Archive for December, 2010

An Analysis of an Interview with Professor Connie Smith by Megan Whiteaker

Monday, December 6th, 2010

As stated by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, “Well behaved women rarely make history.”[1] Women who stood by and did not stand up for one another are not recorded in the history books, but those who challenged the system are remembered. Women who challenged American politics in the early half of the 1900s paved the way for women who would transform the educational system. The admittance of women to higher education was one step but once that was accomplished women pushed for more recognition. Women wanted to develop programs that recognized their history, importance in society, and also a broader focus on gender studies in America. The beginning of a Women’s Studies Department began in 1970 at San Diego State College and flourished throughout the country. Predominately female and co-educational institutions were shifting views on women and programs were able to develop through the help of hundreds of determined professors and women who believed in the study of women. Many institutions struggled with the idea of a Women’s Studies Department while others claimed there was no need for such programs, but these departments did grow.

Today the development of a Women’s Studies Program is challenging and raises many questions of how can the program be funded, who will support the program, who will be qualified to teach, and the role feminism and gender studies will play in the curriculum. An institution that struggled to develop the program is the University of Mary Washington but with the persistence of faculty and the acceptance from the administration the Women’s and Gender Studies Program was built and opened in the fall of 2010. One of the leading professors in the development of the program is Connie Smith, whose history at Mary Washington helped shape the founding of the department. Ms. Smith stated, the development of the program was long in coming and the faculty saw a need for it to make students education better-rounded.[2]

Connie Smith began at Mary Washington in 1970 and had never encountered feminist teachings in her college education.[3] Her first experience with feminist writings was within the English Department when she was asked by Dr. Carol Manning to teach a course entitled Women and Literature. Smith notes that the material she presented in her class was as new to her as it was to the students. She continues by saying that the course was both difficult and enjoyable because of how the material challenged stereotypes.[4] She further goes on to say that the administration, when she began in 1970, did not have an interest in furthering a Women’s Studies program. President Anderson allowed the Women and Literature course but beyond that a program dedicated to women did not have the support or backing to be established and the proposal for the development of the program was dropped by the Board of Visitors.

Smith commented that she was a full-time member of the faculty when she began teaching at Mary Washington but the position was viewed as temporary, “[s]he was filling in for her first year and that was viewed a typical career path for women.”[5] Smith sought work at Germanna Community College in 1971, and that was where she pieced together her understanding of feminist studies. When asked how she ran her classrooms, Smith states, “When I first began it was more of a lecturing class, but now the class is much more interactive.” She continues that the reading of feminist studies influenced how she ran her classrooms and the seminars that she heard about Women’s Studies were influential in her teaching methods.[6] The early feminist writings played an important role in forming how Ms. Smith viewed and taught the Women and Literature course and still help shape how she teaches the Introduction to Women’s Studies course.

Ms. Smith narrates the beginning of the Women’s and Gender Studies program through her own history and learning at Mary Washington and notes that specific fields are more supportive of the program, specifically the English, Linguistics, and Communication Department. She continues by saying the faculty pushed the most for the development of the program, especially those who already taught courses on women or gender studies, it made sense for those faculty members to create the syllabus for the program.[7] The faculty gained administrative support this year for the program but were told they would not be given any financial help for the courses, but to “go for it” and the faculty did.[8] Ms. Smith noted, when asked how the name for the program was chosen, that the faculty wanted the name because it was more field conscious and expanded the learning of gender as a whole.[9] She acknowledges that the alumnae now appreciate the program and student support and involvement for the program is great for sustaining it. She feels that the program has already made an impact on campus, with eight majors within the first year, and when asked about the future of the program, Ms. Smith simply stated, “Hopeful and hopes it will be a significant impact at Mary Washington.”[10]

The development of the Women’s and Gender Studies program at Mary Washington has been discussed since the 1970s and has now been established as a program that will move forward with the university. Connie Smith’s narration of the development of the program proves helpful in understanding the difficulties of sustaining the program and how the faculty came together under the direction of Allyson Poska to build a collective syllabus. The program brings together faculty from different departments and those involved have changed and challenged the stereotypes of women.


[1]Laurel Thatcher Ulrich. “Women’s and Gender Studies Essential Quotes,” Northern Arizona University. http://www4.nau.edu/womensstudies/quotes.html#top [accessed November 26, 2010].

[2]Connie Smith, interview by Megan Whiteaker, November 15, 2010, video interview, Fredericksburg, Virginia.   

 [3]Ibid.  For more information on other women who had never encountered feminist studies in their education and needed to learn about feminism see, Katherine Borland. “That’s Not What I Said”: Interpretive Conflict in Oral Narrative Research.” (New Brunswick: Rutgers University, 1988). 74.  

 [4]Ibid.

 [5]Ibid. 

 [6]Connie Smith, interview by Megan Whiteaker.  

 [7]Connie Smith, interview by Megan Whiteaker. 

 [8]Connie Smith, interview by Megan Whiteaker. 

 [9]For more understanding on the development of a Women’s Studies program and how it transformed universities see, Claire L. Sahlin. “Vital to the Mission and Key to Survival: Women’s Studies at Women’s Colleges.” NWSA Journal 2005.

 [10]Connie Smith, interview by Megan Whiteaker.

Professor Connie Smith Transcript

Monday, December 6th, 2010

Interview with Connie Smith

Interviewed by: Megan Whiteaker

Transcribed by: Megan Whiteaker

[Interview #1 November 15, 2010]

1-00:00:05

Whiteaker:

Ok, today is November 15, and this is Megan Whiteaker interviewing Professor Connie Smith [nods] and Professor Smith could you please state your occupation at Mary Washington?

1-00:00:11

Smith:

I am um a Senior Lecturer which is, full time continuing but I am not tenured track I don’t have a PhD. I have a master’s degree.

1-00:00:24

Whiteaker:

Ok, and where did you go to college? And the college you did attend did you have any early encounters with feminist or women’s studies?

1-00:00:31

Smith:

My freshmen year I went to Northwestern University, in Evanston, Illinois. I transferred to the University of Maryland from which I graduated. I then did my graduate work at the University of Pennsylvania and no [laughs] I never encountered anything about women and women’s studies.

1-00:00:56

Whiteaker:

Ok, and what did you major in?

1-00:00:56

Smith:

I majored in English.

1-00:00:58

Whiteaker:

Ok, I guess also to add what was your first encounter with feminist studies?

1-00:01:03

Smith:

Um, my first encounter, there was a time when we taught a class called Women and Literature and Dr. Carol Manning had been teaching that class and the chair of the department at the time asked me if I would teach it. And I felt like sure I can teach anything ha ha, and I said yes and Dr. Manning helped me, gave/showed me the book that she’d been using, gave me a copy of her syllabus etc and I started teaching the class and for the very first time ever I read some of those Seminole pieces of literature that you use in Women’s Studies, A Room of One’s own, [Jacob Wolfe?], and etc etc and it blew my mind, it just absolutely blew my mind and the only thing I regret about it is that the material was sometimes very troubling for the students they would feel like they had to have to have talks with their fathers or their boyfriends about what was going on and since the material was new to me too, I didn’t have the background to help them to be able to help them. And that I feel bad about um other than that I enjoyed the course and the literature in the course tremendously and I will continue to teach Women and Literature for quite awhile.

1-00:02:34

Whiteaker:

Laughs, ok, what is your definition of feminist or Women’s Studies?

1-00:02:49

Smith:

Um, one slogan that I really like a whole lot, is “feminism is the radical notion that women are people,” and to me that is really the heart of it along with the other slogan, “the personal is political,” I think those are both very important notions. Um, for me feminism really has to do with improving women’s lives and choices whatever those choices might be, so if a women elects to stay home with her children there should be, [pause] that should be easy there should be affordable day care, you know? It shouldn’t be oppressive and burdensome for a woman to make that choice anymore than it should be for a woman to choose a career and in that case she needs affordable daycare etc. so yeah, I think it’s all about validating and empowering women as people.

1-00:04:09

Whiteaker:

Ok, thank you. And to move on to more about Mary Washington, when did you start teaching at Mary Washington? And have you only ever worked in the English Department?

1-00:04:16

Smith:

I started teaching at Mary Washington in 1970 um Carl Letterby was the chair of the department and he, oh no I don’t think he was at that time, anyway he was in the department he was on sabbatical in Chicago for a year and while he was gone I took his place and we had just moved to Fredericksburg so that was my first experience. I was only filling in so I was only part-time, I mean I was full-time but I was only here for that year. And then the next year I was at Germana Community College under the same kinds of circumstances. And then for a whole lot of years I was here full-time, part-time, not at all, laughs, you know kind of putting together what unfortunately is a fairly typical career path for a woman. I stayed home with my kids, all that. [Um] but now for the last several years I have been full-time here I enjoy it, a lot I think we have a wonderful place to be.

1-00:05:35

Whiteaker:

Ok, and do you think the change from an all women’s college to a co-ed institution did that affect you at all while you were working here?

1-00:05:42

Smith:

It happened pretty much when I came on board so I mean 1970 I think was the first year that it was co-ed um, I don’t think it’s made much difference except kind of in little ways since I teach the Intro to Women’s Studies whether that class has in it any males at all or none makes a big difference in the dynamic of the class. So, right now this semester Dr. Marsh and I are co-teaching it, it’s the first time that has ever been done and that’s been a wonderful experience and we have only women no males in the class at all. So um, yeah oh I did have one young man come into my class-office one time and he protested his grade and I said well, compared to other work in the class that’s a fair grade and he said well yeah but the other work done in the class is done by the women who go to this school and of course they are better at it then the men because we really have to change our admission criteria to get men here and I thought I have never heard that argument from a student before. laughs

1-00:07:16

Whiteaker:

That’s an interesting argument ok, um did the administration when you first began at Mary Washington have any interest in feminist studies?

1-00:07:24:

Smith:

No, laughs

1-00:07:28

Whiteaker:

No, and did any of the English department, the department you worked in, did any of them express an interest in women’s [interrupted]

1-00:7:33

Smith:

I think, the closest thing was that class called Women and Literature. But yeah, I remember distinctly a time that a women’s living and learning center was proposed and it went before the Board of Visitors they had questions, a group got together to address those specific questions and then we were told that the proposal had simply been pulled. And we actually went to talk to President Anderson as a group saying how come and he said no special interests.

1-00:08:19

Whiteaker:

Ok, um I also have to ask how did you run your classrooms. Did you run them how you read about in feminist literature? Did you have just lecture style? Did you have more of a seminar format or more of a student/teacher mutual interaction?

1-00:08:36

Smith:

I think, I did more lecturing certainly way more lecturing than I do now, my class now is very interactive and I hope the students entered that is my goal ha ha.

1-00:08:51

Whiteaker:

Did any of the reading that you had did that influence how you ran your classroom or did you just [interrupted]?

1-00:08:55

Smith:

Oh yeah, not only the reading but the seminars that we have had about Women’s Studies and again Dr. Vassey and Carol Corcoran who put together that proposal for Shev about introducing race and gender studies on campus was very influential and they hosted a number of seminars and we did some readings and discussions that were very helpful.

1-00:09:26

Whiteaker:

Sure, um how do you believe Women’s Studies should be handled as a field? Pause Sorry, I’m Sorry I guess I could say what fields are also more supportive of such a program, supporting Women’s Studies? Do you think one department is more supportive than another?

1-00:09:47

Smith:

So well so far, English, Linguistics, and Communications, is definitely been the most supportive department but as I said the course is being co-taught for the first time and Dr. Kristen Marsch from Sociology is co-teaching it with me and she is on sabbatical next semester but next fall she is going to be teaching the class which I am very excited about actually my chair is a little unhappy with giving up a slot every semester for the Introduction to Women’s Studies and right now Dr. Parker and I are the ones teaching it um whereas there have been other teachers of it in the past but right now we are it.

1-:00:10:41

Whiteaker:

Ok, and do you think the changes in faculty whether be research changes or different teaching interests have changed since you began?

1-00:10:48

Smith:

Oh yeah, hugely, yeah the whole idea of the student-centered classroom has made a huge difference I think in the pedagogy that you find going on, on this campus.

1-00:11:09

Whiteaker:

And you feel your department has very much taken an interest?

1-00:11:10

Smith:

Oh very much yeah.

1-00:11:11

Whiteaker:

Ok, and did the administration affect how Women’s Studies was founded at Mary Washington?

1-00:11:18

Smith:

Well, yeah they were pretty resistant (laughs) at first. Um, and I think we have some allies in the administration right now I know Dr. Mikhalevsky has been very interested in what is going on in the class and has been interested in teaching it particularly with a larger component about gender studies rather than just Women’s Studies-which is you know fine.

1-00:11:52

Whiteaker:

Ok, and did students help generate support for the program?

1-00:11:57

Smith:

I think so, yes in [pause] well it’s been around for a long time and um I think sure students with an interest have actively tried [laugh] to have it installed on this campus as a major.

1-00:12:20

Whiteaker:

Sure, I’m sorry you can continue…

1-00:12:21

Smith:

Yeah, several students have special majored in Women’s Studies but designing a special major and getting it through the curriculum committee and getting the curriculum committee to approve, changes get made, it’s hard, it’s time consuming, takes a lot of initiative, and having it as an actual gender-I mean major on campus makes a huge difference.

1-00:12:49

Whiteaker:

Sure, and do you as a professor in the department do you appreciate the student involvement and their support?

1-00:12:54

Smith:

Oh, absolutely, yeah in the course right now um the president of PRISM is in the course [laughter] a couple of people who are very active in VOX are in the course. I mean there is-that makes a great sense of connecting the class with activities on campus.

1-00:13:16

Whiteaker:

Ok, um who pushed the most for the founding of the program? Was it faculty, students, alumni?

1-00:13:24

Smith:

Oh, I would say faculty actually um because of Dr. Vassey and Dr. Corcoran’s initiative.

1-00:13:33

Whiteaker:

Ok, did you have any input from alumni that you know of?

1-00:13:40

Smith:

Um, not really I mean there are some people who are saying now that they are delighted that it’s finally in place but um I don’t remember much agitation for it from alums.

1-00:13:57

Whiteaker:

Ok, why do you believe the program started this year?

1-00:14:03

Smith:

Oh, that’s a good question. Um, partly because we got the support for it from the administration Dr. Mikhalevsky saying um we think this is a great idea, we’d love to see us come into the twenty-first century with such a major, we will not help in anyway in terms of giving you any money or anything but go for it, and we did!

1-00:14:36

Whiteaker:

Wow, so how did you find support for the program? Financial, I’m sorry.

1-00:14:41

Smith:

Um, [pause] that’s been tricky I mean it really has because about the only paid position we have is for the director. The rest of us who make it happen in our teaching simply get released from some other course so that we can teach this one. The first time I taught it by the way, we had a seminar about teaching the Intro to Women’s Studies the course was actually on the books Dr. Wishner in Philosophy had started it so it was on the books but no one had taught it for a long time and it was kind of dormant so the group again, under Vassey’s and Corcoran’s leadership wanted to revive the course and they had a seminar one summer that discussed teaching the Intro to Women’s Studies and the goal of that group was to come up with a common syllabus. At least the outline of a common syllabus and then of course everybody looked around the room and said somebody has to teach it and I said well I will. Um, and so I was the first one to offer it and I had the word feminism in pretty much everything we did um and a lot of the students who had signed up for the Intro to Women’s Studies didn’t want anything to do with feminism, so as soon as they saw that word they dropped the class um so about half of the class dropped. So then across campus other students went ah, feminism [laughs] and came and added so the class stayed full and I learned my lesson. The next time I taught it the first thing we discussed was feminism and the negative stereotypes of it so that people wouldn’t flock to drop it and in fact it worked and nobody dropped the class.

1-00:17:12

Whiteaker:

That’s funny that was great um so I guess you had volunteered to teach the course was revived, this year how or I guess when you all were building the program how was it decided who would teach the classes?

1-00:17:24

Smith:

Well as I say at this point, Dr. Parker and I have been teaching Women’s Studies because of the problems we have had in this department with Linguistics and the death of our beloved Christina Kakava? Um those problems have not freed Dr. Parker up from having to teach a lot of Linguistics so I am a logical person to teach it and since I have taught it before it makes sense. I mean there are a whole lot, I mean there are some changes I would like to make, I would like to do a better job, I would certainly try to incorporate more gender studies into the class um but with four writing intensive classes that is hard.

1-00:18:22

Whiteaker:

Yes, Um so when you all were deciding who would teach the classes overall you had volunteered uh did you all have to attend any seminars? Or was there anything you all had to meet collectively to decide how the program would run?

1-00:18:36

Smith:

Well as I said we had come up with a common syllabus so the idea was to follow the outline of the common syllabus and I confess I was pretty ignorant about a lot of things um, when we got to talking about incorporating a unit on gays I said oh, can’t we just say alternate lifestyle and they said no [laughter] no we can’t because no one can so its been a huge education for me, very eye opening experience and I’ve enjoyed it.

1-00:19:17

Whiteaker:

Ok, and could you explain how the name for the program was chosen? Did you all think the administration would be more accepting of the program if it included both in the title both women and gender?

1-00:19:29

Smith:

Well, I think gender studies is now a field, I don’t think it had been established as it’s own field before but more and more if you just look at the books on my shelf a number of them have the title gender, gender studies, gender basics, and you know as consciousness has expanded I think that’s just sort of natural.

1-00:20:02

Whiteaker:

Ok, um do you believe that there should be a race/gender intensive requirement?

1-00:20:11

Smith:

Yes

1-00:20:11

Whiteaker:

Ok and how do you think it would affect the program if required?

1-00:20:16

Smith:

Well, I think more students need exposure to the ideas that they get from a race/gender intensive course um we used to have the requirement of course now we don’t and everybody says its ok cause every course covers that anyway but I don’t believe that.

1-00:20:40

Whiteaker:

Ok, is there anything you would like to add before I get to the conclusion? About you experience at Mary Washington, how it’s changed since you first began here?

1-00:20:49

Smith:

I, don’t think so I think I’ve covered pretty much all I have to say.

1-00:20:54

Whiteaker:

Ok, um and then what do you think the impact of Women’s Studies will be at Mary Washington if you look towards the future?

1-00:21:00

Smith:

I, hope of course like everybody involved with the program that it’s going to be a significant impact, we’ve already got eight majors in this is the first year that it’s been offered so I again think it will grow pretty fast. I know that the program hopes to establish a kind of leadership program in the dorms so that incoming freshmen who are interested in Women’s Studies or gender studies or both will actually live together as well as study together and that will become kind of a cohort that will go forward. So the hope is that it will grow.

1-00:21:52

Whiteaker:

Ok and have you all any involvement I guess in the master plan for Mary Washington in discussing how you all…

1-00:21:59

Smith:

I’m afraid I have been ignoring the new master plan [laughter] pretty much I mean I am sorry to say that but it’s really true and you know I believe that it’s up to our director Allyson Poska to make sure that our program gets recognized and I think she’s doing a great job. She’s been given a budget for example to allocate that budget in many different ways to support many different kinds of speakers and events so that the name Women and Gender Studies gets out there so that’s good.

1-00:22:44

Whiteaker:

Ok, I guess what are you all involved in on campus outside of the classroom? You touched on the allocated budget what else are you all involved in?

1-00:22:53

Smith:

Oh right you mean, you all being?

