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1999 – 2000 | Frances Freeman Paden

Frances Paden

Frances Freeman Paden (Writing Program)

A valiant crew of feminist faculty, students, and staff brought Women's Studies through its first decade, committed to keeping at the core of the discipline tough questions concerning gender identity and sexualities. We were ready to rethink the program and to find a name for it that would be more inclusive, more pertinent to our work, and more likely to attract the students we wanted to teach and the resources we needed. The prospects for change were exciting to me, so with the promise of administrative support for our venture, I agreed to direct the program in 1999-2000. It would be a time of transition.

At the beginning of the academic year, the program established three long-term goals:  broadening our community of scholars, improving our national visibility, and developing further our established excellence in graduate and undergraduate education. We discussed the name of the program at great length and came to the consensus that it should be changed from Women’s Studies to Gender Studies. We identified the current year as a transitional one, with the prospect that the Board of Trustees would approve the name change by June of 2000.

It seemed clear that our first order of business should be to broaden our community of scholars. Doing so would require funding, flexibility, and the cooperation of departments and programs across the university. We had a particular and critical need to enlarge the teaching faculty. At the time only three people held joint appointments in Women’s Studies—Micaela Di Leonardo from Anthropology, Alex Owen from History, and Fran Paden from the Writing Program. For the rest of the curriculum, the program depended on the generosity of departments that agreed to supply teaching units on a contract basis. The situation was an unstable one that put a burden on the program director, who each year had to go hat in hand to departments to request faculty to staff courses.

The Advisory Board recommended to Weinberg College that a system of revolving or term appointments be established and that the number of permanent joint appointments be increased. To work out the logistics of making such appointments, Dean Eric Sundquist appointed an ad hoc committee with members from both inside and outside the program. By the end of the academic year, Cynthia Bowman (Law), Claire Cavanagh (Slavic Studies), and Tessie Liu (History) had been named to revolving appointments effective September 2000.

During the year the program took several additional steps toward broadening its community of scholars. We expanded the Advisory Board to include faculty from outside Weinberg, as well as graduate and undergraduate student representatives. We established a Gender Studies Reading Group and advertised it widely. Forty people enrolled. Among the first readings selected were chapters from Anne Fausto-Sterling’s Sexing the Body, which she provided us in advance of publication. In a third move, a subcommittee of the Advisory Board, working with the dean’s office, laid the groundwork for a series of year-long faculty/graduate seminars that would be dedicated to discussing critical problems in gender and sexuality studies. It was established that participants would be competitively selected and granted modest stipends. A pilot seminar was scheduled for 2001-2002. The seminar took place on schedule under the general direction of Alex Owen, with Cora Kaplan (Southampton University) as seminar leader.

The program’s second goal, improving national visibility, emerged from the first. Our ranks already included leading scholars in women, gender, and sexuality studies. We only needed to find a way to be visible as an organized entity. To launch what would be the new Gender Studies Program, we planned a three-day conference, invited seven plenary speakers, and publicized it widely. With the title “Gender, Race, and Reproduction,” the conference goal was to cut across traditional ways of thinking, asking, for example, how bodies, ideas, and cultures are reproduced across boundaries and generations, and what effect those reproductions have on the understanding of race and gender. The conference was funded by Weinberg College and the Edith Kreeger Wolf endowment and scheduled for November 2000. Invited speakers included the writer Maxine Hong Kingston, Judith Butler, (UC-Berkeley), Hazel Carby (Yale), Rey Chow (UC-Irvine), Anne Fausto-Sterling (Brown), Martha McClintock (Chicago), Constance Penley (Santa Barbara), and Patricia Zavella (UC-Santa Cruz). We knew that our campaign of national advertising succeeded when more than 300 people registered for the conference in advance.

Our third goal for the year was to develop further our excellence in teaching. The faculty saw the transition to Gender Studies as an opportunity to rethink the curriculum, a process that began in 1999 and continued over the next two years. In 1999-2000, we added four new courses that embraced international subjects, as well as a freshman seminar on menstruation taught by Neena Schwartz, a pioneering endocrinologist and the director of Northwestern’s Center for Reproductive Science. We expanded the  faculty-graduate student colloquia and established a new lecture series under the rubric “Debates in Gender Studies.” The undergraduate board, now funded by the Leslie Hoffman endowment, organized four programs during the year, and the Kreeger Wolf endowment underwrote a day with the writer and journalist Katha Pollitt.

At the heart of these changes was the commitment on the part of faculty, students, and staff to a wider and more frequent exchange of ideas. As we began to evolve from Women’s Studies to Gender Studies, the faculty increasingly took programming initiatives, offering lectures and panels sometimes co-sponsored by their home departments. The graduate program expanded its mission on and off campus, with increasing numbers of students publishing and contributing papers to conferences. The undergraduate student board, which now had representatives on the Weinberg Student Advisory Board, the College Feminists, the Women’s Studies Advisory Board, and the Rainbow Alliance, met regularly over bagels at 8 a.m. to hammer out strategies for change, both within the classroom and more widely on campus. The office staff, headed by Marena McPherson, managed budgets, schedules, publicity for events, and a quarterly newsletter, while also keeping new books on the shelves and cookies by the coffee pot.

Common to all of us was the powerful sense of engagement and the high level of activity in the Program that year, an awareness of people and ideas moving forward. The Women’s Studies Program, so successful in its own right, celebrated its new identity when, on June 12, 2000, Northwestern’s Board of Trustees voted to change its name to Gender Studies.