When women’s studies programs first emerged, in the 1970s, they were shoestring operations, created by professors who wanted to merge their professional lives with their political lives. Some had marched, others had written for feminist periodicals, but all shared the desire to transform the university into a place more hospitable to women, in policies and curricula. They began a “long march across the disciplines,” as feminist scholar Rachel Blau DuPlessis put it in a seminar back in the 1990s; her allusion to Mao’s famous march from Canton to Xian province, long before he would complete his communist revolution in China, suggested a that making universities more feminist would require a similar mix of endurance, commitment, and daring, one that could not be achieved in days or weeks but would require years, even decades. And that implicit gesture toward revolution invoked subversive, transformative practices. Though the reality was much less dramatic, women studies pioneers emphasized feminist modes of inquiry that questioned standard assumptions about scope, methodology, and appropriate boundaries. Women’s studies ranged across the disciplines, informing practice with theory and theory with practice moved from theory to practice to theory, and insisted on truly interdisciplinary inquiry that allowed questions of gender and sexuality to upset the ideological apple cart on a regular basis.
Much has changed, including the evolution of women’s studies programs into gender and sexuality studies and the investment of most universities in gender studies departments. Certainly, institutional status has been important for the longevity of gender studies as it has evolved into a stand-alone discipline. But something has also been lost—not only disruptive conversations between scholars of different disciplines about questions of gender and sexuality, but collaborations between gender studies programs and women’s centers, where programming and advocacy inform teaching and scholarship. The recent decision of the National Women’s Studies Association to exclude women’s center directors from the steering committee of the association suggests that the consolidation of gender studies as a stand-alone academic discipline has alienated NWSA from its activist roots.
The University of Mississippi never invested in its gender studies program as other universities did in the 1970s and 1980s; unlike many of our SEC peers, we have no tenure track faculty in gender studies, no separate women’s center and gender studies program, and very little infrastructure and institutional support. This is an ongoing challenge FOR the Sarah Isom Center, make no mistake. And yet, perhaps because of this, we remain closer to the original disruptive vision of gender studies as an interdisciplinary venture, one that brings the energy, expertise, and enthusiasm of scholars and activists from a number of disciplines, experiences, nationalities, ethnicities, and sexualities to create innovative scholarship and programming.Read more...
The Sarah Isom Center for Women and Gender Studies researches, educates, and advocates for diversity, social justice, racial and gender equality, and the rights of the LGBTQ community. We reject any action that, intentionally or not, contributes to the creation of a climate of fear and hostility, and we condemn the racist, white supremacists, xenophobic, homophobic, and sexist hate speech and acts that continue to mar civic life, most recently in Charlottesville. The national pattern of harassment and violence against women, racial, ethnic, and religious minorities, and the LGBTQ community are unacceptable in our university community.
To all those feeling vulnerable, please consider the Sarah Isom Center for Women and Gender Studies as a sanctuary. Our classes, offices (located on the 3rd floor of Lamar Hall), and affiliates are resources for you, any time you need them.
At its best, a university is a space to explore difference, to engage with new and potentially radical ideas, to discuss, experiment, debate, and dream. After the recent events in Charlottesville, the Sarah Isom Center for Women and Gender Studies recommits itself to holding the University of Mississippi to the highest ideals of education and equity.