1-00:22:57

Whiteaker:

Uh, the program professors I should say

1-00:22:58

Smith:

Oh the advisory committee for example? Cause I am on the advisory committee um you know again we try to support things that the Women’s and Gender Studies are interested in the lecture last semester or this semester earlier by uh Thomas Foster on sexuality and George Washington the first brown bag luncheon where Anna Hellbrooks-Folks whose a student, brought a speaker in and that brown bag lunch was really well attended, I’m the faculty advisor for VOX and they always send me e-mails about what they are doing so that’s really good I feel very much in touch. Teaching the Intro to Women’s Studies we’ve been able to Dr. Marsh and I have offered extra credit things like PRISM activities, the PRISM films that they showed, which I went to, things like that.

1-00:24:15

Whiteaker:

Ok, um and since I am a history major I have to ask do you all have any involvement in the Great Lives lecture? Have you all wanted…?

1-00:24:22

Smith:

Oh sure lectures about women often end up on the Women’s History month calendar yeah and the Women’s and Gender Studies program has not been involved with Women’s History month as much as I think they should be but time is a problem no question about it but yeah the Great Lives the figures that are women go on the Women’s History month calendar and the Women’s History month planning committee is another thing I am involved with and that’s kind of fun. This years theme is um Role Call R-O-L-E, Role Call and it’s women’s presence and power in society and we’ve got some really good things lined up the Women and Gender Studies program for example um Mindy Urtchel is also on the advisory committee and under here we’re bringing Hillary Lips who is at Radford University and who does really awesome stuff about the pay gap for example so it all works together.

1-00:25:54

Whiteaker:

That is very impressive for a beginning program um have you all had any alumni support like financial support for your program?

1-00:26:01

Smith:

Not yet, um I really do think that will come uh one of the first Women’s Studies major was a double major with Women’s Studies and German and she’s still in town and works as a therapist and may very well come in and be on a panel for a brown bag lunch and that kind of thing.

1-00:26:26

Whiteaker:

That’s great, um is there anything else you would like to touch on? Through your teachings, um I guess the differences in seeing student perspectives if you have had a male student and female students in your seminar? … Do male students seem perceptive at all?

1-00:26:52

Smith:

It depends, I mean people are individuals some men take the course because they really want to get something out of it, some take the class because they want to play devils advocate all semester and they do [laughs] you know, whatever, since we had that race/gender requirement when I started offering English 206 A which is Global Issues and Literature, when I went to school years ago when something was in English it was either British or American I mean we never heard of the rest of the world, like Canada, India, Nigeria, and the Caribbean, and etc and I thought yikes if I have to teach Global Issues and Literature that at least I can cut it in half so I chose the race/gender designation and taught Women in Global Literatures which is the way I teach the class to this day and when they were looking for freshmen seminars I offered International short fiction by Women so I basically read nothing but women, women writers right now.

1-00:28:16

Whiteaker:

Ok and how do you think the literature has changed from the first literature you read to teach your seminars to today?

1-00:28:23

Smith:

Oh my goodness, well certainly in global issues there is a huge, burgeoning of that field and I think it’s true of Women’s Studies too that more and more of women are writing and getting published and um you know it’s still a little bit frustrating because you will have lists of one hundred best books and they will be almost all male writers and just very few women and uh when we were first talking about Women’s Studies one of the things we agreed was not a good idea was to have token women, the whole policy is known as Add Women and Stir and you know rather than transforming the class into using feminist pedagogy.

1-00:29:22

Whiteaker:

Ok and do you feel that since uh you mentioned your seminar has changed with more student involvement do you think that, that continues to educate you as well?

1-00:29:32

Smith:

Oh definitely, oh my goodness I learn a whole lot from my students and from the reading that I do to prepare for the classes, it’s been wonderful.

1-00:29:44

Whiteaker:

Especially watching it evolve over the years?

1-00:29:44

Smith:

Oh yeah, [laughter] oh yeah.

1-00:29:47

Whiteaker:

And do you have a favorite writer? Or someone that has influenced you heavily?

1-00:29:53

Smith:

Oh man, there are so many I wouldn’t even know where to start um you know as I said looking at some of the Seminole ones, Virginia Wolfe, Kate Chopin, uh Zorneal Horston, Alice Walker, oh and internationally Bessie Head, whom I really love and the students don’t seem to much like her and that just drives me crazy because I love her and [2 additional international authors] just women from all over Annie Wang, Ann Chi Minh, um one of the first books I use in Global Issues in Literature is called A Gallia’s Daughters: A Satire of the Sexes, by the Norwegian feminist [author]  and it was written in the late seventies but it’s a wonderful look at the world because the womb plural wim are the ones who go topless they rule basically rule the society and have all the positions in government and business and all the rest of it they wear slacks and have short hair and they have short names and the men wim stay home and curl their beards and raise the children and take care of the house and are concerned about their appearance and it’s amazing and reading that book is just mind expanding. [laughter]

1-00:31:37

Whiteaker:

I agree, ok um is there anything you would like to add about the Women’s and Gender Studies Program here at Mary Washington?

1-00:31:45

Smith:

Well I just have high hopes that it will be successful.

1-00:31:50

Whiteaker:

Ok, well I think that is it, thank you.

Analysis of Interview with Marjorie Och, by Clark Castillo

Monday, December 6th, 2010

Analysis of Interview with Marjorie Och

The evolution of American collegiate feminism has taken several important turns since its conception in the 1970’s. While some of the methods for teaching women’s studies have changed, as have the topics brought about by women’s studies. While women’s studies may have initially been based upon literary views on women, and women’s impacts on literature, it has since expanded into many other programs and departments in an attempt to expand and prove its legitimacy. While some of this expansion has been difficult, according to Professor Marjorie Och of the University Of Mary Washington’s Art History Department, some of it has been an easy and natural transition and has been a long time in coming.

Professor Marjorie Och of UMW’s art and art history program has been a professor at Mary Washington since 1998, and was one of the founders of the Women’s and Gender Studies that the University boasts of today. She proudly hangs on to the very first email that she sent out, attempting to organize one of the very first interest meetings for the program. While this program is interdisciplinary, and attempts to involve all disciplines, some appear to fit much easier to the into the program than others. A prime example of this is Professor Och’s own department, Arts and Art History. Professor Och’s specialty is the study of Women’s patronage and influence on the arts, which is something that is neither well documented nor covered by most major studies. She sees studies like hers to be important, not because they focus on women but because they include women.

Professor Och is eager to promote her view of Feminism as being no more than the idea that women have rights, just like men. She seems troubled by some of the more severe and extremist forms of feminism, and is not comfortable with the impression it leaves on the general public. She is uncomfortable with voicing these impressions, in fact asking the interviewer to voice these impressions instead of saying them herself. This may have been from wanting to make a point to the interviewer or simply wanting to separate herself from the views as much as possibility. (Valerie Yow. Recording Oral History. Rowman & Littleton. London. 2005. Pp52) She sees feminism s being an unfortunate new “F-Word”, which is not uncommon for feminists (Florence Howe, The Politics of Women’s Studies. Feminist Press, NY, NY. 2000. Pp112).  She sees a result of this program being the loss of this impression over time.

Professor Och describes her dissertation as covering the patronage of women in the 16th century art field. She studies how even though women were barred form delaying with artists on a personal or professional level, how women interested in the arts could work their way around these holds to acquire works of art. By trading favors for an indirect patronage of the artists, Noble women were able to participate in and influence the world of art, which they were not allowed to be in publicly. While this is strange by today’s standards, this kind of back room dealing was necessary for any female involvement in the 16th century.

This kind of historical study not only provides a fascinating and overlooked view of the history of art, but it perfectly fits the definition of a women’s studies topic. By attempting to study women’s effects in the art world, one is not only gaining insight but broadening horizons to study the oppression of women. Women’s Studies is not meant to be focused entirely on women, but more on they’re overlooked and ignored impacts on the world we are in today. This is a more unorthodox looks at history, but generally regarded as an important on (Katherine Borland That’s not What I said; Interpretive Conflict in Oral History Pp71). By studying such topics as women in this specific field, a study of the field is not focused on women but broadened to be more complete. Professor Och’s study may have been condemned as radical twenty or thirty years before her time, but now it is an important and valuable insight we should focus on.

Professor Och sees this as just a beginning though. While some academic disciplines have claimed in the past that they are unable to include women or gender studies, she sees this as being more or less an incomplete study.   While mathematics and some sciences are resistant to this kind of study, she claims to have spoken with members of Mary Washington’s Mathematics department who are interested in including women’s studies into their classes. This kind of inclusiveness will allow students to have a much fuller understanding of these topics, even though it may be a long time in coming. One hope that she is not the only one with these views. (Studs Terkel My American Century, New York; The New press Pp 18)

The effects of this program will go beyond the classes according to professor Och. She sees the mere fact that some students will be taking these classes, and discussing the views they will learn. She sees the importance of this representation as being nearly as important as people taking the classes themselves. She wishes to see feminism spread, not as a distinct transformation of everyone into being feminist, but merely being a constant sharing of its ideas to the point that it becomes widely accepted.

Professor Marjorie Och’s vision of the University Of Mary Washington’s Women’s and Genders Studies, is not a conversion of the school to feminism, but an introduction and globalization of its ideals. She wants to see Mary Washington accepting all differences and variations of life, but she wants it done completely instead of quickly. Her feminist passion is for an equal culture, and a complete

Analysis of an Interview with Dr. Vasey, by Gene Kimball

Monday, December 6th, 2010

Dr. Vasey was the Chair for the Classics, Philosophy, and Religion department at the University of Mary Washington as of November 11, 2010 when this interview was conducted.  At this time, he also served as a board member for the newly developed Women’s Studies and Gender major program at that university. Prior to the development of the Women’s Studies and Gender major program, Dr. Vasey had substantial ties to the field of Women’s Studies at Mary Washington and beyond. For eight years, he was co-director of Mary Washington’s Race and Gender Curriculum Development Project, was a member of the Virginia Women’s Studies Association, and had done extensive graduate and undergraduate work in the field of Women’s Studies and Feminist thought.

The interview stated above conducted with Dr. Craig Vasey sought to highlight his role in the founding development of the Women’s Studies and Gender major program at the University of Mary Washington. In addition to documenting the technical development of this major program, Dr. Vasey reveals how this new program signals a positive, political shift within the University. This shift, from a politically conservative educational institution to a more progressive institution, highlights the similarities between the establishment of the Women and Gender Studies major program at Mary Washington and the development of comparable major programs nationwide.

Dr. Vasey’s position in the creation of the program at the University provides a distinctive historical vantage point because he represents the minority of white, male professors within the Women’s Studies field, and thus his insight into the major’s development takes on a unique position within this oral history[1]. Primarily, it is his gender that distances him from the traditionally female dominated domain associated with the development of Women and Gender Studies at the majority of institutions nationwide. Yet, while his gender may set him apart from the traditional women founders of most Women Studies majors across the country, his perception of this major’s impact does not deviate drastically from how his female predecessors also felt about the establishment of the Women’s Studies majors at their respective schools.

Both Dr. Vasey and his predecessors felt that these programs had the ability to positively alter the framework of their schools’ educational programs to shed light on the drastic inequalities felt by women and other minority groups that had historically been ignored in academia. They both believed as well that the nature of the curriculum at their institutions was inherently political and thus these new Women and Gender Studies programs were a means to change their schools’ politically conservative orientation.

The Women and Gender Studies major program at Mary Washington took nearly 30 years to develop. As Vasey explains, this was in large part due to the conservative mindset of the previous administration, faculty, and student body who saw little use in the institution of such a major at a former all women’s college that was focused on increasing male attendance. Vasey recounts how the Women and Gender Studies major did encounter resistance from the University of Mary Washington administrators and this was the biggest roadblock to its institution. Vasey spoke of how the major was swiftly rejected by Former Mary Washington President Anderson, “He [Anderson] said, “We will not have a major in Women’s Studies.” It was only after he was gone that we finally did put one [the Women and Gender Studies program] together.”[2]

As opposed to swiftly and fiercely countering this presidential ultimatum  however, Vasey’s interview shows the differing approach taken by UMW faculty as compared to founders of earlier Women’s Studies programs at different institutions. As Dr. Vasey makes clear, “Anderson was here for the term of twenty three years and that kind of stability at the top level of an academic institution can mean that the institution fails to keep up with developments in higher education”[3] Thus, the faculty at Mary Washington had to alter their approach to implementing a program that they, and Vasey in particular, believed would be the catalyst that would cause the institution of Mary Washington, to become “more insightful.”[4] This approach consisted of slowly and deliberately taking steps to transform the mindset of the majority of the faculty, administrators, and students in order to make them more open-minded to the proposal and establishment of such a major.

Florence Howe, in her edited volume of The Politics of Women’s Studies: Testimony from the 30 Founding Mothers, documents the narratives of thirty female faculty from a number of institutions across the United States as they detail their own individual roles in the establishment of United States’ first Women’s Studies majors. In Howe’s work, the women speak about how development of these programs embodied a slowly changing political outlook at their institutions. For some, this politicization even signaled a larger societal movement that sought to confront the mainstream, male-dominated social and political hierarchy. Likewise, Vasey’s interview demonstrates that the similar politicizing affects that this major had at Mary Washington.

Throughout the interview with Professor Vasey, he references how the “conservative mindset” of the previous administration had historically presented a roadblock to the development of this program. As Vasey stated in his interview, this program developed from a desire to change the politics of what he termed as this “conservative mindset” that was dominated by the white, male hierarchical social and ideological framework. Yet, unlike the largely feminist political aims of the development of Women’s Studies at other institutions, at Mary Washington, the new major aimed at promoting and acknowledging that there exists an opposing social and academic viewpoint to the conservative alternative and it should be taught so that Mary Washington can become more progressive.

Given these similar program aims however, the development of the Women’s and Gender Studies major program at Mary Washington was inherently unique because its inception was not marked by the fierce political and ideological resistance encountered by many of the nation’s first women’s studies programs. As Florence Howe’s edited volume of The Politics of Women’s Studies: Testimony from the 30 Founding Mothers displays, many of the nation’s first Women’s Studies programs experienced intense opposition from school administrations, and the broader American public throughout the proposal, developing, and ultimate establishment of their Women’s Studies programs in the early 1970’s. [5]

In fact, Mari Jo Buhle goes on to state, in the introduction to Howe’s work, that many of these “founding mothers” of early Women ’s Studies programs had to take with them their “experience in civil rights, the New Left’s antipoverty campaigns and the [Vietnam] anti-war movement” in order to “wage an uphill battle to establish Women’s Studies” at their respective institutions. [6]However, Vasey’s interview shows how Mary Washington’s attempt at developing their own Women’s Studies and Gender program contrasted slightly with these earlier programs because such resistance did not exist.

The Mary Washington faculty had no apparent need to tap into their own sense of organized resistance in order to counter persistent stiff resistance because there was no struggle at the major’s inception in 2010 at Mary Washington. There was no outcry from the greater Fredericksburg community nor was there an intensely passionate movement from an enraged student population pushing for the major’s development. Nonetheless, Vasey’s account shows how the politics surrounding the development of this program was in fact still very similar to the intentions of the development of similar programs at other institutions. As at other institutions, Mary Washington faculty took calculated steps to change the political mindset of the campus and as Vasey’s interview shows, the implantation of the Women and Gender Studies major program at this institution was able to accomplish this goal.


[1] The gender separation that Vasey experiences from the rest of the founders of the Women and Gender Studies program at Mary Washington has the benefit of distancing Vasey’s own oral history from what Thomson cites as his second historical paradigm of oral history where as he is not as affected by the group movement and memories that generally formulate around a historical event. Alistair Thomson, “Four Paradigm Transformations in Oral History.” The Oral History Review. Vol. 34-1, 53.

[2] Dr. Craig Vasey, interview by author, Fredericksburg, VA, November 11, 2010

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Florence Howe, The Politics of Women’s Studies: Testimony from 30 Founding Mothers(New York: The Feminist Press at the City University of New York, 2000),

[6] Florence Howe, The Politics of Women’s Studies: Testimony from 30 Founding Mothers(New York: The Feminist Press at the City University of New York, 2000), xx.

Analysis of an interview with Cedric Rucker, by Eric Halsey

Monday, December 6th, 2010

On the Founding of Women’s Studies at the University of Mary Washington
Analysis of an interview with Cedric Rucker, by Eric Halsey

Dean Cedric Rucker’s narration on the founding of women’s studies at the University of Mary Washington told a story centered around people.  Speaking less towards a history of institutions in the style of books like When Women Ask the Questions (Boxer, 1998), and more towards the more personal perspective of The Politics of Women’s Studies: Testimony from 30 Founding Mothers (Howe, 2000).  From his perspective as a student, and later as an administrator, Dean Rucker displayed both the insights of these perspectives, as well as some of their potential biases.  With a persistent deference he consistently pointed away from himself when discussing the actual founding of women’s studies, and towards other faculty members.  In this way the interview provides, best of all, a contrasting account of Feminism and gender awareness at Mary Washington in the late 1970s and from the 1990s on from an African American male perspective.
The first set of questions in the interview pertained to Dean Rucker’s time as an undergraduate student at Mary Washington College from 1977 to 1981.  He characterizes the campus as a place where women’s and gender issues were extremely prominent both within the campus and in regards to the way in which the campus engaged the community.  He discusses the social activism surrounding issues like the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) and the local chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW).  When questioned about why a women’s studies program did not develop during this period, Dean Rucker explained a lack of institutional support existed.  Yet, he goes into detail about not only these campus programs but faculty who attempted to bring women’s issues into the curriculum during this period.
What is not clear here is how exactly this difference played out.  If indeed such a stark contrast existed between the activism of the campus and faculty and a reluctance of the administration to contribute recourses, either fiscal or ideological, towards the development of women’s studies, then how did that difference manifest itself from the student perspective?  Ultimately, while Dean Rucker provides an interesting student account, including fascinating tidbits on course materials, his perspective seems somewhat tainted by his current status as an administrator.  If such a level of activism existed, it seems some discussion of conflict would follow.  One gets the impression that this period of activism and adjustment, with some of the first male and African American students entering the college, there must have been more conflict than was discussed.  This may be rooted in his desire to portray the institution in a positive light as a current member of its administration, as well as someone with an obvious passion for it.
A particularly fascinating section follows, when Dean Rucker discusses his perspective on the de-feminization which had occurred during his 8 year absence.  He talks of being shocked at the renaming of buildings to rob them of their female names and the discontinuation of the practice of teaching students about their namesakes.  Yet, this process and the discussion surrounding it illuminated an important element of answering the question as to why women’s studies arrived when it did.  One critical reason for the administration’s opposition to the creation of a women’s studies major lay it its attempts to increase the male to female ratio.  What developed here was an irony that only through the de-feminization process could women’s studies come about, that is, only when the administration felt comfortably removed from the university’s feminine character would it allow a  women’s studies major.  Yet, as Dean Rucker explained, it would be almost two decades before that process would complete itself.
The interview then moved into Dean Rucker’s perspective as a member of the administration during the 1990s and 2000s while the continuing battles for a women’s studies major went on.  As we asked him about his particular role in these battles he generally preferred to talk about faculty members and what they did to facilitate the creation of the major.  He stated that he had been on committees, but never really delves into precisely what his role was.  Perhaps his direct role was limited, this question will require corroboration with other faculty and administration members.
Another interesting element is the contrast of his characterization of his time at Mary Washington as an undergraduate and an administrator is his claims of the continuity of student and faculty activism in this area.  He makes this claim, yet from the modern student’s perspective this seems hard to believe.  His prior discussions of the major on campus presence of organizations like NOW and the visible presence of issues like abortion and domestic violence does not seem to correspond to the campus today.  Again, it is possible that his perspective as an administrator would lead him to shy away from stating that campus awareness or activism in certain areas has regressed.
On the whole then, while the interview did not provide as much specific information regarding the how women’s studies at Mary Washington came about, it did provide an excellent background in understanding the evolution of gender awareness and gender issues at Mary Washington.  While his current role in the administration of the university calls into question his perspective on some issues, there is still valuable information both in his broad characterization of gender issues on campus during his time as an undergraduate student, and his specific stories of professors and organizations on campus.  However, it would have helped to gain a more institutional perspective on how these changes occurred.  While Dean Rucker’s personal insights are interesting, his position as a member of the administration would have offered an interesting opportunity to compare how gender issues became important within the administration to how this occurred at other institutions (as was explored in The Politics of Women’s Studies).  On the whole then, while some biases and inclinations raise questions about the interviews contents, it is undoubtedly an important component to understanding how women’s studies came to Mary Washington.

