November 15, 1999
Volume 52, No. 12
Institute for Women's Studies celebrates 10th birthday
Thanks to the efforts of a faculty interest group that met and studied for several years in the 1980s, the Institute for Women's Studies is celebrating its 10th anniversary.
The first assistant professor hires, Julie Abrahams in English and Mary Odem in history, were hired in 1989 and are now tenured faculty members. The institute now has 10 core faculty members, and some 60 more associated faculty teach in the program.
"The root of the creation of a women's studies program began in the mid-1970s with a general concern about the low number of women faculty members," said Peggy Barlett, professor of anthropology, herself a faculty member since 1976. "After the affirmative action plan was created in 1977, there was a small group of women faculty who wanted to improve the number of women faculty. We were also interested in the new scholarship on women in many fields and concerned that much of it was not making it into Emory courses."
Barlett said some of the women faculty met as a study group for two years and proposed the creation of a feminist studies program to the dean of Emory College. A year later, the dean asked Barlett to chair a committee to study the proposal; another proposal for women's studies and critical theory came out of that effort.
By then it was 1985 and Barlett was then asked to chair a search committee for a director of women's studies.
"In the national scheme of things, Emory was late in starting a women's studies program," said Frances Smith Foster, Candler Professor of English and Women's Studies and institute director. "But when it decided to do it, Emory hired a well-known name in the field, Betsey Fox-Genovese, and also started one of the first Ph.D. programs in the country. Both of those gave the program instant visibility in the academic world. We sort of broke it open with our success with the doctoral program, and we made it easier for other schools to begin one. Now the doctoral programs are just exploding; I know of eight new ones at various universities in the last few years."
"By the time Betsey arrived in 1986 and founded the institute, there were more than 30 associated faculty members teaching courses about women and gender in various departments," said Barlett. "From my perspective, there were two highlights of Betsey's tenure: she reached out to involve Emory's professional schools faculty [and got them], and she reached out to Spelman College and other Atlanta universities and built diversity into the program from the beginning."
The institute has had four directors: Elizabeth Fox-Genovese from 1986-91, Martine Brownley from 1992-96, Robin Fivush from 1996-99 and now Foster, who took the helm this year.
"Betsey had the vision and started the whole thing, Tina institutionalized the ideas, and Robin led the review and revision of the graduate and undergraduate programs," said Foster. "I'm the lucky one-I've inherited a strong program with the bulk of the faculty tenured."
"From my point of view, the institute's major achievement during the decade has been the cultural change that we've made at Emory," she continued. "We have a core faculty of 10, all of whom have joint appointments with other departments. But we also have a number of associated faculty who volunteer to teach in women's studies. We're not 'buying' each other-and there's not many places where this kind of cross-disciplinary and interdisciplinary cooperation happens."
Foster also said the contributions of former first lady Rosalynn Carter to the success of the institute should not be overlooked. Carter was named a distinguished fellow of the institute in 1990. At the same time, an honorary fellows program and a distinguished lecture series was created to explore public policy and social issues that affect women. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor will lecture at Emory on Jan. 25 as the institute's Rosalynn Carter Distinguished Lecturer.
Brownley, professor of English, said the contributions of the women's studies staff members, particularly Linda Calloway and Lee Ann Lloyd, have been crucial to the operation of the institute. "They have been here almost since the beginning and basically hold the program together," she said.
Foster added that the institute has not shied away from working with non-academic areas of the University or with off-campus groups. She noted that the institute helped the Women's Center organize people to attend the Take Back the Night event in Decatur last month. "Emory won first place-we had 88 people there, more than any other institution," she said. "This was an outside-of-class, voluntary experience that had to do with issues that have been studied in class.
"My focus is on taking the program beyond the classroom or beyond attending a public lecture and then going home," said Foster.
"We're at the place now where we are starting to think about how we do things: the way we teach and who we teach," said Foster. "A number of our graduate students, particularly in the certificate program, are coming from the social sciences rather than the humanities. So we're developing new alliances with such entities as public health and public policy.
"I want our students to understand women's studies as a dynamic, varied field where you can study all kinds of things."