Women's & Genders Studies 30th Anniversary celebration logo

Hartwick College Celebrates 30 Years of Women’s & Gender Studies

March 4, 2016

Hartwick College will celebrate the 30th anniversary of its Women’s & Gender Studies Program today with a special event from 3 – 5 p.m. in the Stevens-German Library, Yager Hall on the College campus. The event will also showcase the scholarship of current Women’s Gender Studies faculty members, and feature several speakers including Hartwick College President Margaret L. Drugovich and Professor of Sociology Dr. Katherine O’Donnell, one of the program’s founders.

The College’s Women’s & Gender Studies program is an academic minor, with a mission to familiarize students with the scholarship on gender that has developed in almost every academic field over the past three decades, transcending disciplines and challenging traditional ways of teaching and conducting research.

“Even as we celebrate a significant anniversary in the history of Women’s & Gender Studies at Hartwick, our focus is on its importance to our future,” said President Drugovich. “This is a time in our collective history when the implications of ‘difference’ are being reconsidered. Across the country, and especially on college campuses, we are talking about what diversity is, why it matters, and how we will create a world community that absorbs rather than simply tolerates diversity of ideas, race, culture, or gender.

The program, which began with four faculty offering seven courses, has come a long way in 30 years. O’Donnell was there when it all began.

The earliest roots of the program began as far back as 1971, she explained in a 2000 article in literary and arts journal, phoebe. That year, “Hartwick women affiliated with a local Women’s Liberation Collective, called for the creation of women’s centers, day care centers, women’s health programs, and women’s studies programs on both Oneonta campuses.”

The program’s foundation was further solidified in 1979, when the College created the Women’s Awareness Center (later The Awareness Center). Three years later, the defunct National Organization for Women (NOW) was recreated in Oneonta, with help from O’Donnell, members of the SUNY-Oneonta community, and area residents.

Dr. Winifred D. (Win) Wandersee, who joined the Hartwick faculty in 1980, was instrumental in outlining the early vision of a Women’s Studies program. Wandersee, O’Donnell, and former Director of Counseling Services Joan Slepian submitted the initial program proposal in 1983.

Finally, in May, 1985, more than a decade after similar programs had already been established on campuses across the country, Hartwick’s Faculty Council approved the Women’s Studies minor.

But it was no easy task.

O’Donnell said a “chilly campus climate” in the mid-1980s made diverse views feel unwelcome. Issues such as sexual harassment, gender equity, and daycare, were being publicly addressed, while the nation was leaning more conservative during the height of US nuclear proliferation and the Reagan administration.

The movement toward creating the program was about more than having courses on feminist scholarship, she said, but also developing campus policies that addressed key issues.

“Co-curricular programming was also important, as it opened up discussion topics, like reproductive freedom, to the community,” O’Donnell said.

In the 1990s, for example, the program brought to campus speakers such as Angela Davis and, in 1999, bell hooks, who came during J Term, which was themed “Revolutions and Dilemmas of the Twentieth Century.” The development of a Women’s Center House and the development of a Bisexual/Gay/Lesbian alliance called “BiGala+” further advanced the movement.

During the 2000s, the program sponsored speakers, like Indian scholar, environmental activist and anti-globalization author Vandana Shiva, and events including 12 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence and a student-led production of the Vagina Monologues.

By this time, the program was expanding even beyond coursework and on-campus programming, and fostering social activism and community engagement. Organized trips to Washington, D.C.to participate in marches over reproductive freedom were held, as were trips to Albany to participate in legislative sessions.

Today, 39 faculty members from all three divisions of the college identify as part of the program, and more than 10 courses are routinely offered. The program’s only required course, Introduction to Women’s Studies, is a collaborative, team-taught venture, with up to a dozen professors guest lecturing on a variety of topics.

Students like senior Lauren O’Brien have benefitted from the growth of the program.

“The Women & Gender studies program has been extremely beneficial to my learning at Hartwick,” she said. “As a political science major, many of my research projects have been centered around women’s issues. I am currently writing my senior thesis about Title IX and sexual assault, and why some states are more likely to adopt affirmative consent standards while others are not. Currently, I am applying for internships and jobs at non-profit organizations that are centered around helping victims of sexual assault and domestic violence. My education within this program has shown me what my true passions are, and I am looking forward to being part of the fight toward gender equality throughout my career.”

The ceremony at Stevens-German Library will celebrate the long history of the program, and highlight recent works of the program’s faculty, including professors Robert Benson, Vicki Howard, Harry Bradshaw Matthews, Susan Navarette, Mieko Nishida, Edythe Ann Quinn, Stefanie Rocknak, Mary B. Vanderlaan, and Peter Wallace.

“Our Women’s & Gender Studies program has helped our students prepare for a future in which we will eschew dualism as an end game in favor of a paradigm where differences actually inform and enlighten our thinking and creativity,” Drugovich said. “I am proud that Hartwick began this process many years ago; our Women’s & Gender Studies program is one fine example.”

For more on the Women’s & Gender Studies program, contact Women’s & Gender Studies Program Coordinator Laurel Elder at (607) 431-4887 or elderl@hartwick.edu.