Analysis of an Interview with Cedric Rucker, by Jenn Arndt

Monday, December 6th, 2010

Dean Rucker

On November 12, 2010 my partner, Eric Halsey, and I conducted an interview with Dean Rucker on the founding of the Women’s and Gender Studies Program at the University of Mary Washington. His opinion was valuable not just because he is the current Dean of Student life at UMW, but also because he was a student at Mary Washington during the late 1970’s. It was around this time that Women’s Studies, as a discipline, was taking off. So it was interesting to listen to his perspective on how the program grew from the late 1970’s until it was finally created this year. It is important to have this perspective because it recounts the struggles and successes of the creation of this program.  His perspective as a Dean also highlights what the administration felt to be important at various times in Mary Washington’s history. Since he is also an administrator he had a lot to say about Mary Washington’s mission, and how this program will support that mission.

One such thing that Dean Rucker brings up is the dropping of the feminine names on campus in the early 1980’s. He mentions that he came back in 1989, and the first thing he noticed was that buildings dropped the first names in their name. So a place such as Ann Carter Lee Hall became Lee Hall, the name was now associated with its masculine history. He goes on to say that this was an attempt to de-feminize the campus so that more males would be drawn to the University. Like the case of Texas Women’s University, the administration seemed to be concerned about “stepping into the ‘dangerous’ territory that the feminism of Women’s Studies may represent.” 1 This point in time also marked a change in Dean Rucker’s role in the institution. He was no longer an undergraduate student; he was a faculty member and part of the administration.

In his interview he reflects back on his time spent here at UMW as a student and compares it to his time here as the Dean of Student life. He says that because of its history as a female college, Mary Washington was always a center for gender awareness. Which is why, when they cut the names off of the buildings he was outraged as to why such a thing would happen. He also talks about how his role as an administrator has changed some of his views on the creation of the program. He says that creating a program is a lot more difficult than he originally thought; it is not as simple as students might think. He does go into both the administrative and student view of the creation of the program in considerable detail.

He does not talk that much about his experiences at other institutions, and whether or not they faced the same problems that Mary Washington faced. There was hardly any discussion about how this program differs from other programs like this across the nation. What was most important for Dean Rucker to highlight was that this program will help students prepare for the world beyond the academic world. Which is what Marilyn Boxer discusses in her book, When Women ask the Questions: Creating Women’s studies in America. 2 Dean Rucker emphasizes the fact the Mary Washington’s mission is to provide an education which will effectively prepare the students for the world they enter upon graduation. He believes that the new Women’s and Gender Studies program enhances this mission by not only providing an inter-disciplinary curriculum but also by focusing on real world issues.

Through Dean Rucker’s personal narrative we can gain a deeper understanding about the growth of the Women’s and Gender Studies program here at UMW. Since he has been with the University for a considerable amount of time, he was able to compare the second wave of Feminism in the 1970’s to the third wave of feminism today. Not only is the chronological account valuable but he also accounts for his time as a student, and compares it to his work as an administrator. However, because he was a student in the 1970’s he wasn’t as keenly aware of the role the administration and faculty played then. For him there was no struggle to talk about certain topics, there were no silences or lengthy pauses. He had prepared his own notes and he knew what he wanted to say. He wanted to make it clear that this program will serve Mary Washington’s best interest because it supports the Universities mission to prepare students with the best education for their future. This was the one point he kept coming back to, and it was the point he concluded the interview with. He states that, “if our students are not garnering skills that will help them navigate the world beyond their four years here as undergraduate students, we have failed.” 3 He thinks that this program will provide the skills and knowledge to students to help prepare for their future.

Jenn Arndt

  1. Sahlin, Claire, Vital to the Mission and Key to Survival, Women’s Studies at Women’s Colleges, 166
  2. In Chapter 4, 79-99, of When Women ask the Questions (Baltimore: The John Hopkins University Press, 1998), Boxer talks about the classroom structure and how it helps students make connections between their personal lives and the real world. This idea is what Dean Rucker alluded to in his interview, a program which prepares students for the world outside the University.
  3. Dean Rucker, interview by author, Fredericksburg, VA, November 12, 2010.

Dean Cedric Rucker Transcript

Monday, December 6th, 2010

Cedric Rucker

Interviews on the Founding of Women’s Studies at the University of Mary Washington

Part of a series of interviews on the part of the students of Professor Jess Rigelhaupt’s Oral History course in the Fall of 2010 at the University of Mary Washington

Interview conducted by

Eric Halsey and Jenn Arndt

in 2010
Discursive Table of Contents—Cedric Rucker

1-00:00:31

Chronology of time at Mary Washington

1-00:01:01

Discussion of femininity on Mary Washington’s campus during the late 1970s/early1980s—campus organizations during this time—campus leaders during this time—faculty during this time

1-00:06:05

Growth of disciplines—faculty involved in developing women’s studies at Mary Washington

1-00:08:22

Gender neutral campaign on campus—renaming buildings

1-00:09:48

Justifications for curriculum at Mary Washington—female male ratio during the late 1970s

1-00:12:35

Early attempts at Women’s Studies

1-00:16:54

Limitations and difficulties in founding a new major

1-00:19:27

Influence of Mary Washington on the community—relationship between women’s studies and the needs of students

1-00:21:35

Reasoning for interdisciplinary major

1-00:22:45

Teaching gender as constructions of multiple identities

1-00:24:18

Rationale behind women and gender studies title—specialization within the major- building of a framework of Mary Washington as an institution

1-00:27:01

Program impact on UMW—Prepare for the world

2-00:00:04

Fostering critical thinking skills—Think about future

2-00:01:26

Program changes in the institution—New opportunities—challenge faculty and students

2-00:04:05

The program and current gender issues—How acceptance of homosexuality has changed at UMW

2-00:05:55

Student reaction to major—student selectivity

2-00:08:58

Administration’s role in creation of the program

2-00:10:14

Dean Rucker’s personal role in creation of the program

2-00:11:48

Realization that new program will be created

2-00:13:01

Concluding thoughts—“Don’t stand still.”
Interview with Cedric Rucker

Interviewed by: Eric Halsey and Jenn Arndt

Transcribers:  Eric Halsey and Jenn Arndt

[Interview #1: November 12, 2010]

Halsey:

This is Eric Halsey and Jenn Arndt, we are interviewing Dean Rucker on the founding of Women’s Studies at Mary Washington, and it’s November the twelfth 2010.  So, we’re starting off talking a little bit about yourself and your background at this university, so the first question is: how long have you actually been at Mary Washington?

1-00:00:31

Rucker:

I started at Mary Washington as an undergraduate in 1977, was a [sociology] major, finished in 1981, left and went to Charlottesville for grad school, came back in 1989, I’ve been here since 1989.  So it’s been a long tenure, this is my 22nd year back in residence at UMW.

Halsey:

So you were a student here back in the late 70s, early 80s, what role did feminism play on campus if at all?

1-00:01:01

Rucker:

I think feminism was very prominent during that period, you had several faculty members who, were very much engaged in the women’s movement, and awareness and education curricularly, and also in terms of student programing.  You had Sue Hanna, who happened to be in the English department, you had, her name just escaped me at this moment, but there were several faculty members who were  really engaged.  There was a chapter of NOW on campus, you had various discussions in classes, I remember just meeting and talking with Sue Hanna on, before we had campus walk, but just on campus, and in association with English classes where she made sure that in terms of literary selections or in terms of the topical discussions that we were having on issues ranging from poverty to health issues and it was part of the discourse.  I always tell people that during my tenure that most people had just assumed that the biggest issue was race because of the number of students, the number of underrepresented students here was very small.  I was the only African American male on campus for two years during that period.  At the same time, when I think of my development intellectually, and I think of my development socially, and I think of my political consciousness, I would say one of the most significant experiences I had at Mary Washington was gender awareness.  You couldn’t go about the community any day, I had friends who were victims of sexual assault, I had individuals who had abortions when they were here, people were talking about these issues on an ongoing basis, and it was really powerful, to have individuals in the community who were just there for students, for discourse, and who also engaged the greater Fredericksburg community, because the NOW chapter, yes there was one on campus but there was also a group in Fredericksburg, and these were the women who also fought to establish safe havens for women in the city of Fredericksburg for issues like domestic violence.  And we’re talking about the 1970s, the late 70s, when this was not something that was understood or even embraced, I mean, but they fought for it, they established a network of women to… safeguard other women who were victims of violence, and they did it a household at a time.  It was amazing for that period, I mean it seems like today that would be a given, but you know, those folks were just unbelievable in their commitment and their take on creating a world anew in terms of our understanding as students, and it really undergirded my education.  It wasn’t universal in the curriculum, I had faculty members, even in, I was a sociology major, I had one particular faculty member who had the philosophical bent that women should never gain equality.  I mean we’re talking about the era of the Equal Rights Amendment which ultimately failed, and that faculty member’s take was “women should never gain equal rights” and I remember the lectures in this person’s class where this person talked about how, you know, there would be genetic changes in women if there was equality, how women would lose their breasts and grow hair on their faces, you may laugh but this is what, I remember having to write this on an exam, just to pass the exam, and thankfully there were other faculty members who said “this is poppycock, this is just not the way things are.  Do what you need to do in that class and don’t take that professor again.”  I was advised to do that and I never did.  It was a horrific experience, but again, even though I talk about the sort of experience that I had, and the growth that took place, it was not universal, and that’s really important to understand.  Professor Rapson in the Psychology department was the other person I couldn’t think of, she was amazing.  Sue Hanna and Dr. Rapson were incredible.

Halsey:

So, if feminism was a big thing on Mary Washington’s campus, why do you think women’s studies didn’t develop during that time?

1-00:06:05

Rucker:

Well, there were lots of things didn’t develop during that period.  I mean, focusing on issues of race was not significant during that period.  You have to look at the growth of disciplines, the establishment of disciplines, it takes not one, two, three, four faculty members.  A lot of this stuff has to be passed by committees of other faculty.  Faculty members are resourceful, they do what they can, and I think in terms of those particular faculty members, they network with others, and I think in terms of the contemporary context, Carol Corchran who came later, Judith Parker who was later, all of these people, even Dr. Vasey in the philosophy department fought vigorously to enhance the curriculum.  They started small, I remember Carol Corchran and Craig Vasey got a grant, and through that grant they offered workshops and seminars for faculty members to expand, within the framework of their disciplines, the discourse on race, class and gender.  They started small, and it grew from that, and as the momentum took place, and as we saw the discipline grow in other areas, ultimately it became something Mary Washington embraced.  So it took time, it took time and a lot of hard work by a lot of people, and I’ve mentioned faculty, and you also have to think of the students.  One of the things that Mary Washington allows in its curriculum is it allows students to create their own majors, and before the establishment of the women’s gender studies program you had students fashioning their majors through a patchwork of courses, and that patchwork of courses was built through those associations of faculty members, those individual faculty members who were teaching classes that had worked on these efforts, so students could create a major across different disciplines.

Halsey:

OK, getting back a little more to some history, during the 1990s, we had read from other individuals about the de-feminization process on campus, they had tried to make this gender neutral [laughter by interviewers and Dean Rucker]

1-00:08:22

Rucker:

Yeah, they erased gender, because when I was a student here we had Ann Carter Lee Hall, I lived in Dolly Madison Hall, we called the buildings by their names, and we were taught about their names.  I mean, you knew why Willard was named Willard, because there was a woman who sought rights, for reproductive rights to other rights for women.  And, when I was amazed that that had disappeared, because I left in 1981 and came back in 1989, and it was gone, I mean Ann Carter Lee was gone, people were calling it Lee Hall.  ACL had slipped in a little bit, but it was Lee Hall and it was Madison Hall, and Jefferson Hall, and most of the students today think they’re men, I mean they think they live in Thomas Jefferson Hall, they think that they live in James Madison Hall.  We knew better, the generation before, I mean this was a women’s institution, and again, that’s what I talked about.  In terms of the education it was something that was understood about this as students, and when I got back I was very surprised that that changed.

Halsey:

So, do you think before compared to after your leaving and coming back, was Mary Washington, MWC, a masculine or feminine space, as a man did it feel overtly either way during those two periods.

1-00:09:48

Rucker:

I don’t, I’ve never, I don’t get the sense, I think structurally, even in the case, systemically, even in the case of the founding of Mary Washington as a normal school.  That history was to afford women educational opportunities, and professional opportunities, and in terms of the curriculum, one of the few areas available was teaching.  So, even in its founding it was restricted.  Systemically, what it offered correlated to what was going on in the world.  Women had opportunities as teachers, so we were a teaching school.  We weren’t founded initially as a college or university that had [an] expansive program.  So, the role of women in society mirrored what Mary Washington offered, and if you looked at the leadership, even from the time of its founding it was men.  The professors, yes there were great, wonderful, female faculty members here, Elaine Kramer Dodd, I mean most people think Dodd auditorium, that’s Elaine Kramer Dodd.  I mean, there were female faculty members here, but, it still existed within the framework of a male focused society.  I think when I was here, the systemic elements were still in place, but a person coming from, as I did, an inner city high school in Richmond, Virginia, coming to Mary Washington, I quickly realized it was a different space than the space I left behind.  So, even though systemically, structurally, it still fit into what was going on in the greater society, it was different, I mean the population was different.  When I came in as a student it was about 25 to 1 female to male.  So, even though it was run by men, there was still a significant difference in terms of the milieu here than the environment that I had left behind.  I hope that answers your question.

Arndt:

I guess our second major point we want to talk about is actually establishing the women’s studies program, and we actually looked through the Bullet and found an article that mentioned there was a move to establish a women’s studies program two times prior in UMW’s history.  So, can you expand on that, do you know anything about that?

1-00:12:35

Rucker:

I hope you will have the opportunity to talk to Dr. Poska, I hope you will have the opportunity to meet with Dr. Parker in the English Linguistics and Speech Department, I hope that you will also meet with Craig Vasey go back to Carrol Corchran, who is no longer here, in the Psychology Department.  These individuals have engaged this institution on a number of occasions to expand opportunities, educational opportunities, for students.  Again, remember I said that students were being innovative before the major was in place, before the option for the program was in place.  So, our students were leading us, I mean you had students that had expressed interest.  I remember a good friend of mine Gale, Gale who was in Mortarboard, Gale was here in the late 80s, early 90s.  She lived on the women’s studies floor, she was in Mortarboard, I mean this was a campus leader, and she wanted a different curricular option, and working with faculty members across different classes she was able to construct something that met not just her needs as an undergraduate student but her educational needs beyond Mary Washington, she was looking for a foundation that would lead to graduate opportunities, or even professional opportunities beyond UMW, in that time Mary Washington College.  So, she pulled something together.  Again, the interest had been here for a while, but, again, what had to happen was not just an assortment or arrangement of faculty members working on it, it had to be accepted, what I mean by that is a proposal had to be put forward, support had to be garnered across the faculty, and the administration for that to happen.  You asked what happened during the 90s in terms of the whole neutral approach, erasing things from the memories of students, it was a different time.  Not that time should be used as an excuse, what I’m saying is that the reality was that we didn’t have the support in the community to make the major happen.  But, people didn’t give up, that’s why you had other efforts, that’s why at every opportunity you had the same people coming back together.  Dr, Och in the Art Department, you had, again, Judith Parker, who’s been a stalwart back again, Connie Smith, Dr. Poska, Kevin McCluskey, Craig Vasey, myself, people didn’t give up, it was just “we didn’t get it this time let’s keep going again.”  And, ultimately it happened.  You had an administrative change, you had a sea change of faculty members who understood the importance, the value to the community in terms of opportunities for students, and also in terms of the overarching objective of Mary Washington, Mary Washington is supposed to be an institution that prepares students to think in different ways and be critical thinkers, women’s studies, issues in diversity and ethnicity are a critical component of that.  So, finally, it was passed and accepted.  But thankfully to folks like Dr. Poska and others, and again going back in time to Sue Hanna and those other people, who were just amazing back when there was very little support.

Arndt:

You mentioned there has been a constant push, people have been constantly fighting for this since your time here.  Has there been a difference in how people fought for this program, or how people fought for just the acceptance of it?

1-00:16:54

Rucker:

I think the passion on the part of those faculty members has been the same.  I think the passion on the part of the students has definitely been the same to the degree of not fully understanding why things just can’t change, and again, I think that goes back to the issue of the sort of systemic things that exist.  There’s a process, we are part of a state education system here in Virginia, and it’s really important for SCHE, the State Council of Higher Education to look at what institutions are offering to make sure they correspond to needs that the state has educationally.  Also that we’re not necessarily duplicating things, and also that the program has benefits.  One of the things they want to know is that if you create this major, are you going to have students taking degrees?  Are you going to have students declaring majors?  That’s important to SCHE, and I think making sure we dotted our Is and crossed our Ts to use a cliché in that respect, was an important component making sure that we were able to look across time to see if we had students who had the interest in the major.  In addition to that, making sure we had the network of courses that could support a major, making sure that faculty members could be resourced, because there are administrator charges associated with supporting students in the major.  All of those things had to be done, making sure were financial recourses associated with the other programmatic components of a major, you should be able to bring in speakers, you should be able to bring in programs, you should be able to continue to build interest with faculty members across the curriculum.  So, recourses are needed to do those sorts of things, so that type of research is ultimately what was done, and that’s what achieved the outcome, and again, I go back to Dr. Poska, and Dr. Parker, and Connie Smith, and all those people who worked hard to make sure that that was done.  Especially Dr. Poska and Dr. Och.

Arndt:

What was the reaction from the Fredericksburg community this time around, were they supportive of the creation of this program or was there more uneasiness than there was in say the 70s?

