Runyan says. "It is also the case that there is still a ways to go in terms of institutional support within the academy commensurate with the importance of the field to transforming so many other disciplines and education and support services more generally."
Professor of English Deb Meem, co-graduate director for Women's Studies, says the department has specific strengths in global/transnational feminisms and in sexuality studies.
"In fact, we are finding that prospective graduate students are seeking us out on the basis of these strengths even though we do not offer the PhD, but only the MA," she says. "The recent NWSA conference here in Cincinnati gave us a real opportunity to showcase our faculty and students academically, and also to recruit future students to the MA program. It also allowed people to experience what Cincinnati has to offer – the city and the university are now significantly improved over the boycott days of six or seven years ago."
In addition to plenary and small sessions and workshops, cultural events and feminist entertainment were featured. Adjunct English instructor Kathy Y. Wilson's one-woman show, "Your Negro Tour Guide," was staged, as was a concert by MUSE, the Cincinnati's popular women's choir.
Meem has sung with MUSE since the fall of 1988, and "it is the primary reason I have stayed in Cincinnati rather than moving on," she says. "Not only does MUSE perform choral music of high quality, but the choir functions as a kind of 'objective correlative' for progressive folks in Cincinnati.
"In a relentlessly corporate-run, Republican city, MUSE represents the left at its best. It is also a place where a diverse group of lesbians and straight women and others who do not choose to identify either way coalesce around music, and social justice, and friendship. MUSE strives to create an intimate, direct connection with our audiences; we have our loyal longtime supporters, and are always working to expand our audience base through different repertoire choices. Our music director, Catherine Roma, is a person of unlimited vision, and MUSE's 25-year success has hinged largely upon her creativity and intensity."
The fact that women now make up the majority of undergrads and have reached parity in many professional and grad programs makes it all the more important to support women-centered education and support services, Runyan says.
"Women's Studies itself and support services have also been transforming to focus on women ( and men ) in all their diversity – being the most conscious of gender, race, class, sexuality, nationality and physical ability differences that require a study of all these inequalities and services to reduce them," she says. "This broadened agenda borne of intersectional analysis requires more resources."
This story was released on 2008-08-03. Please make sure to visit the official company or organization web site to learn more about the original release date. See our disclaimer for additional information.