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1986 – 1987 | Sylvie Romanowski

Sylvie Romanowski

Sylvie Romanowski (French and Italian)

I became chair at a time of transition when the Women’s Studies Certificate Program was created: the former Program on Women was split into two parts, an academic entity (Women’s Studies) and a non-academic entity, the Women’s Center. The beginnings of the Program were modest: I had an office in the Women’s Center, I did not have a computer, and a work-study student at the Women’s Center worked for me part of the time. I worked with the steering committee (I am not sure of its composition: I believe that Rae Moses and Nancy Fraser were members; other members might have included Janet Abu-Lughod, Val Bunce, Arlene Daniels, Christine Froula, and Jenny Mansbridge). One of our main tasks was to hire the first full-time faculty in Women’s Studies, and we interviewed several candidates, but unfortunately we were not able to hire anyone during that year. We did have a visiting professor for the Spring Quarter of 1987, Carol Stack.

Apart from ensuring that Women’s Studies would survive at Northwestern and grow as a free-standing academic program, the chief success of the Women’s Studies Program was the co-sponsoring of a conference, Gender/Culture/Politics, with the (then) Program in Comparative Literature and Theory, held at Northwestern April 10-12, 1987. This conference was designed principally to put Women’s Studies on the map not only at Northwestern but to enhance its reputation widely. It was multi-disciplinary, attracting scholars from various fields including literature, political science, history, and philosophy, and it featured many prominent women scholars and writers from the US, Europe, and Asia. The presenters included the writers Monique Wittig, Bell Hooks, the scholars Catherine Gallagher, Nancy Hartsock, Barbara Nelson, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Ann Snitow, and the philosopher Sarah Kofman, among many others. The conference was supported by grants from a variety of organizations, including the Georges Lurcy Charitable and Educational Trust, the Edith Kreeger-Wolf Distinguished Professorship, Northwestern’s Graduate School, the College of Arts and Sciences, the Women’s Center, the Alumnae Board of Northwestern University. Additional support came from seven individual departments (African-American Studies, Anthropology, English, Hispanic Studies, Philosophy, Political Science, Sociology), the Organization of Women Faculty, and the Women’s Studies Residential College. The Women’s Studies Program worked actively to secure some of this funding. I append the text of the proposal below, as it reflects the new status of Women’s Studies on this campus, and the state of women’s studies generally at the time, as being a still relatively new and expanding field. In addition to the talks, there was a banquet, a concert, and a book exhibit. In conjunction with the conference, the Special Collections department of the Library mounted a book exhibit at the library, and in the winter quarter of 1987, Nancy Fraser gave a graduate philosophy seminar with the same title as the conference, to prepare graduate students specifically for the conference.