1-00:19:27

Rucker:

I can’t speak to the Fredericksburg community in general because I don’t think they really focus on the curriculum of the institution that much.  I mean, I live in town, I’ve lived in town for twenty-two years, and if you were to ask most people in town what majors Mary Washington offers, most would have no idea.  I think the thing that adds to the vibrancy of the community though is that all of those people I’ve talked about live in this community.  We’re part of this community, I live in town, Dr. Poska lives in town, Dr. Och lives in town, Dr. Parker lives in town. Smith, we’re all a part of this community too.  I mean, people take that for granted, we’re not just Mary Washington sitting on a hill, you have many people here who are very active, very involved through community service, political activities, and so forth.  So, we play a role in shaping that discourse, but like I said, I don’t think that in this case there was this uproar about this new major at Mary Washington, the threat it has to the intellectual stance of the institution.  I don’t think that took place, I think there’s a sense that the institution has a mission, and that mission is educational, in terms of being a liberal arts institution that’s pretty broad.  So I think they look to the folks that are here, especially as faculty, because faculty are responsible for the curriculum, they look to faculty to do due diligence in reference to the educational needs to not just the students, but how this enterprise will continue to shape the world when our students leave.  Our students need certain skills, they need certain knowledge, and this curriculum, or this addition to the curriculum, I think truly enhances what students are able to do as they engage and transform the world beyond this campus. I think it’s critical.

Arndt:

Talking more about the curriculum itself, from the perspective of the administration, what was the rationale behind making the women’s studies program interdisciplinary?

1-00:21:35

Rucker:

I think that came from the faculty.  I think if you look at most of the programs, like ethnic studies, is interdisciplinary in a lot of places, women and gender studies, because its encompassing a philosophy of sociology, of history, of anthropology, I mean it speaks to all of those, to the sciences, it speaks to all of those, to the sciences, to those disciplines, so we have an opportunity to build a program that has a very solid foundation because it’s already established on the firm ground of all of those disciplines.  So how can you critique something that already has a superstructure?

Arndt:

Back to the Bullet Article that we read, it was actually really interesting, there’s a quote in there that “the major will focus on gender and the experiences of women, emphasizing the construction of femininity, masculinity, interactions of gender, class, ethnicity, sexual orientations, and race.”  Do you have any thoughts as to how the program does encompass this, especially the question of ethnicity, is this an important part of the program?

1-00:22:45

Rucker:

Well, I think, I teach a course in ethnic studies, I mean I teach a course in queer studies, perspectives on sexualities, all of that is built in. I cannot talk about issues of Gender without talking about constructions of multiple identities, because i am not just one thing. I am not just a male. I am an African American male. I am an African American male who is from a certain class. I am an African American male who has a certain professional outlook. I engage the world in certain ways, my sexuality comes into play. We’re not a composite, we are multi-faceted individuals and the interchange, the interplay, the inter connection, of the mosaic of those identities and those experiences are really important to us- to you understanding me, to me understanding you. And the disciplines would I think be… would be incomplete without understanding all of those intersections.

Halsey:

Real quick, there are some examples of other Women’s Studies around the country where its called like Women’s and Race Studies. What was the rationale then behind having Women and Gender Studies be the title of the major with these other components as sub components, are they really equal. How does that distribute with there and what does that say … (remainder of question unheard).

1-00:24:18

Rucker:

(talks over last half of question) Well, I think what that title gives flexibility, because when you are looking at the way that they, the major, is developed, it really gives students great latitude in terms of areas of specialization. I think it still allows for innovation. In terms of what students can do as they work with faculty members and scholarship and then research. You know a student who is interested in trans-gender studies, a student who is interested really exploring the health related issues of African American Women, a student who is interested in pursuing Latina identity issues. They all have a place with the framework of that… framework. Someone who is interested in studying the Social Movement from the standpoint of Gays in America has a place in that major. Um I just think for us, the type of institution we are and the type of courses and the type of majors we have as a liberal arts institution it gives are students great latitude to pursue a variety of nuances when it comes to Gender Identification, when it comes to race, sex, class, when it comes to women’s issues. I think for our institution, like those institutions that decided based on their resources, I mean some of those are research institutions, some of those are Universities which offer a great variety of programs. We had to look at who we are as a liberal arts college, what we offered as a liberal arts college, how our faculty are interconnected as a liberal arts college to again, develop a program that gives our students the greatest flexibility to pursue their interests within the, again, within the framework of educational opportunity that truly supports, to the best that we can, again those interests. That’s really important to us, and I think that’s why, in terms of those faculty members that I mentioned, they came from a cross-section of disciplines and they are working together to support that exploration, to support that research, to support that scholarship.

Arndt:

How much do you think this program actually impacted UMW. Do you think it changed its mission somehow, or do you think it enhanced it and made it stronger?

1-00:27:01

Rucker:

I think it makes it stronger. I think we are incomplete actually, we’re not focusing on issues that are… inclusive of different experiences, inclusive of different voices. I think it’s really important for us to understand that the education we get today is not really for today, it’s for tomorrow, it’s for a decade from now. What we do here is we explore ways of thinking, ways of reasoning, ways of understanding, ways of interpreting. The skills that you get from a program, like Women and Gender Studies, like you get from Ethnic Studies, that you get from the foundations from all of these students will help students, and I said this earlier, to engage the world beyond Mary Washington. And if you don’t have that understanding of Gender issues, I think that one is less able to engage a world that is made up of predominantly of women. I mean (laughs) to me that’s like duhhh! I think it doesn’t equip individuals to understand the sort of cultural differentiations that exist across the planet.

End first Clip – begin second

Arndt:

We’re back

2-00:00:04

Rucker:

Essentially I was saying that its really critical to really fostering… skills, critical thinking skills, for opportunities that don’t even exist today.  I think its really incumbent upon the institution to think forward because we are working with those individuals who will inherit the world, who play a role in transforming the world who make the world for the next generation. And the understanding of gender issues is really critical for a world that is- in terms of gender issues- continuing to transform, continuing to change. That’s going to be important, I think we will sell students short if we don’t do that. So it makes us a lot better.

Halsey:

On that note, and talking about the mission of the University and what we are trying to do educationally. What do you think is the specific idea of what does this do for the University? You talked about it a little bit, but from the University’s perspective, from the administration’s perspective, what are they hoping to get out of this major probably 10 years down the road? How do they think it will change the institution?

2:00:01:26

Rucker:

I think it will change the institution by exciting new scholars to come in. I mean just think of someone who is out there as a Ph.D. student or who’s a scholar who is interesting in teaching these courses and prior to the establishment of this major they crossed Mary Washington off their list because it was not- we didn’t have anything. I just think of someone who is doing research in the area of Queer Studies, Gender Identities, who overlooked Mary Washington because we didn’t have anything that really spoke to them. I think it creates opportunities for scholars. I think connected to that it creates opportunities for students, because they can benefit from what these scholars bring to the table. And one of the things we treasure here at Mary Washington is student faculty engagement. If you look at our evaluations and assessments our students say it over and over again. I mean as Jefferson said, “Come drink the cup of Knowledge.” I think our students do that and return in kind. They also challenge faculty members, they challenge one another as thinkers. I think for all of those reasons that’s how we benefit, because we create learning opportunities- that’s what we are about- we create opportunities for students to explore knowledge, to explore those issues which effect the citizens around them. To understand how different people live, how different people navigate the world, not just domestically but globally, and those things are important. President Hurley says that he wants us to be the best liberal arts institution in the country, we cannot be the best liberal arts institution in the country if we leave out a sector of thinking, a sector of research, a sector of understanding that is as critical as – again- those people who represent the predominant population on this planet. It’s just… (laughs)… just straightforward to use that term, I’m sorry but it’s simple.

Arndt:

You mentioned it’s going to incorporate a new way of thinking in preparing us for the future. Do you think the program like Women’s and Gender studies includes gender is to also take into account current issues with gender and especially with equal rights for gays and bisexuals?

2-00:04:05

Rucker:

Yeah but that’s what I have been talking about. It’s like it is a part of that. If you look at our student body, one of the things that I think I take great joy in seeing- when I was here we had student who were gay it was a small out population- you look at Mary Washington today one of our largest student organizations is PRISM. We have a gender neutral community in our residence halls. Like I said, not only for faculty, it creates a space that students feel “I could be welcome there.” So we are able to get more students, more students who would have maybe crossed us off of a list. If they did feel that we didn’t offer anything that supported those individuals. Again, for faculty that applies, for students that applies as well. And for the community, they look to places like this as a refuge because you can go to classes, you can go to seminars, you can go to discussions, to hear more about – again- the world. And that is really important. So I think we are worse off as an institution if those opportunities didn’t exist.

Halsey:

Now, you talked about- and I think we can all agree- we had some very big on campus programs and things like that, yet, it may be personally because I wasn’t here last year, but I didn’t hear a lot from the students talking about this new major. It might be my major and where I am and things, but from your perspective as an administrator what do you think was the reaction from- not just the faculty- but average students, were they very aware of this, was there any controversy, was it supportive, was a mix?

2-00:05:55

Rucker:

I mean, I kind of feel weird because I am in Social Department and this is something that is a part of our discipline. We talk about issues of race, class, and gender all the time. (laughs) So, for us it’s a given. I would be very surprised if I am in a classroom and I am getting a backlash. That may be selective on the part of students though. I am not going to take that class or I am not going to pursue that area, and that may be the case for students who have no interest in Gender Studies. They don’t have to take a class. I think they sell themselves short, but they don’t have to, it like you don’t have to a business class if that is not in your area of interest. But it still exists within the menu, within the list, within the array of academic options that our students have. You can go through this place and isolate yourself from certain academic experiences. You can. The way that the curriculum is structured, in terms of the general ed requirements, tries to facilitate a broad exploration before you pin down a specific area. And in that vein, I think opportunities for exposure exist. I don’t think… I did not get the sense from students… I didn’t have students marching on GW Hall, “Get rid of this major!” I didn’t have students who were camped out in front of Marye house for, “this is not something Mary Washington should have.” I think what you can see as the benefit is that we already have students who declared the major. So it tell you it is something that students wanted, it’s something again – we had a few majors before- now we have students declaring when other students declare their major end of their freshman year beginning of their sophomore year. It shows you that there is interest in the major. I teach Queer Studies, I have had over the course of year a waiting list as high as 70 to 80 students. Trying to get into a class where only 30… (laughs)… you know it’s only supposed to have 30 students, I expanded to 35 to accommodate  seniors who were about to graduate. But that shows me that the interest in these areas is keen. I mean I have students, “Dean Rucker can you please let me in?” No, this is supposed to be an intimate learning experience, we can’t do that with a hundred students. So…

Halsey:

Ok getting back, you talked a lot about professors, their roles in creating this…

2-00:08:32

Rucker:

I also talked about the students because they are the ones who did this in their ability to design their own majors, there were students who were doing it before we had a major.

Halsey:

From the perspective of the administration, because you are both an administrator and a professor, you can kind of cross that line. What was the role of the administration in getting this rolling? How, from their perspective, what was this whole successive battles that were trying to get this once, twice … (??)

2-00:08:58

Rucker:

I think it’s one of those things that you can talk to Dr. Poska, because she was on the frontline. Talk to Dr. Parker, because she was on the frontline. And setting up those meetings with the Deans, the various deans over the course of time. Meeting with the President, meeting with the provost office. Umm, I think in the current situation where you had the major accepted it was because you had the committee doing the work, answering all the questions that were asked in terms of what resources, what courses, how many majors are we going to have, how many majors are we going to be able to produce in the next 5 years. Those sorts of things. I think it was that sort of collaborative arrangement where the committee sought to address every single question that was asked of the administration. In that sense, when you’ve answered all the questions and there are no roadblocks. I mean it’s there. Look, we have the majors, look we have the courses. It’s a no brainer.

Halsey:

So what is exactly your role in…

2-00:10:14

Rucker:

I was a part of the committee. I mean, we as a committee met. We talked about classes, we talked about courses. We talked about, I mean, we talked about every- we talked about the history, it was just ongoing. Again, I have been a part of these discussions since I came here. Since the 90’s. And it was wonderful to see the breakthrough that occurred recently, and again I owe a lot of that to Dr. Poska. I really do. Because she … was the person who got us together as a group and Judith Parker and Craig Vasey and Kevin McCluskey and all of those folks kept pushing this initiative forward. Ok, here’s the question. What information do we need to answer this question. Let’s all get together, gather this information… get it spelled out so that there is no misunderstanding whatsoever. Address every issue that is concerns SCHE not just the Mary Washington administration but the state counsel of higher education as well, address all of those questions. Again working together as a team to do that was what this effort was all about.

Arndt:

At what point during this whole process did you feel the change from you pushing for this to happen to you realizing oh this will really happen, we will actually get this program.

2-00:11:48

Rucker:

Well I think it was… I mean we were having a series of meetings and we just kept talking about what we needed to do and as you kept seeing those things getting done it was like, you know, this is going to happen. When, before she left, when Dr. Hample said this was something that made sense. It’s going to happen. When we answered the questions that SCHE wanted, it’s going to happen. When Dr. Poska met with the new Dean, and the new Dean allocated funds to do those supplementary types of things, lectures and stuff, it’s going to happen. It was just like one thing after another, it just seemed to cascade. Yes, there were intervening frustration but the reality is, ultimately everything was addressed. And in the long term we will see what happens for opportunities in other programs, maybe additional specializations. Who knows. But the future bodes well.

Halsey:

That is pretty much all of our questions, do you have any kind of concluding thoughts or…

2-00:13:01

Rucker:

I’m very excited. About the opportunity this affords to members of the community and all of that, all of those individuals. The students, the faculty and community in terms of the speakers and the other programs that will come about as a consequence of that. I am very happy to see that we have gone from that institution that I attended years ago where I had that professor who said those things which were, even today, were stinging because they ring in my ears. The reality is that we have moved so far beyond that place. I always tell students that as an institution we don’t stand still, we change, and we always must invest educationally in the future. Yes we at the here and now but the skills that are imparted to our students as learners and as thinkers are for those things that we don’t see today. If our students are not garnering skills that will help them navigate the world beyond their four years here as undergraduate students, we have failed. AI think this adds to our arsenal of skills, abilities and knowledge base that make our students better for the world. And make the world better for having a place like Mary Washington, that has this major.

Halsey and Arndt:

Thank you

Dr. Marjorie Och Transcript

Monday, December 6th, 2010

Interview Transcript

Interview with Dr. Marjorie Och

Interviewed by:  Clark Castillo and Erin Underwood

Transcribed by: Clark Castillo and Erin Underwood

[Interview #1: November 16, 2010]

Table of Contents

1:00:00:06

Introduction

1:00:00:46

Professor Och describes her introduction to Feminism

1:00:02:43

Professor Och describes the history of Mary Washington

1:00:05:03

Professor Och describes why the program was started

1:00:06:01

Professor Och explains why the program hasn’t started until now.

1:00:07:37

Professor Och Describes Feminism

1:00:09:37

Professor Och describes the beginning of today’s Women’s and Gender Studies

01:00:13:23

Professor Och details the focus of the curriculum

1:00:15:16

Professor Och introduces the “Core group” from the beginning of the Women’s and Gender studies.

01:00:17:09

Professor Och compares the current curriculum to the standing curriculum before the Women’s and Gender Studies Program

01:00:18:57

Professor Och explains why Women’s and Gender studies is a program and not a discipline.

1:00:20:23

Professor Och explains where she sees the future of the Women’s and Gender Studies.

1:00:22:40

Professor Och is describing the public issues of feminism in general.

1:00:26:15

Professor Och discusses and describes her specific participation in Women’s studies as an Art Historian

1:00:30:40

Professor Och describes the growth of interest in Women’s and Gender studies.

1:00:35:40

Professor Och describes the level of feminism she sees at Mary Washington

1:00:37:15

Professor Och Discusses issues with a lack of Diversity at UMW

1:00:43:39

Professor Och describes how past issues will be fueling the evolution of the New Program

1:00:45:07

Professor Och describes issues the importance of faculty and student interest

01:00: 46:40

Professor Och compares historical Feminist movements to UMW’s today.

01:00:49:46

Professor Och describes student involvement with the program in general

01:00:51:27

Professor Och compares UMW’s program to other schools

01:00:52:27

Professor Och discusses a new wave of feminism

01:00:54:03

Professor Och describes the importance of accumulating all disciplines into Women’s and Gender Studies

01:00:56:13

Professor Och discusses public response to the new program.

02:00:01:25

Professor Och Rediscusses her own activity in the creation of the program, as well as others involved.

02:00:02:39

Professor Och talks about the importance of Women’s History Month

02:00:04:23

Farewell and Message to the Future.

________________________________________

Interview

1:00:00:01

Underwood: Alright.  It is November sixteenth, and I would like to start off, if you would please state your full name.

1:00:00:06

Och:  Okay, I am Marjorie Och. Department of Art and Art History, here at Mary Wash.

1:00:00:12

Underwood:  Um, so Professor Och, I would like to, um, discuss about the Women and Gender’s Study program and UMW and a little bit about how it was formed.  I am going to start out by asking some historical based questions if that is all right.  First off, I’d like to start by asking you how you perceived the feminist movement in the seventies.

1:00:00:46

Och:  Well, I was very little at the time.  How I perceived it was um… gosh that’s an excellent question. As, as a little girl I wasn’t as exposed as many of my senior colleagues here were.  My mom was a stay at home mom, and my role models were Marilyn Monroe and um Lucille Ball on ‘I Love Lucy” uh so sorta wacky blondes and uh and also Doris Day – so blondes who could make a fuss but also be romantic. So the feminist movement, how does that fit into any of that… umm it was an interesting awakening for me.  And I became much more aware of the feminist movement when I was in graduate school, first at the University of Delaware, and then into an empowered feminist environment at Bryn Mawr College.  That may not answer all of your questions but, all that question, but maybe we can get to more of it [Underwood-mmhmm] as we proceed.

1:00:02:19

Underwood:  When did you start teaching here at UMW?

1:00:02:23

Och:  In the fall of ’94.

1:00:02:26

Underwood:  Okay. Now, have you heard anything, or experienced anything when the university went coed- more about, like, the de-feminizing of campus?

1:00:02:43

Och: Oh yeah, there has been a lot of that.  From erasing signs, taking away signs about Mary Washington, um… wanting to call it the University of Mary Washington because certain administrators didn’t want to sit with other Mary’s at events where Virginia schools were lined up- Mary this, Mary that.  I think that was unfortunate and this has… I don’t know that Mary Washington has ever been a feminist campus.  I think there have been, as I understand ‘feminist campus’ from going to Bryn Mawr, there are individuals here who are feminists, and then there are a lot people who will whisper [whispers] ‘feminism’ because it’s an ‘f’ word for them and they are very afraid of that word.  It’s scary.  Unfortunately, and I think the campus has been frightened by women who want rights.

1:00:04:01

Underwood:  Which is so strange considering that this university started as a women’s university.

1:00:04:10

Och:  I think it started as a girls school.  But you’re absolutely right, it is strange.  And I think it is the part of the denial of … um… of women’s history and of women’s rights.  That uh… that has been the case.  It’s in a sense, perhaps the history of a girls’ finishing school.  Send young ladies into teaching.  Where they will teach proper behavior and proper studies for young women.

1:00:04:53

Underwood:  Can you tell me a little bit, a little bit about what sparked the interest for a Women’s and Gender Studies program?

1:00:05:03

Och:  Hunger.  And just really frustration. A lot of frustration on this campus.  And it’s, it’s difficult… it’s difficult to say- to mark all of those moments of frustration.  But, one of them would be an administrator, who is no longer here, saying ‘there will never be a women’s studies major, at this institution.  Never.’ Yea! We have one! [laughs]

1:00:05:50

Underwood:  Um… Another question that kind of goes along with that is –is why now?  Why now is there just been a start?

1:00:06:01

Och: Well, there have been some changes in administrators, and uh I think, I think that a lot of things just fell into place. So it was the right, it was the right time and the right people- and it just fell into place.  And there were some people who weren’t around, some people weren’t around but, couldn’t say no anymore. But we are a good thirty years behind. [Underwood: right] Yeah, which is why we have a women and gender’s studies major and not a women’s studies major or a gender studies major.  You know, many schools today don’t have just a women’s studies major, they will have both.  And the group that was working on this didn’t feel that, you know, we had the faculty to do two independent majors as much as we wanted that.  So we combined talents and resources and agreed that this would be women and gender studies major.  Perhaps in the future other things will have developed.   I’d love to see some other things happen.  I would love to see some other things happen.

1:00:07:29

Underwood:  Could you tell me what your definition of feminism and women’s studies is?

1:00:07:37

Och:  Gosh.  Another good, tough question.  Feminism is, for me, recognizing that everyone, men and women both, have… have rights.  And to be a feminist is to recognize everyone’s potential and everyone’s…everyone’s right, rights.  Women’s studies would be more particular there and it would be the study of women’s lives, women’s histories- both very particular as well as more general.  It would involve sciences, which I am not involved in, but it would certainly involve sciences as well as the humanities, social sciences. Some of the…[Underwood- Can you…] oh I’m sorry [Underwood- Oh no, go please…] A study of women’s lives.

1:00:08:42

Underwood:  Um… could you tell me some of the key players ahh… in the formation of the program? [Och: here at Mary Washington?] Yes.

1:00:08:51

Och:  Um, yes.  Perhaps the one who is, I think, most critical for a sense of history here at Mary Washington is Judith Parker, the linguistics professor.  And um.. she has been here between twenty and twenty-five years, I think.  And um, she is critical to the movement of the (mizzle ?) on campus and women’s studies here.

1:00:09:27

Underwood:  And what was your role?  Could you kind of explain how you helped? [Och: with the creation of this?] Yes

1:00:09:37

Och:  Okay. Um… In late January or early February of 2008, I had a chance encounter with Nina Mikhalevsky, Dr. Mikhalevsky, who at that time was the acting provost.  And the chance encounter occurred here, outside of Dupont, and it was, you know, January or February and faculty are just exhausted.  You know the feeling, we are as tired as you guys are.  You come back from the holidays and are like oh my god, can’t wait ‘til summer.  She said ‘hi Marjory how are you?’ and I said ‘hi Nina, I’m fine.’  And then she asked me a question and the question went something like, … now keep in mind this is sometime-you know- January, February 2008.  Who was our president? I have- I don’t remember- okay? [laughs] We’ve been through so many presidents, it was horrific, and for faculty who were not only exhausted but also fed up with administrative shenanigans.  You know, I was just ready to choo [makes motion to ‘throw in the towel’] you know.  So she said something like ‘What would you like to see happen here at Mary Washington?’ or ‘How are you doing?’ or something about the curriculum here at Mary Washington.  And I said ‘Nina, I would love to see a Women’s Studies major developed.’ And she said ‘Well why don’t you?’ And I said ‘Because the administration has always said no’.  And Dr. Mikhalevsky said… ‘If you want a women’s study major Marjory, you propose it.’  So… the Women and Gender’s Studies major started from that conversation that I had with Nina Mikhalevsky. And I sent an email around, and I’ve got a copy of that email here, and I sent it around and I shared it with about a dozen faculty on campus and a few administrators, uh maybe just one administrator Cedric Rucker, who I knew would be supportive of this.  And I proposed that we have a lunch, so in the spring of ’08 faculty started to meet and then in the fall of ‘08 we continued to meet.  And the academic year ‘08-’09 we developed that proposal, and I guess it was in ’09 that Allyson Poska, of the history department, finalized the proposal and she is the director of the program and doing a very fine job.  And we have a strong director, we have a strong committee supporting women’s and gender studies.  It was a couple years in the making, there were a lot of frustrations throughout, meetings with various administrators who were more or less supportive. But it started late January of ’08, that chance meeting.  So, chance meetings can sometimes be good.

01:00:13:07

Underwood:  I would definitely have to agree. [Och: Yeah]

01:00:13:11

Castillo:  Umm, I’m assuming there was a specific curriculum that the Women’s and Gender Studies is supposed to try to organize itself around.  What is the primary point of focus of that curriculum?

01:00:13:23

Och:  Well it’s interdisciplinary, and uh I think the- I don’t know that there is any particular point of, of the curriculum other than allowing the student to focus on either women’s studies or gender studies, and within that they can choose, say, something that is, is focused more on the humanities, more on the sciences, more on the social sciences.  So, my understanding of the curriculum is that students can ah, develop their own personal interest and professional interests.  Uh, since I’m on sabbatical this year, I’m not, I’m not on the committee.  And, so I don’t know how the committee is sort of seeing or directing students at this point.  But I do from conversations, you know, from our initial planning uh, that uh, we were- we saw Women’s and Genders Studies as, as majors that would allow students either to, you know to pursue one or the other to prepare them for graduate school or, or the job- employment.  So giving them a strong background and certainly having internships, in again depending on their particular interests their personal focus, internships to direct them and then individual studies also to help them decide where they want to pursue their careers.

01:00:15:11

Castillo: Alright, and um, who all was involved in coming up with the curriculum that stands today?

01:00:15:16

Och: A lot of people.  Umm, I was, Allyson, Judith Parker, Connie, umm.. oh who else.  Kevin McCluskey, I’m reading some names off of this, Miriam Liss, Tracy Citeroni, Kristin Marsh, Craig Vasey, umm… Helen Housley, heavens I know there were many other people who were involved, but that was a quarter.  That was…Connie Smith, I think I gave her first name but not her last. But that was the core group, gosh I hope I’m not leaving anyone out.

01:00:15:59

Castillo:  Umm, was one department in particular drawn from more to build the curriculum than others, or…?

01:00:16:05

Och:  No, and not, not that I, not as I understand it.  Umm… and that is surprising, umm… it’s interesting that, you know, there were some courses that I would have said yeah that’s a shoo in for Women’s and Gender Studies.  Um, and faculty teaching those courses just didn’t want, didn’t want it for some reason.  I don’t know, um, so there are some departments that may seem less involved but I think there are a lot of departments that are.

01:00:16:50

Underwood:  Umm, can I ask a question real quick? Umm, does the Women and Gender Studies program take classes that have already been kind of out there in different departments as well as create their own classes or do you just incorporate the ones that were there first?

01:00:17:09

Och:  Yeah, good question.  Uh, we were working, we were building on our strengths, so, and this is one of the reasons why we have Women’s and Gender Studies and not women’s separate from gender studies majors.  Um, we have a lot of courses already here on campus that involve women’s history, uh, women’s issues, women’s studies, and a few that involve gender studies.  So we, again, building on our strengths, we wanted to use what we already had.  And we also thought, ok, we have to show the administration that we already have this in place.  So again we were building on our strengths to prove that point to the administration.  So presently, I think all of the courses are courses that were on the books or in the works, or something like, umm, an individual study which is to be worked out with the student and that can be different every semester.  Our, our hope and expectation is that new faculty coming to Mary Wash will be interested in Women’s and Gender Studies and so new courses that, you know, they will contribute and so that new courses will be created.  So down the road there could be a separate Women’s Studies, Gender Studies depending on the faculty interest and student interest.

01:00:18:46

Castillo:  Okay, um, how much discussion was there in the initial beginning to have it as an inter-disciplinary program as opposed to having its own discipline of Women’s and Gender Studies?

01:00:18:57

Och:  There was a lot of discussion and um, it really had to be… a couple of things.  Umm, theoretically and historically women’s studies is interdisciplinary.  So, there are departments of women’s studies now at different schools, but even at those schools that may have a separate department they will pull faculty and courses from other disciplines.  Umm, so, you know, again that sort of builds on the strength of that very, what is a very interdisciplinary study.  And practically speaking here at Mary Washington, we were told there was no money.  And without money we can’t have a department.  So, I think we’re doing this on, on handouts.  You know, there might be a little bit of funds every so often but it’s, it’s not- we don’t have a budget that one could depend on to create a department so it really has to be something that pulls in faculty and support from all over.

01:00:20:15

Castillo: Okay.  As the program grows, assuming that it does, where do you see it possibly going?

01:00:20:23

Och:  Skies the limits.  Um, gosh, were would it go? Um, I would… I don’t- I don’t know. I don’t know.  How fully umm, I think we’ve had a…a strong, small, but strong history of students with an interest. As long as I’ve been here there’s always been at least one that I’ve known of every year, in my, in my teaching in Art History.  And I know that other faculty, you know the student I know is not known by the faculty over there, you know, so we all know different students.  So I think now that it is official, I think it is certainly a lot easier for students to come to a major that is already there.  Making our major is a problem, it always has been. So hopefully it will become stronger, larger, area here at Mary Washington, more students and faculty will become aware of it, more resources will be made available, more programming on campus, um… the ‘f’ word won’t be whispered, you know people will be able to say I’m a feminist, umm and yeah- so that will be good.

01:00:21:47

Castillo:  Why do you feel that it’s, that people are scared of the word? Why do you feel that it is that way on campus?

01:00:21:54

Och: It’s not just on campus, and it’s an excellent question, and- I think, I think people, well, maybe I should ask you. What was your- or what is your, what is your perception, I don’t mean to put you on the spot, and I could just fill in some blanks here if you just don’t want to say, um, but do you have any stereotypes that you’ve heard. Not that you hold, but stereotypes that you’ve heard about feminists.

01:00:22:31

Castillo: Depending on what level of feminism, definitely yes.

01:00:22:35

Och: Yeah, yeah. And some of those stereotypes are-

01:00:22:40

Castillo: A little unnerving

01:00:22:40

Och: Yeah, yeah. Exactly, exactly, and one thing that needs to… the context, for feminism and perhaps scary feminism, is that women lost jobs, for wanting to study women. For wanting to study women’s history. You know, I would never have gotten tenure 30 years ago, 20 years ago, it just wouldn’t have happened because my own field is the history of women’s patronage of the arts.  Well this is… I was a pioneer in the field of art history. And, my work is based on the triumphs and humiliation of many feminist art historians who didn’t get tenure and who lost their jobs simply because they wanted to study women artists, women patrons, women’s issues. Those women got pissed off.  So that anger, pardon my future for using unpleasant language, but that anger is something that doesn’t go away. In fact when I had that conversation with Dr. Mikhalevsky, and you she said you know how are you doing, what’s up, what would you like to see at Mary Washington, I went like this [crosses her arms] and I said, you know, I’m not happy. So I had the body language, very defensive, very unsettling. And she is a charming, she is strong. She is smart. She is not someone I had to defend myself with, but you know I was about to say Dammit. We want women’s studies here. We have wanted it for years. And these people in GW are saying over my dead body. And it’s like well OK. And she says Margaret you want it, you go for it. So she calmed me down, but again the anger, and I could feel that anger coming up. And there are stereotypes. Certainly about feminists, we can get angry. Women of a certain generation. And I think younger women who may be feminists don’t know that anger necessarily, I think young men and women both who are feminist. I think, I think you’ll encounter things, things that haven’t changed all that much. I think you’ll encounter some lousy things but you, at this stage you may not see or feel that anger. That may be one of those stereotypes.  Good questions.

01:00:26:05

Castillo: You had touched briefly on a question I had down here, how exactly do you see yourself as an art historian, how exactly do you see your field tying in with women’s studies?

01:00:26:15

Och: Ok, the kind of work I do. I look at how women commissioned works of art, I look at how women are described in 15th and 16th century literature, my own area is Italian renaissance, so I focus on things in Rome, in Venice, in Florence, South Italy, to some extent Naples.  And the descriptions, the history of women. My dissertation was about a very, very powerful noble woman by the name of Victoria Colona, who was known as a friend of Michael Angelo’s. So you know, she was known. And for much of the 20th century, that was the only way she was known. Except in Italy, where she was also recognized as a very important writer, and in fact she was the most important women patriarchan poet, in the 16th century. So my work, I was kind of an archaeologist, excavating what are this woman’s interests in the arts. Because she was described as having no interests in the arts, and I thought a friend of Michael Angelo’s, they write poetry to one another, how could she not have any interest in the arts? So I began to look at her life, her poetry, documents that I could find. My dissertation was about her patronage. What I did was I redefined patronage for women, and I defined it as women acquiring works of art, not directly, but indirectly. In the 16th century we know a lot about male patrons, the Medici, the popes and such, and they could go directly an artist, and say you know I want this. Women within certain social statuses, within certain social spheres could not have that kind of direct interaction with an artist. You know artists were someone who worked with their hands, and noble people noble ladies did not work on that level. So Colona, well, except that she knew Michael Angelo who everyone described as divine, So Colona identified a number of projects that she commissioned, not directly, but thru the assistance of her brother, you know, other male relatives, she had debts that she pulled in. People owed her favors, they owed her money. So she could pull in these debts that were owed to her in very, very interesting ways. Her art collection was in part developed through her working around the system. So for me, you know, my interest in women’s studies and women’s history has been to identify ways that women can circumvent the system, can go around the system, and still succeed. Because if you’re not allowed to do something, and you still want to do it. How do you do it? How do you accomplish it? So I was interested in how she accomplished.

01:00:30:06

Castillo: You had identified earlier that the administration has definitely been a roadblock in the road to this women’s and genders studies

01:00:30:15

Och: With the exception of Dr. Mikhalevsky

01:00:30:21

Castillo: Have there been any other major ones or…? [Och: Ones who assisted or?] Any other major roadblocks?

01:00:30:40

Och: I’d have to say that the number of faculty interested in women’s and gender studies has grown. So when I first came here the number was very, very small. When I first came here, the number of us interested could have fit in these three chairs. I’m being facetious, I’m exaggerating to some extent.  It was a very small group. So younger faculty, more faculty, more research, that has done something to keep some roadblocks at bay from faculty.

01:00:31:30

Underwood: When did the want for women’s studies program really start.  I mean I realize that  it kind of came to fruition more recently, but how far back did the push really start?

01:00:31:46

Och: At least, at least, 10 years ago, probably 20 years ago which predates my arrival here, but two of the faculty who were very active and strong in promoting Women’s studies, Judith Parker and Carroll Corcoran, Judith in linguistics, and Carroll Corcoran who is no longer here, in psychology. And they were very strong in pushing for women’s studies in their classes. So at least 20 years ago, and I would think, that would take us back to 1990, I would say the early 80’s but I don’t know.

01:00:32:31

Castillo: We had discussed earlier about how when the school had become co-ed, that it had more or less de-feminized itself. Do you feel that the marketing aspect of this school has at all affected the creation of this program?

01:00:32:55

Och: No. I don’t think so. How would you see that?

01:00:33:06

Underwood: I think more that Mary Washington has turned more towards getting more male students in, and kind of having the creation of a women’s and gender studies program as kind of appeasing more of the women on campus- since we’ve turned away from women’s names on the buildings, just kind of getting rid of that, and things of that nature.

01:00:33:49

Och: So sort of a consolation prize? [Underwood:  Almo-Yeah almost] Well it might be a consolation prize in that we’re over 30 years too late. It’s like now that it doesn’t mean anything anymore? Not that it doesn’t mean anything, but know that it’s not the empowering activist, even militant program that it could have been in the 70’s. um, So, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if admissions people don’t start to use it now, for marketing, in some requirements. It’s a good thing that we have it, I think it will appeal to more students. And I think students and parents both are going see this and think well yeah, sure, why not.

01:00:34:55

Underwood: Kind of going back to a little bit of a historical thing, you were talking about the formation in the 70’s being a more militant activist program. How do you feel that our program approaches that part of feminism? Do you think that we embrace a more active, very out there more militant kind of thing, or do you think that it’s kind of taking the turn, as most women’s programs are doing and backing away from that?

01:00:35:40

Och: I don’t know absolutely, because I’m on sabbatical so I m not in tune, with what’s going on right now. My sense though is that we have some very activist faculty, I think we have some very activist students. I don’t think, I don’t think we have too many militants, here, but that’s what it is. We don’t have to have militants. But I think we can develop a women’s studies and a gender studies program that advocates for issues. Whatever those issues may be. So, I, I hope that is part of what’s going on. And I think, I think certainly that especially in women’s studies, because there are so many things involved in women’s studies with domestic violence and family violence, so many terrible issues, I think we need to have some activist advocacy involved to get good work done.

01:00:36:57

Underwood: Do you feel that our program incorporates minorities into the women’s and gender studies program? With race or sexual orientation?

01:00:37:15

Och: Good Question, umm, again, since I’m not closely involved this year with things, I don’t know all the courses that are being taught. Mary Washington is predominantly white. I think we’ve got, everyone can be a minority. Because we’re all different, we’re all individuals, so we all have something that can make us very different.  But the campus is not, the campus does not mirror the country.  If one goal is for the campus to mirror the country, I don’t think that any of our majors are accomplishing that.  I think women’s and genders studies certainly could.  I don’t know if this pertinent to your question, but as an interesting aside for, when I arrived here in ’94 I knew of no lesbians on campus.  And there was only one, two, two openly gay individuals.  One faculty, one faculty administrator.  I still know, I’m not sure I can name a lesbian on campus.  Not that I have too.  But, gay men are much more open on campus.  I think that’s very healthy.  And I think that’s certainly the change, the difference is very healthy.  And who knows, maybe in the future well develop that people can be open, so that in terms of sexual orientation, perhaps here at Mary Washington, there is more openness, But it is still so frightening, for men and women of any age, to come out, and open up as being anything, that another group, a dominant group might say is not the norm- whatever the norm is.  I would like to see Mary Washington become much more open in that regard.  And certainly more diverse in every respect.  And I think that was one goal that the faculty had.  In your discussions, in your interviews, in your research on campus, you might come across some debate, that was held, I think in the 80’s, about heterosexual and homosexual lifestyles.  And it was a very, I don’t, I wasn’t here, I don’t know enough about it to really speak directly, I don’t like hearsay. But if you want to hunt some stuff down, it was two faculty members, as I recall debating in GW, on stage about this. And it sounded like it was really, really strange. But you know again, it suggests the distance we’ve gone. And you know still the difference we have yet to go.

01:00:41:24

Underwood: How do you feel on the race and gender intensive general ed requirement, being gone?

01:00:41:35

Och: I voted against it. I think I was one of three people, who raised their hands. I don’t know why we, we voted that away. I thought the race and gender intensive requirement here was good, I thought it was interesting. I do not think that race and gender has trickled down across campus into all of our courses, absolutely not. The week we voted that down, was the week that, you may not remember this, I don’t have all the details. It was the week that we had a series, a horrific, racially charged images placed in a student dorm for staff to encounter. These were, horrific images, and they were put up on facebook, you know, and it was just the scandal here. And we voted that week we voted Race and gender down. It just didn’t make any sense to me. And very few faculty, like I said I was one of about three who said no. Kristen Marsh spoke to support, to keep race and gender. But it was almost unanimous.

01:00:43:27

Underwood: Do you think that the women’s and genders studies program, that that’s going to be  something they will definitely want to keep alive in their program?

01:00:43:39

Och: Sure, absolutely, that’s really at the heart. And, you know, really for the past 20 years, there have been different race and gender initiatives on campus. Some more or less successful, really depending on what was going on. And all wonderful, all very wonderful. But we’ve lost a lot of good faculty because the administration didn’t support race and genders studies interest of faculty. And I think that Women’s and Gender Studies will support it, and may be a place for faculty to say, in spite of all that’s out there, at least there is this core of colleagues and students. Because we really are here for the students. So when you guys are saying yeah that’s important to us, that keeps us alive. That keeps us charged, that keeps us going.  That’s so important.

01:00:44:52

Underwood: Speaking of students, was there a big student push for the women’s studies program? Or did you find that it was primarily faculty?

01:00:45:07

Och: It had to be faculty, to begin with to get it going. And I think each faculty member sort of polled student classes and such, and we found in our classes a great deal of support. And I remember on a couple occasions, when something new happened, something good happened, I would announce in my class, and they clapped, and they were all Yay yay yay. And the students were definitely, here in art history, where you might say what does that have to do with, there was a lot of interest, a lot of interest, a lot of support. While the work was of faculty, working together. We were listening to students, and we were kept alive. You know our batteries were charged by listening to students you know say yeah thanks. That was really important to us.

01:00:46:10

Underwood: Was there any student involvement in the curriculum? I know that we’ve read that a lot of the feminist women’s programs starting out had a lot of student involvement in curriculum building. I don’t know if that’s the same today or not, but did they have a say in it? Or was there any involvement of any kind?

01:00: 46:40

Och: We used a number of the individual, sorry not individual studies, the special majors. Because there had been a number of women’s studies special majors. So we used their programs as templates.  So in that way we had student input. And so by polling students, and there were actual polls, that another faculty member actually did, several other faculty actually polled students. Unfortunately we didn’t have, you know again the student body in the 70’s is very different than the student body now. [Underwood: Right] So the student body in the 70s would have just taken over GW, and would have just sat down, you know, until the administration said yes. And now, everyone has their own job to do, their work, and so this group of faculty, with a few students listening in and assisting in some ways, did it. But we didn’t have the massive input of students that you typically had in the 70s, had we had had that opportunity.

01:00:48:08

Underwood: I’m kind of curious now, I know you weren’t here during that time, but why, why wasn’t there a student’s movement? Why didn’t they go sit in GW and demand that they had a women’s studies program?

01:00:48:29

Och: Yeah.  That’s an excellent question. I don’t know. I don’t, I don’t think the faculty were particular… I don’t think there was a strong enough, a large enough body of faculty to support the students, to do that. Or to even let the students become aware. I’m sure there were a few students who were interested. And they probably had their heads patted. You’re so cute when you get angry. You know something like that. Umm…It was a different school.  It was a very different school.  It would be wonderful to interview alumni from that time and see, see what they would say.

01:00:49:23

Underwood: How do you feel about student involvement.  Do you… how does, does it matter?

01:00:49:35

Och: Yes. Absolutely. But student involvement in what?

01:00:49:37

Underwood: Just in the program. In taking interest. In pushing ahead with new ideas.

01:00:49:46

Och: Yeah, yeah, oh that’s very important. That is so important. You know personally student involvement means well okay, it wasn’t done in vain. This really is wanted. And this is how we get our thanks. You know by students becoming majors. This is how we get our thanks. It also means there’s a future for this.  And that other students at Mary Washington will be exposed. You know, you don’t have to major in it, just be exposed, that’s all. And that is the wonderful thing about a liberal arts campus is that you are exposed.  Maybe you never take a class, or maybe your roommate does, or maybe someone you know takes a class, so you hear about it through that way. And that’s important. And student involvement means there’s a, there’s a future. And I don’t know if this is the case, but I would love for there to be a student on the, in the committee that is involved in directing the women’s and gender studies major. I don’t know if that’s the case, but.

01:00:51:10

Underwood: [whispers to Castillo:  Do you have any more questions?] [Castillo:  I believe we just about covered it all] How do you see this program in comparison to different colleges programs?

01:00:51:27

Och: Well It’s so new, and that has, could be its plus, it could be its advantage. It won’t have the baggage of a program that’s already established. In a way we can invent ourselves as, as we want. So we can start off afresh, we can start off with a young generation of students, and new faculty, so I think in that regard not carrying the baggage from the 70’s could be, could be a plus. It could also be a minus in that we don’t have the history of the feminist movement of the 70’s. But we still have some of those feminists who are here, so…

01:00:52:20

Underwood: Do you think that there will be a new wave any time soon?

01:00:52:27

Och: A new wave of feminism? [Underwood: Yeah] Yeah, umm, let’s see. Good question.  It’s been interesting to watch over, over the years, hopefully there will be. If there’s no new wave it’s dead. [Underwood: right]And that would be the case for anything. So hopefully there will be a new wave and my hope is that it will charge a lot of people to feel good about being empowered and helping others to become empowered.

01:00:53:08

Underwood: Kind of going back to curriculum, I just had another question about that. How do the sciences fall in to the women and gender studies program? Were they, I mean obviously I hope they were asked and whatnot. And just reading from previous books and stuff, that a lot of don’t really considered themselves as even being able to be put into a women’s and gender studies program. How have you all, in this program on campus here, how was sciences and mathematics incorporated?

01:00:54:03

Och: Specifically, I don’t know off hand, I’d have to check the brochure, to verify what is included. I do know that emails were sent to all faculty.  And I know emails are still being sent to all faculty regarding courses that could fit within the curriculum, within the major. So all faculty were notified. You know, one of the things I said earlier, it was surprising that some departments, there were some faculty in English, whose courses would fit perfectly, didn’t want to sign up right away. And, I don’t know if they have now or not. All departments were invited. I think it’s natural for the sciences to be involved. You know we don’t just study one gender. We don’t just study birds to the exclusion of chimpanzees. Umm, you know, we study everything. The sciences, like the arts, like psychology. These are all naturals for women’s and genders studies. It requires faculty interest. They were invited and hopefully they will be involved. I, I know, Suzanne Sumner in mathematics has been interest.  I think others will be as well.

01:00: 55:50

Underwood: Obviously there was a good response from faculty and students at the formation of this program. How did you feel about the public response. Or even, even alumni?  What was their response?

01:00:56:13

Och: I don’t know. I don’t know the response of alumni. I think some were saying something like, well at last. Because they were waiting also, and wondering why, why is it taking so long. And others, others are probably disappointed. Unfortunately. I think it is something the administration is going to use now that we have it. Because in our, what was it the OSACS review? One of the points that was made some years ago was the importance of developing new majors and one of the majors listed was women’s studies.  So now that we have it the faculty, the faculty did something that the administration is going to use for, for itself to say ‘Okay- new majors, check.’

02:00:00:27

Underwood:  Umm, do you have any other thoughts or anything else you would like to talk about that we haven’t touched on?

02:00:00:34

Och:  Well, we haven’t talked about Women’s History month.  Was that at all a… be of interest?

02:00:00:45

Castillo:  We hadn’t discussed it but we would like to hear about it.

02:00:00:47

Och:  Yeah.  That’s- It’s just a… It’s a good thing, and I think that the fact that Women’s History month has been consistent here that’s something that faculty were able to say well you know, we’ve got this really great thing and students are involved in it, faculty are involved in it, you know let’s-let’s keep that, let’s strengthen that.  So, that’s been really- that’s been positive and that was a supporting mechanism for this.

02:00:01:23

Underwood:  Did you say that you had something that you wanted to read?

02:00:01:25

Och:  Oh you know- and I think I ended up pretty much saying it all.  It was, it was this first email that I sent out to faculty, February tenth, it was a Sunday, 2008.  [reading] Collegues I recently had a brief ten minute discussion with Nina, Nina Mikhalevsky, I mentioned the fact that a group of faculty have long wanted and have worked to develop a women’s studies major, but that this was quote never to be unquote for a previous administration.  Nina suggested I propose a women’s studies major adding that she once taught in one and would very much like to teach in one again. – Um…So then I just proposed a lunch meeting, so we pretty much went over that.  But, umm, thank you Nina.

02:00:02:19

Underwood:  You brought up history, err the Women’s History month and that it’s been a big part in this.  How, how do you feel that the Women’s and Gender Studies program is going to use that?

02:00:02:39

Och:  Good, um, with programming certainly, which has always been the case.  I would imagine that some courses would be some special courses in the spring.  Something that I hope will continue, five or six years ago I started the Undergraduate- let’s get the whole title- the UMW Forum of Undergraduate Research in Women’s Studies.  And, five or six years ago, so this has been going on for a while and this was sponsored by the Women’s History month committee, and hopefully it will continue this year.  I’m on sabbatical so I’m not involved in it.  But, I think that that is a very important venue to highlight the work throughout campus on women’s studies that our student’s are doing.  Now that’s Women’s History month not say, Gender Studies month, but um, I think the committee and the director of the women’s and gender studies committee needs to work on, on that.  That part.

02:00:04:12

Underwood:  Do you have anything else you’d like to say?

02:00:04:17

Och:  It’s been a pleasure talking with you both.

02:00:04:19

Castillo:  Pleasures ours.

02:00:04:23

Och:  Thank you. [Underwood:  Thank you very much]  Oh absolutely, you’re welcome.  Thanks for your interest and to the future umm…[pause] gosh a message to the future. Stay well… I hope you are there!  [laughs] Okay.

Dr. Craig Vasey Transcript

Monday, December 6th, 2010

University of Mary Washington

Fredericksburg, Virginia

Dr. Craig Vasey

Women and Gender Studies Oral History Project

Interview Conducted by

Gene Kimball and Alice Wagner

In 2010

Discursive Table of Contents – Dr. Craig Vasey

1-00:00:01

Position at University of Mary Washington – educational background, including time in Paris – Work at other institutions – beginning of work at Mary Washington – administrative resistance to establishment of Women’s Studies – how he approaches feminism

1-00:12:15

His definition of feminism – support for the program from provost, Nina Mikhalevsky – his role in the foundation of the Race and Gender Curriculum Project – details about the project

1-00:23:13

Discussion of the naming of Women and Gender Studies – lack of resources – desire for departmental status – impact of other institutions’ women’s studies programs on the development of Mary Washington’s

1-00:31:12

Lack of student pressure for the program – homogeneity of campus – attempts to attract men to the college – future integration of other departments not yet involved – curriculum and feminist pedagogy

1-00:41:52

Community reactions – discussion on how the major is not yet being reported to the SHEV – effect of SHEV on smaller majors

1-00:50:42

Why program did not develop until 2010, faculty involvement – role of President Judy Hample – Dr. Vasey’s reflections on the effects of being a male involved with feminism and women’s studies – discussion of additional information that Dr. Crawley’s book History of Mary Washington gives

Interview with Dr. Craig Vasey

Interviewed by: Alice Wagner and Gene Kimball

Transcribers: Alice Wagner and Gene Kimball

[Interview #1: November 11, 2010]

[Resume Vasey 01 11c-11-10.wav]

1-00:00:01

Wagner:

We’re here with Dr. Vasey at the University of Mary Washington on November 11, 2010.  So first I would like to start off with asking you what is your position here at the university?

1-00:00:19

Vasey:

Oh I’m a professor of philosophy and I’m the chair of the department of Classics, Philosophy, and Religion.  I’ve been here since 1986 and I’ve been chair since 1998.

Wagner:

What schools… school or schools did you attend for your degree, masters, and PhD?

1-00:00:37

Vasey:

I have uh I actually went through two graduate programs.  From undergraduate I went to Paris to the University of Paris Sorbonne I did License and Maitrise which is a master’s degree there and I finished a doctorate there at doctorat de troisième cycle at the University of Paris Nanterre and from there I went to Brown University where I enrolled in the PhD program in analytic philosophy. So I completed a PhD at Brown as well.

Wagner:

Do you think your education played a role in how you approach Women and Gender Studies, particularly Paris, I mean that’s an unusual…?

1-00:01:23

Vasey:

Well, yeah, but what really happened to me in Paris was I was kind of surprised to see the retarded status of the Women’s Movement in Paris when I was there.  When I went there in 76, I was there from ‘76-‘79, I wasn’t really all that interested in women’s studies at that point yet, but I had read a little bit of stuff off and on.  Actually, I remember being an undergraduate working at the reserve desk in the library and picking up books to read like Shulamith Firestone’s Dialectic of Sex. I remember reading that when I was on duty, you know, so I had gotten a little bit into some questions on feminist theory and feminist philosophy.  And when I went to Paris I was actually kind of surprised that there was nothing like that in the curriculum, at the university. There were some important theorists whose names I became aware of within a year or two but they weren’t being taught.  Women’s studies wasn’t being taught in the university. So I would say the biggest impact being in France had on me was realizing how much less sensitive French culture seemed to be in 1977 and 1978 to issues of women’s equality or inequality than back in the United States.  And I was a little surprised by that.  And I guess that’s kind of what, that’s a core part of what got me interested in someone like Simone de Beauvoir because she published The Second Sex in 1947 in France, I would have guessed that France was the place where this sort of thing was happening and it wasn’t really yet at the everyday level I mean there were people like Helene Cixous and Luce Irigaray were these top theorists and even then they were becoming known a little bit.  But they’re very esoteric and again as I said no one at the university level was teaching it or taking it seriously for that matter.  I mean, I remember writing a paper as a graduate student in which I made reference to feminism as philosophy and again this was about 1979 and my professor writing back and saying, “feminism couldn’t be philosophy any more than trade unionism could be philosophy.”  Because, I mean, he was suggesting that I was confusing a social political movement with philosophy because one could talk about Marxism as a philosophy but one couldn’t talk about unions or union activity as philosophy.  And he was thinking well feminism is just political agitation, it’s just political movement.  There’s no philosophical side to it.  So there ….It was really quite [pause] I’m inclined to say backward [laugh] theoretically.  And um I wrote a dissertation… I wrote a master’s thesis on Emmanuel Levinas he was one of the people I went to Paris to study and I was surprised on reading Levinas that he made use of the image of the feminine in his philosophy.  It’s a field of philosophy called phenomenology.  And as I thought more and more about how he was using that image I wound up writing a chapter of my master’s thesis devoted to the image of woman in Levinas’ work.  And um [pause] basically the faculty at the time didn’t take it seriously at all.  They thought it was ridiculous, they thought it was a joke.  “Why would you include that?” Whereas thirty years later that’s what everyone is writing about; is things just like that.  But it was really just not – the climate was not yet tuned in.  It was really interesting to discover that [pause] and to feel the uncertainty of that too.  Since I was writing about that I thought it mattered!  But I was being told by my professors “Why are you spending your time on that?  That’s not philosophy.  That’s not important.”  So I was surprised by your question and that triggered those recollections of… but I didn’t do any women’s studies work at all in Paris, I would say, except my own work on reading Levinas and thinking about Levinas and then when I went to Brown after that I discovered in the curriculum at Brown, in a department called semiotics, there were courses in [pause] I don’t remember what it was called I guess it was psychoanalysis so it’d be a course on like [Kant?] um… psychoanalytic work on contemporary feminist theory.  And that was the first time I took a course that had anything to do with it.  That would have been about 1980.  In the semiotics department, not the philosophy department, they wouldn’t touch it there either.

Wagner:

Did Brown have a larger women’s studies?  Like did it expand into psychology, history, that sort of thing or do you remember?

1-00:06:14

Vasey:

They had a women’s center, the Pembrook center …. I’m not sure it was an academically oriented women’s center where you know it was more of a socially oriented center.  But it seems to me that it was the semiotics department primarily that was doing this cutting edge theoretical work that was dealing with women’s studies.  There was somebody in the French department, there were some people in the English department as well but at least the theory was being done by the semiotics people.  [Miriam Dunne?] is the name I recall of the woman I studied with there.

Wagner:

Did you work at any other institutions before coming to Mary Washington?

1-00:06:57

Vasey:

Yeah I taught at the University of Maryland.  In fact that’s the first place I taught a course in feminist philosophy um would have been about 1983.  And I was able to do that just because I was teaching there as a part-time faculty member and the person who usually taught the course called – I think it was called “feminism in philosophy” – sort of at the last minute got a leave of absence.  And the department chair just said, “Does anybody want to teach this course? Or should we cancel it?”  And I said “I’ll give it a shot” so I prepared for it over the summer and taught it.  So I [pause] immersed myself intensively over three or four months in the syllabus that she had used but in readings I had become aware of and was intrigued by in order to put that course together.  That was a great experience to do.  Then I taught at Perdue for a year before I came here.  I don’t believe I did anything feminist at Perdue.  When I came here in ’86 I remember my interview with the dean, Phil Hall, who was the dean at the time … I remember asking him about whether there was opportunity here to do work in women’s studies and feminist studies and he said, “Yes but we’re never going to have a women’s studies major.” [laughs]  He was adamant about it.  And he prevented it for the next, you know, seventeen years.  Kept it from making any progress too.  We had women’s studies activity but he had always said we will not have a major in women’s studies.  It was only after he was gone that we finally did begin to put one together.

Wagner:

Do you know why he felt that way?

1-00:08:35

Vasey:

Um…I would speculate that he thought it was not academically serious, because I think that’s the attitude of most of the people of generation before my time, before my generation with respect to women’s studies.  I was telling my class last week because people your age don’t perhaps realize this but the field of women’s studies, the first course in women’s studies was taught in 1970. So, people who are in their seventies now, who were in graduate school and undergraduate a long time before anyone was asking them to take women’s studies seriously as a topic in academic disciplines.  And so they… like many things that have confronted women over the last several thousand years when they try to get themselves taken seriously, they are laughed at.  And that continues to be the case to a great degree.

Wagner:

What is your personal definition of women’s studies and its relation to feminism?

1-00:09:42

Vasey:

[pause] Well.  [pause]  I basically come to it from existential phenomenology, from existentialism as a philosophical point of view.  Because Simone de Beauvoir is the first person who I think wrote, took an interesting philosophical stance with respect to gender, kind of brought the notion of gender, even though she didn’t have the word “gender,” kind of brought the notion of gender into a place where we could focus on it academically or intellectually.  So I look at a book like The Second Sex as a compilation, as sort of the beginning of women’s studies, because if you look at the introduction, the table of contents of The Second Sex, it’s got a chapter on biology, on psychology, on historical materialism, then it has a long history of women in western civilization, and it has a long chapter on literature, images of women in literature and myth, art, religion, then it has half the book is on the psychology of women from infancy to old age and women’s sexuality.  No one had ever tried to put all that kind of stuff together in one place, try to synthesize and say something from a deliberate and coherent point of view about women’s existence that way.  So that’s probably how I primarily tune into women’s studies, is from the point of view of why is it that it’s an existentialist writer who first does this; formed the notion of what is woman arises as a problematic question that needs to be addressed and makes her bring together all this research and write a book in which she tries to answer the question of “What is being of woman?” So I’m interested it from that philosophical, especially philosophical, point of view.  I’m not a sociologist, I’m not a historian or a psychologist and so I don’t come to it primarily from those directions.  I did teach Intro to Women’s Studies once but I felt unprepared for the desire on the students’ part to be able to speak as a sociologist or as a historian because that’s far into my area of study and my way of thinking in a way.  I don’t know if I answered your question much, what else did you want to ask in there?

Wagner:

Well I was just asking how it relates to feminism because usually people think of the two going hand in hand?

1-00:12:15

Vasey:

Well I think of feminism as simply the recognition of patriarchy and opposition to that.  I mean I see feminism as just democracy with a small “d” extended across the sex line.  But then that opens a door and one discovers there’s an enormous hall on the other side of that door.  It’s not a simple thing by any means.  It grows and grows and grows.  What one becomes aware of as needing to be addressed if one is a feminist expands continuously.  And the proof of that is what has happened to scholarship in the last thirty years.

Wagner:

So I … already forgot the man’s name you mentioned earlier… so you said that once he-

Vasey:

Oh, Levinas?

Wagner:

Yes.  No!  The man you said at Mary Washington who was blocking the-?

Vasey:

Oh the dean?

Wagner:

Yeah, yeah.

Vasey:

The dean, Phil Hall.

Wagner:

So um… after he left, you said you guys started to work towards making it a major-

1-00:13:24

Vasey:

Well I don’t mean to set it up too much as a confrontation with him… I just mean, he said that to me back in ’86, and it would come up from time to time in conversations with people that “Phil has always said we’re not going to have women’s studies here.”  When he retired in something like maybe 2004, something like that, and uh well uh, Barra, Rosemary Barra, was appointed by the president to replace him, and she was dean for five years, so this is her first year out, so that would have been 2005.  [pause]  It was only going to be after Phil had gone that we realized that if we were ever gonna… if anyone was going to return to this question of creating a women’s studies major, it’d have to be after that.  And it was only really when Nina Mikhalevsky was in as a provost, I think people felt, people interested in women’s studies felt that there was a sympathetic attitude in the administration to that change, that growth in the curriculum, to allow something like a special major in women’s studies.  Cause the answer right away from the dean was “Well, we have no resources for that” but even the new dean wasn’t as opposed to it as the previous dean had been, just not going to help facilitate it particularly.  But we did feel the provost, in the acting provost Mikhalevsky, we had a sympathetic and supportive attitude.

Wagner:

So what was the process of founding – I know that’s a huge question – but the process to founding Women and Gender Studies?

1-00:15:05

Vasey:

Well are you aware of the race and gender project?

Wagner:

Yes, I did see, I was looking at your little faculty page [both laugh] and it said you were a part of the Race and Gender Curriculum Development Project.

Vasey:

Right

Wagner:

So…

Vasey:

Right that’s where it started.

Wagner:

But I don’t know that much about the actual project itself.

1-00:15:27

Vasey:

Well what that was – and I think that’s what you will want to have something about if you’re trying to record the history of it here because within two years of being here, again I came here in ’86, during the ‘87-‘88 year a woman who was in psychology at the time, named Carole Corcoran, and I had met and we were both interested in women’s studies and feminism and we decided to apply for a grant opportunity from the state council of higher education, known as  CHEV, still runs an oversight agency for the state government for higher education.  They were offering these grants of $100,000 or so to universities for what they called “Funds for Excellence” and we decided to create a project, to write a grant proposal to address our faculty colleagues here who did not have, like we did, any background like we did in feminist studies or race studies and who we felt we had here a very much neutral curriculum.  A curriculum that didn’t reflect the diversity of the nation or the diversity of the world, that was frankly backward and ignorant when it came to race and gender issues, and we decided that we would try to move that along.  So that’s why we called it the Curriculum Transformation Project, the idea that, the idea was to offer seminars in the summer time for up to, I think a dozen or maybe fifteen faculty members, offer them the equivalent of amount of money they would get if they taught a summer school course, but instead of teaching a course, they would take the seminar and they would read people like Bell Hooks or we had a whole list, we had three summers of this curriculum.  They would read these theorists and do their own research and talk about how they could revise their courses to bring some of this stuff into their courses.  And we did that for… we had a two year grant period, 88 to 90, and after that we continued to do it with some support from probably the Teaching Innovation Project on campus, which is a faculty committee that had a little bit of money to support that kind of thing.  So um, so we were able to gather together there mostly progressive faculty, younger faculty as well, one or two older faculty came to some of those at first, which is kind of weird, but mostly younger faculty.  I mean, I was thirty at the time, you know, so it was people who were just arriving or who were looking for some space on the campus or in the curriculum where they could experiment beyond what their traditional conservative departmental curricula would like.  And after a couple of years, the idea was that they would not only take the seminar and participate, but that they would revise a course, every time you took the seminar, you would revise some course.  So we, after a couple of years, and I don’t recall exactly what year it was, but my guess would be it would have been something like ’92, we proposed following the… there had been this writing intensive model already, writing across the curriculum, writing intensive courses, we proposed, we decided to come up with a proposal that would create a race and gender intensive requirement in the general education.  And we would have a series of courses that were called Race and Gender Intensive courses, and so we decided to bring that, I don’t recall the details of how we did it, but to bring that to uh… to the faculty to factor into the general education requirements, and I think the dean didn’t [pause] he wasn’t enthusiastic about that, but and I kind of think that was where at the time – this is history that doesn’t really matter to you guys because you weren’t here – but within a couple of years of us starting to do that, we wound up with a general education revision that had race and gender intensive courses, and environmental intensive courses, and … some other domain I don’t know what it was… but there was a period, the ‘90s basically, if you went back and looked at the general education requirements in the catalogues at the time, you’d see there were three or four areas called such-and-such intensive, this is probably before speaking intensive came along, that came along a little bit later, and these were the across the curriculum requirements.  So you had regular gen. ed. and then these across the curriculum requirements that could be satisfied in different fields.  So the race and gender could come from philosophy or history or poli. sci. or English but you had to have at least one or two of those kinds of courses.  So this came out of the Race and Gender Curriculum Transformation Project that we did, this creation of a race and gender gen ed requirement.  And that was in place until 2003 or so… or 2004.  I think that when we revised the general education, when Frawley became the president, I think that was when we agreed that we felt the curriculum had in fact transformed and we didn’t really need the curriculum…we didn’t really need the general education requirement in order to get faculty to teach this kind of stuff because they were now doing it, because they were a new generation, for one thing, and they had all come out of graduate schools where they were teaching this kind of stuff and they saw the legitimacy of it.  So it was in the curriculum anyway and we didn’t need a requirement to get it into the curriculum in order to make sure students got exposure to it.  So those of us who were involved in that agreed to the proposal when we revised gen. ed. in 2004 or 2005 that we wouldn’t insist on continuing the race and gender requirement in the gen. ed. and we would let that fall out of being defined officially because we thought it was already there.  But it was subsequent to that, again that was when Frawley was president and Mikhalevsky was acting provost, that the group of people who were interested in those things said “Let’s move onto a women’s studies major now.  Let’s begin talking about how we can put together a way to give women’s studies visibility in the curriculum, since it doesn’t have that visibility anymore, being a requirement in the curriculum.”  But it doesn’t have any visibility, some people felt, because there’s not a women’s studies department, there’s no women’s studies major. So, I think that the demise or fading out of the requirement of the gen. ed. did have something to do with then the urge to bring women’s studies forward as an element of the curriculum in a different way.

Wagner:

Why did you guys decide to call it Women and Gender Studies and not just Women’s Studies?

1-00:23:13

Vasey:

Uh…I didn’t feel too strongly about that.  I personally didn’t- [pause] I was surprised that some people cared as strongly as they did about it.  But the reason is, the reason is, it’s sort of like thinking of race as a set of studies to black studies, is that blacks aren’t the only people who have race, women aren’t the only people who have gender. [laughs]  But the reason for women’s studies is that gender was something that was overlooked and un-theorized so ultimately that’s what one comes to realized.  At first, one thinks that there’s no information about women per se, but when you begin to theorize about it, you begin to realize the foundation here is; “What is it that makes women different from men?” It isn’t simply bodies, it’s this other whole domain of meaning too, which is what the word gender can attempt to capture.  So um, certainly calling it “Women and Men’s Studies” doesn’t sound right, because everything already was men’s studies you could say.  So I think part of it, part of why I would think it’s appropriate or interesting to use the word gender is that it points towards the theoretical.  It points to something that has to do with theory, not just facts, so to speak, just information about women per se, but to raise the question that Beauvoir was raising, “What is being of woman?” which points you towards “What is the being of man?” as well and “What is the being of gender?”

Wagner:

And what led to the decision to make it an interdisciplinary program rather than a separate department?

1-00:24:57

Vasey:

That comes from the fact that there was absolutely no financial support from the administration.  If you want to do it, you can do it as long as you do it with no resources, except do it, so to speak, on your own backs.  If you guys want to organize yourselves to share the responsibilities and cobble together enough courses to create a critical mass of courses, then that’s fine, but there’s not going to be, there isn’t any money for hiring anybody.  So there’s not going to be anyone who’s a full-time women’s studies faculty member.  That was still uh… that was certainly the administration’s position on that.  I mean, competition for faculty lines is always strong.  And to create a whole department, to make the argument that we should create a new department and to hire one or two people full time in a field we don’t currently have a department for is a hard argument to win.  So it was inevitable that it had to start out this way.  There wasn’t enough dedication and buy in from the faculty that were here, that would be another way to look at it.  If there’s not enough dedication and buy in from below, this sort of thing is not going to get support from above that would be required to hire a full time person for this.

Wagner:

Would you like it to be its own department, you know, if in the future resources become available?

1-00:26: 24

Vasey:

Well I think that would be appropriate.  It would be appropriate, it would be especially appropriate in terms of sort of solidifying and assuring that it would be an ongoing part of the curriculum, because otherwise it does sort of depend on the energy and the dedication and the will of the folks who happen to be here, and you could have an ebb and flow in that.  So if we want to see women’s studies, women and gender studies solidified and preserved as a constant part of the curriculum, then yeah, that’s important to do.  And I would think, I think that is legitimate and should happen.

Wagner:

Would you still want to keep part of the interdisciplinary nature by pulling in-

Vasey:

Yeah, sure.

Wagner:

-from history, psychology, all that?

1:00:27:25

Vasey:

Yeah I don’t really – even someone who gets a PhD in women’s studies has got an interdisciplinary background in order to get that degree.  It’s an interdisciplinary field by its nature and that’s an obviously [pause] centrally defining feature of women’s studies is that it’s interdisciplinary.  The only reason to have a department again would be not to change the interdisciplinary character of it but to solidify the resources to make sure there was somebody in charge of it and a certain number of people who were dedicated to offering the introductory level courses and providing advising and providing supervision of theses and that sort of thing.  Because otherwise we’re doing it on top of our regular teaching load.  We’re trying to work it into our teaching load.  But yeah, it would certainly continue to be that interdisciplinary focus.

Wagner:

To go back a little bit to, as you mentioned earlier, that the first women’s studies course was offered in 1970.  What did you guys learn from looking at other colleges and other programs and you know this is now the 40th year anniversary of the first woman’s studies program, so how did previous institutions effect how you guys looked at it?

1-00:28:54

Vasey:

I feel like I was a little more peripheral to the labor that went into the creation of the women’s studies major that we’ve got, than several other people who could speak to that better, like Allyson Poska or Marjorie Och in art.  I think Allyson and Marjorie probably really took the lead on that.  They were the ones who called the meetings…and Judith Parker in linguistics.  And who did some of the research into other programs and that sort of thing.  I did not myself at the time go back and do research into programs again.  Back in 88, 89, 90 when I was working with Carol Corcoran on the curriculum transformation project and we were going out to other universities and schools doing workshops on this kind of stuff.  Carol would often go to the National Women’s Studies Association meetings and we were on the mailing list for the National Women’s Studies Association, bringing people down from say, the University of Maryland’s women’s studies department, as speakers and that sort of thing.  I was more, I feel like it was back then, in the late 80s early 90s, that I was more tuned into other programs or what was happening at other programs.  And apart from looking at – [pause] the reason to look at other programs when building ours up is in order to see how they solved the problem of scarce resources by putting things together, as models.  And you’re not starting from scratch, you’re starting with some encouragement that you can do it.  Um, I think I lost the thread of your question…

Wagner:

Oh you basically answered it!  I was just asking about the effect of previous institutions on –
1-00:30:45

Vasey:

Yeah, right.  Yeah you’ll get more information on that from other people like Allyson.  Or Marjorie or Judith.

Kimball:

Now going to that. Actually, we did a lot of research about previous women’s studies programs that were developed and a lot of that was actually born out of student movements and  we have been talking a lot about the faculty here and your part in it. Was anything derived from student needs or wants?

1-00:31:12

Vasey:

I would not say that there was any strong pressure coming from the student level to push faculty to define or create these kinds of programs. There was interest from students once the courses were available but I don’t recall that here, that there was a good demand for that kind of thing from the students. No, maybe I am ignorant of it but I do not recall it myself. Are you aware of that here?

Kimball:

No. No, we were, that’s why we were very curious as to how (Dr. Vasey continues)

1-00:31

Vasey:

And I think, I mean my speculation would be that that has to do with the size of the history of the kind of institution that it is as opposed to an urban university like the University of Maryland where they have tens of thousands of students and they really come from enormously different backgrounds and they’re interacting with each other in their differences. We had an extremely homogeneous population here. I mean, we still do [laughs]. But if you think it is homogeneous now, you should have seen it twenty years ago [laughs]. And that homogeneity goes not just in terms, not just in terms of race and gender. But I mean homogeneity in terms of what kind of critical awareness, what kind of  academic…critical academic orientation are they coming in with. That was extremely homogeneous too. So, I think we would have to say that we had a fairly conservative mindset in the student population in general. So we were actually, the faculty was taking over this. It was more the faculty like myself, Carole and Judith were more radical [emphasis of the word radical while gesticulating quotation marks with his hands] than our students were.

Kimball:

Now we’ve also read a little bit about the development at other schools. Primary, those dominated homogenous genders such as all women schools and they have been trying to revitalize their schools with women’s studies. Do you feel that the women’s studies development here was an effort to kind of revitalize our historic gender homogeneous, homogeneous gender roles and to try to bring in more women?

1-00:33:37

Vasey:

No. No, in fact it may even be, now that you bring that up, that may even be why Dean Hall was so quick to say that we are not going to have a women’s studies program here. What was on the agenda of the administration when I arrived was, “how do we get more men here? We have too many women. We need to get more men.” They were talking about starting a football team in ’89 or ’88 in order to bring men. That’s why they created the business department was in order to bring men. There was no business program before 1987 or so and it was deliberately [Vasey pauses and reframes]. The President, Anderson, deliberately created that department because he knew it would attract men to the campus. So it has never been on the agenda of the administration to be trying to increase, revitalize the women legacy sort of side of Mary Washington. If anything, it has been either neutral or trying to change the balance. That’s why the name changes were proposed, that’s why the name changes we got were put through because “university” sounded more masculine then “college” does. They thought that it would bring more men here if it was a university rather than a college. But that’s why they wanted to call it the Washington and Monroe College back in ’86 when I came, they wanted to change the name to Washington and Monroe. He [referring to former President Anderson] said, “Sure it will be Mary Washington and whatever James Monroe’s wife’s name was but if people just use the last names, so it sounds masculine and that would attract more men.”

Kimball:

And we had learned also about they had changed most of the dorms over as well to… [Vasey interjects]

1-00:35:14

Vasey:

Oh, yeah.

Kimball:

[finishes previous sentence] just represent the last names.

1-00:35:21

Vasey:

Okay, right. [laughs] It is true because I have a colleague who always said that it was “Mary Carter Lee Hall” and he was here, well he came here in the late seventies, instead of saying Lee Hall. I always said Lee Hall but he always used to say “Mary Carter Lee Hall.”

Wagner: We were all surprised because we all thought that it was supposed to be like “Robert E. Lee” [laughter from interviewers and Dr. Vasey].

1-00:35:32

Vasey:

Sure. [laughs]

Wagner:

Which makes sense in this area but we learned and we were like “Oh, wait. That’s a woman!”

1-00:35:36

Vasey:

Right, Right.

Kimball:

Now, I’ve noticed that some departments throughout the interdisciplinary leaning of the women’s studies program itself are absent such as the business department. I didn’t see much focus [Vasey interjects]

1-00:35:56

Vasey:

Yeah, I guess you’re pretty right.

Kimball:

Did you ever see any incorporation of departments that are absent today? Do you ever see them becoming a role in the women’s studies department itself?

1-00:36:06

Vasey:

Well, you know, the program only got approved a year ago.

Kimball:

Exactly.

1-00:36:11

Vasey:

So, we don’t have much history yet for evolution. [laughs] In fact, we were just having a meeting this morning with the board, the board of directors, the four of us plus Allyson [Poska], who look at issues like the structure of the curriculum, what courses are approved and that sort of thing. I think there were some new courses that had been, that were already on the books, that people have composed including in the women’s studies curriculum but there… I don’t believe that any are from the business departments. And I would think right now that with the amount of energy that has to be, that has to go into, the focus on the new College of Business, that the people in the business department are probably not looking too diversify their offerings into a program like women’s studies but rather, how are they going to get their new college off the ground with new business courses. I don’t know if there is anybody in the business department who has an interest or not. There may well be. There are several…there certainly are several relatively recently hired women but I don’t know their interests enough to know if they have an interest in connecting the business to the field of women’s studies.

Kimball:

Now dropping a little bit into the curriculum. Now just back tracking a little bit. How did you see the student’s role within that classroom or the classroom atmosphere you were in? Was it more lecture based ? What were the goals to help you [Vasey interjects]

1-00:38:00

Vasey:

What kind of courses do you mean? In courses I teach?

Kimball:

In general in the women’s studies program itself? Were there any focus on how to get the students to learn more about women’s studies? Was it specifically professor based and catered to their teaching styles or was there an overall goal that was set up for the curriculm in general?”

1-00:38.20

Kimball:

Well, there are a couple of structural features to the major that are defined. There are two required introductory level courses, the Intro to Feminism and the Intro to Women’s Studies. Those are surveyish kind of courses but they’re certainly taught by people here who believe in [pause]  getting out of the model of feeding stuff into student heads, you know, that students are passive consumers of information that professors just give them, you know. Now, the thing is when you teach a class of thirty, it is harder to have it be a class with a lot of discussion then it is when you have a small class. Those classes can be as big as thirty or so. So they’re going to be a mixture of lecture and discussion but I would be very surprised if anyone that is teaching those courses is doing so in a way that isn’t encouraging a lot of student participation with student projects and writing. We have in the… we do have a capstone research course requirement and we have a requirement, the intention of which may be fuzzier in the description of which then what we intended it to be. But the intention of which is that students would have to have some upper level seminar experience courses, which means that they’re not in a passive mode vis a vis the curriculum. But I don’t think we have the [pauses] resources, I don’t know that we have the…we could define it as a matter of resources, we don’t really have the resources and I think that’s one thing I think the women’s studies department would be able to try to do. To insist on something like a principled feminist pedagogy in the women’s studies program. So, I think that the people who are teaching the courses in women’s studies are teaching from their own sense of integrity of what constitutes constructive open-mindedness of their students and involvement of their students. But, since back to let’s say…the race and gender project that I did in the mid-nineties with some of the other faculty, we talked about feminist pedagogy’s writings. I don’t think that really is an issue a lot of people are talking about these days per se. I think maybe it’s taken for granted. It’s hard to transform the pedagogy beyond with good intentions. I’m not sure that was very clear. [laughter]

Kimball:

That’s alright. Now, you talked about some of the obstacles to developing the program. First, was the administrative. Second, was the resources. Did you branch out to the larger community? Were there any obstacles in the larger community to developing this program? Were there any obstacles that you had to overcome when pitching it to the administration that fueled some public outrage about it or anything to that degree?

1-00:41:52

Vasey:

Oh, no! Not at the time that we did…this began about two years ago, that we began this work and it concluded about a year ago. I don’t think there was significant opposition. There was…I do think the acting provost at the time told the acting dean at the time that we had the green light to pursue this, whether the acting dean per se liked it or not. But the provost out ranked her and the provost was supportive of it. So I think that was about the only extent of that kind of resistance around the position at the time. I don‘t recall that it created any, attracted any attention off campus, or caused any controversy off campus. And I don’t recall we had any other [pause] relations with any particular other institutions in doing it, in putting it together or that we either built or cooperated with, or competed with. I don’t recall there being much in the way of those kind of issues.

Kimball:

Now. From an administrative standpoint, you mentioned that there are no resources or that you were not given resources for your first year, is there any condition between the administration and the faculty that if the program gets off it feet in the future, there may be resources available?

1-00:43:29

Vasey:

Well, now there is a little bit as a matter of fact. I think that…I think that the director of the program has at her disposal a budget of two thousand dollars (Interviewer whistles) and that covers things like printing costs and bringing in a couple of speakers here and there, co-sponsoring events, to help publicize the program. So, that’s progress already because originally there was nothing. We were told that there wasn’t going to be anything. There was no space for it, no office would be dedicated to it and there was no budget for it. So that’s a little bit…I think you have to expect the difficulty. If it grows, yes, it will get more support. One of the issues though, that I think we kind of sidestepped as an institution was, and I’m not completely clear on this but my understanding is that this to not actually go all the way to SHEV as a new program to the state counsel for higher education and it’s being treated as a major within Mary Washington. But I don’t believe that the number of people who graduate with the major is being reported as a…is being reported to SHEV the same way as the number of history majors or philosophy majors and psychology majors is. I wasn’t, again, at the center of the defining of the program and all the negotiations with the administration. But, my impression was that they were, people like Allyson and Judith and Marjorie, were trying to make the argument to the dean that we would, that we could expect to see this many majors one year and then it growing as the years went by. And SHEV, you see, has a requirement with the certain number of majors graduating per year over a three year period to call a major program viable and if they consider a major program not viable, they may tell you to shut it down. So, whether it’s physics, or whether it’s dance, or whatever smaller majors are very often looking over their shoulder wondering if the state government is going to tell the institution to shut down the major program. So, women’s studies has got that issue to consider because it’s starting out with, I think now we have eight majors declared in the first year, but I think we sidestepped that and I don’t know why. I don’t know whose decision that was. I don’t think that we created this major program. I think this happened at the administrative level. I think at the dean’s level, a decision or a move was made that made it possible to create this major as an inter-disciplinary major at Mary Washington, without it having the status as a “new program” [Dr. Vasey gesticulates with his hands forming parenthetical quotation marks that emphasize the words “new program”] in the eyes of SHEV. So I don’t think that SHEV is yet counting the number of majors that we graduate per year. Course we’re not going to graduate any yet. I mean, it will be two or three years before anyone graduates with it. But ordinarily, they way that normally happens, once you’re graduating people with a major, then the state counts the number per year and over a three year period, if it isn’t averaging eight, they may flag the program and tell the institution that it needs to do something about it, explain why this isn’t more productive or shut it down. Now, in cases like this, for one thing, maybe this is why this had happened this way, there are no faculty who are dedicated to women’s studies per se. So it’s not a change in faculty assignments. So, it’s not like if the philosophy program were only graduating three people per year then the state might say, “Well, why do you have that many philosophy professors if you’re only graduating three people per year?” We don’t have any women’s studies professors. So, there’s maybe no reason to count the number of women’s studies majors that are being graduated per year because that kind of…that question of resources to demand isn’t going to be relevant to anybody’s budgetary concerns. Maybe that’s why. But, I do think that that’s, in a certain sense, I think it’s one step shy of having the same status of other majors have because it’s not a SHEV recognized major yet. But you know, maybe you’ve looked? It may be something of interest to know. I do not know for sure but that is the impression that I got and I was surprised by that. But again, I think it was partly because they were…I think the dean wasn’t convinced that we would get enough majors to satisfy the SHEV Productivity Standard and then secondly, that  it wasn’t going to require any dedicated faculty resources to a Department of Women’s Studies meant that it really didn’t matter. It could be an internal matter.

Kimball:

Do you think that is beneficial to the major?

1-00:48:57

Vasey:

I supposed that it could be in the beginning stage. There is no…I mean, since there is not a department, I don’t see any downside to it at the beginning. But ultimately…and I think ultimately, it does make sense to say wait until we see that we do have eight to ten people graduating per year with a women’s studies major and then  that will be evidence that there should be more dedicated resources and that the status of the major should be taken to the full level. The SHEV recognized level.

Kimball:

Okay.

1-00:49:44

Vasey:

I don’t mean to make too much of that. I’m not sure that this is the case but I have that impression. And I don’t mean to think…I don’t mean to make a big deal out of it. I know I’m talking more about it but… [Vasey laughs followed by laughter from interviewers]

Kimball:

Well, throughout the entire interview, and we haven’t really hit on this, which is a big thing, I think. We kind of alluded to it but, why now? Why did the women’s studies program here get off the floor now? I mean, it’s the fortieth anniversary of the development of the program, I mean, the discipline in general and we were just curious as to why this has developed at the university and we know there was a lot of factors by the development by faculty and the administration was pushing it off for a little while, but why this last year?

1-00:50:42

Vasey:

Well, there are a couple of different things. One is, there was acknowledgement that there was a willingness on the part of senior administrators to support it if the faculty still wanted to do it after the dean, the change of deans and the change of president. You know, Anderson was here for the term of twenty three years and that kind of stability at the top level of an academic institution can mean that the institution fails to keep up with developments in higher education and I think that was certainly true. He was very, you know, had a very conservative outlook and involved at this level, curriculum level, and that’s why I think there’s always been a good number of faculty who have felt that we’re not, we haven’t kept up with other institutions that have African-American studies programs or women’s studies programs. We didn’t develop these things when other schools were doing so. And that they should have some status and have some legitimacy in the curriculum. So, it’s just that I think that the same desire for it on the part of the…the good number of the women faculty especially, the same amount of interest and support for it had always been there and now the…a signal came from the faculty that we had; that we had a more enlightened attitude in the administration. Certainly, Frawley and Mikhalevsky, when they were President and Provost, they were sending those kind of signals; that the institution needs to catch up to where it will, it could, be. It’s not at the cutting edge of scholarship in a lot of areas. This is one area I think people did feel encouragement in.

Kimball:

Now, it’s very interesting that the women’s studies major…women’s studies and gender major came out of, at this time especially, because we also had our first women president come out and lead the school as well. Did she have a significant role at all?

1-00:53:05

Vasey:

No, I don’t think that she did. I don’t recall her ever…I don’t ever recall discussing it with her or hearing her talking about women’s studies majors as an important value. I think it really had more to do with, as I said, with Mikhalevsky in the Provost role. She had taught women’s studies before when she had been at Mount Vernon. She’s a philosophy professor. She had been involved in women’s leadership programs at Mount Vernon. So, I think she was more in tune with the sympathetic end. She had more of an agenda right below the surface for this sort of thing. I don’t think that (Former President) Judy Hample is very attuned to a curriculum at all. She is a manager. She came in as a manager and she managed from that position. She is not… [pauses] She did not have an objection to it and she was stronger. [pauses] Where she was actually stronger, I think, was in sympathetic…it was in her sympathies for African American studies, something along those lines. She did not feel all that comfortable living in the Old Dominion, I don’t think. [Vasey laughs] She was from Pennsylvania and I don’t think that, I know that, she didn’t like the fact that there were slave quarters on the grounds at Brompton. That made her feel uncomfortable. So, I think she felt more like the stuff about Farmer and race and that sort of thing was more important to advocate for in this geographical area, in Fredericksburg. That’s what she was concerned about; with the racial climate here, more than she was concerned about the gender climate. But, she didn’t get involved with the curriculum anyway. She just didn’t. She was only here for a year and a half.

Kimball:

And this is probably the biggest question. Historically, most professors, founding members of women’s studies programs across the country are generally women. Being a male professor in this entire movement at the University of Mary Washington, how do you feel you fit in and have there been any challenges to becoming a part of this major in your own life?

1-00:55:38

Vasey:

Challenges, well, I don’t think challenges really. I mean, it’s kind of funny sometimes when I walk in to teach a classroom in Intro to Feminism or even to Women’s Studies and everyone…[rephrases] people are surprised to see that it is a man who’s going to be teaching the class. That’s certainly true. And that…I enjoy that and I think that’s funny too, their expectations of that. I think, one of the nice things about it, being a white man, I can take advantage of the fact that I’m a white man to promote the legitimacy of the field because nobody will say, “He’s just saying that because he’s a woman.” [Vasey and Wagner laugh] Which, is what they’ll say often enough about a women teacher. Or just saying that because he is black is what they would say about a black professor. So, I think it is my responsibility really as a person, that these things are important, that I lend my, that I participate in representing the transformation of the culture towards integration of diversity and challenging those imbalances. So, I teach about race and gender stuff in almost all of my courses where it’s appropriate. I think…I don’t think that from the very beginning, since Carole and I put it together, the Race and Gender Curriculum Transformation Grant in 1988, I think that because of that, new faculty have come in after that and just taken it for granted for the fact that there is this guy in the philosophy program who’s also part of the women’s studies stuff and they don’t look askance or suspiciously upon that. So, the fact that I have been here twenty five years now [pauses] that is sort of institutionalized. So I don’t think, I don’t encounter opposition from any or suspicion from any, let’s say women, faculty who are doing women’s studies about why I am involved, if that’s the kind of thing that you were thinking about. But I am also deliberately [pauses] I deliberately avoid getting any more involved in it than is appropriate, that is to say, I don’t think it does make a whole lot of sense for me to, for example as a man, to propose, “Oh, I’ll take on the Directorship of that program.” I think it’s perfectly possible one could be a man and be a director of a women’s studies program but I don’t think it would be the smartest move to make for the viability of the new program. So, I was glad that Allyson was going to do it and that no one, given that I had seniority here on that, there is not much of anybody who’s been here longer then me who’s been involved in women’s studies. I didn’t want to be asked to take that role. I didn’t think that would be a good thing. I was a little bit concerned that I would be. I mean, I was asked to be on the board of directors but I proposed that I would serve a one year term, that I be the first one to go off, so that I…and then be replaced by a new election of another board member. But there are a few men who are teaching the courses too. There’s McClurken and Rigelhaupt?

Wagner:

Yeah. [laughs]

Kimball:

Rigelhaupt [laughs]

1-00:59:18

Vasey: I just met him, I don’t know his name. I apologize. And Kilmartin, I guess too so there’s a few. I do think it’s been the case though, like Connie Smith was just telling me this morning that her Intro to Women’s Studies course right now it’s all women students and when I teach Intro to Feminism, I don’t think I have ever had all women students. I think I’ve usually had at least ten percent, if not thirty to forty percent men and I think that has to do with the fact that I am a male professor. The men are probably a little bit less put off to take a course called Intro to Feminism or Feminist Theory in philosophy if it’s being taught by a man than if it’s being taught by a woman, if they don’t know the field yet. I mean, they probably are probably willing to take a look at it. I mean, I’m not sure I spoke to your question.

Kimball:

Yeah. No, I think you hit it right on the head [Interviewer laughs]

1-01:00:16

Vasey: Oh, I did! [laughter from Vasey and Interviewers]

Kimball:

Well, that’s actually…that’s an hour. So we can be all done if…

1-01:00:22

Vasey:

Okay.

Wagner:

Unless you have things [Kimball interrupts and finishes sentence for Wagner]

Kimball:

…that you would like to present that we didn’t necessarily ask?

1-01:00:34

Vasey:

You might find it useful to look at, have you looked at Crawley’s book?

Kimball: Yeah.

1-01:00:40

Vasey:

The History of Mary Washington book because he documents a couple of the…a couple of things. He documents, for example, I think the fight that happened over the Intro to Ethnic Studies class and that was in the wake of the Intro to Women’s Studies stuff and that was in the wake of the Race and Gender Project. And, he does document that fight that took place between two factions of faculty, you know, the ones who thought that this was politicizing the curriculum and those that said “The curriculum is already politicized. This is bringing that out into the open. Acknowledging the curriculum is always political.” That was…that’s just…we hadn’t talked about that so I was just bringing that fact up; that the institution had to go through a phase of, to some degree, becoming more insightful. I’m not really sure what it means to say that an institution became more insightful or wiser or more mature but most of those faculty aren’t around anymore and they’ve been replaced by people who did come out of training that involved  a sense of legitimacy of these fields, so that’s a good thing.  [pause] No, I guess I don’t have anything else to talk about in particular.

1-01:01:55

Dr. Nina Mikhalevsky Transcript

Monday, December 6th, 2010

University of Mary Washington

HIST 471D: Oral History

Nina Mikhalevsky

UMW Women’s Studies Department Oral History Project

Interview conducted by

Corrie Shellnutt and Nicole Kappatos in 2010

Interview with Nina Mikhalevsky of the UMW Philosophy Department

Interviewed by Corrie Shellnutt and Nicole Kappatos

Transcribed by Corrie Shellnutt and Nicole Kappatos

[Interview: November 11, 2010]

Table of Contents

00:15- History of involvement in Women Studies on other campuses.

10:06- What is Women’s Studies/ Feminist’s Studies?

17:30- Is Women’s Studies divisive or inclusive?

22:28- Involvement in the Founding of Women and Gender Studies at UMW.

28:08- Mikhalevsky discusses her view of women’s studies programs at universities.

32:59- Mikhalevsky talks about the criticisms of women’s studies.

35:41- Mikhalevsky discuss the UMW women’s studies program and the benefits of

having the program.

37:55- Mikhalevsky discusses criticisms of the program at UMW.

40:38- Mikhalevsky compares other women’s studies programs to UMW’s.

47:52- Mikhalevsky continues to discuss different women’s studies programs at various

universities.

52:45-Mikhalevsky concludes with describing the goals of UMW’s new program.

00:15

Shellnutt:

It’s November eleventh. My name is Corrie Shellnutt, will you please introduce yourself?

00:19

Mikhalevsky:

I am Nina Mikhalevsky. I am professor of philosophy.

00:24

Shellnutt:

What experiences in your life led you to be a women’s studies professor?

00:30

Mikhalevsky:

Well, I am not sure I would characterize myself as a women’s studies professor, I am a professor of philosophy but, I have certainly taught women’s studies. And, I have taught women’s studies both on the undergraduate and graduate level. What experiences, I suspect because I am a women and I entered into a field that was not dominated by women, in fact, had very few women in it. I think I became cognizant of the women’s studies as discipline really when I was an undergraduate and found myself often the only women in some of my classes and realized there was a whole area of study, if you like, that was looking at the role and place of women.

1:20

Shellnutt:

Where did you go for undergraduate and can you give me examples of these classes?

1:25

Mikhalevsky:

I went to Boston University as an undergraduate and my junior year for example, I was taking courses in symbolic logic and metalogic in the math department. There were no women in those classes.

1:43

Shellnutt:

Were you involved in any type of campus activism?

1:49

Mikhalevsky:

Um, campus activism… I was involved in a lot of different kind of activism. I mean, I hate to sound like I am a thousand years old but I graduated from high school in 1969. The late sixties and early seventies were a time of extraordinary social and political change in the United States and you could not be on a college campus and not experience a variety of campus protest and change and activism focused on anti-war activities, women’s rights, racial equality. I mean, this was a very explicit and dominating part of your educational experience, I think particularly if you were in places like Boston, or New York, or Berkley, or San Fransisco. So, there was a continual series of protests and demonstrations and activities going on all over Boston for example when I was in college, focused on all of those things. I participated in a march that went from downtown Boston to Cambridge to take over a building at Harvard to become a women’s center. And that sort of thing happened all the time.

3:21

Shellnutt:

Wow, that’s impressive. [Mikhalevsky begins to say something, but stops.] Sorry!

3:24

Mikhalevsky:

Go ahead.

3:30

Shellnutt:

No, go ahead. [Mikhalevsky motions to Shellnutt to continue.] Okay. Can you describe your professional involvement in women’s studies before working as a part of the program here?

3:37

Mikhalevsky:

When I was at…I taught for a number of years at Mount Vernon College. Mount Vernon College was a women’s college and I learned a great deal about the history of women’s education and the history of women’s colleges. And in fact, I ended up writing a book on the history of Mount Vernon College which was a real focus on the development of the female seminary in the late part of the nineteenth century and then the evolution of the female seminary in some cases into colleges in the early twentieth century. So, I had a real interesting women’s education, and the history of women’s education and I also taught in a single sex environment, so I studied a lot of the research of a single-sex education.

When I was at GW the chair of the women’s studies program at GW at that time was a scholar by the name of Diane Bow. Diane Bow is one of the most remarkable scholars and women I have ever met in my life. She really established I think, one of the strongest programs at GW in women’s studies. She is also an anthropologist and is one of a hand full of people in the world who developed expertise in the practices and languages that are, that privilege, the feminine in Australian aboriginal culture. In fact, she was called as an expert witness to a land case in Australia where the government was going to be taking over a collection of aboriginal lands and the tribe maintained that some portion of this land; they were going to build a bridge, could not be used because it was protected, sacred land. And, when the government demanded evidence that it was sacred land, the women in the tribe said, well we can’t provide that for you,it’s forbidden for us to reveal our sacred practices. And the government, the Australian government said, well if you can’t demonstrate that this is used for religious purposes, then, you know, we have the right to take it over. And Diane Bow was called as an expert witness to provide evidence that in fact there are sacred religious practices that are specific to the women of this tribe and there was a long history of privileging those practices only to the females of the tribe. And they won their case. She was a remarkable, remarkable person. And she was the chair of women’s studies department at GW and she actually asked me if I would join the board, the women’s studies advisory board, and also teach in the program, and I eventually did.

6:53

Shellnutt:

So it sounds like you have been involved with many mothers of the women’s studies discipline and could probably even be considered yourself one of those, I guess. But…

7:06

Mikhalevsky:

Well, I don’t know if I could be considered one, but I certainly have worked with a number of really remarkable women’s scholars and activists who I think made real contributions not only to women’s studies but to women. When I was at Mount Vernon for example, Betty Freidan decided she was going to leave New York and come to Washington and be involved in some educational programs and also some policy issues. And we extended her an academic appointment and she had three or four, she was responsible for, I can’t remember exactly how many, three or four pretty significant conferences, in which she asked me to serve on a couple panels. And so, you know, I met her many times and talked with her, had lunch with her. She was really quite an amazing person, really interesting.

8:19

Shellnut:

Do you want to talk about maybe any conversations you had with her, or things that stick out?

8:25

Mikhalevsky:

Well, I’ll tell you three things about her. She was probably, I can’t, I have to go back and see how old she was there, but she was really getting near the end. I mean, she was supposed to be in retirement, but I don’t think she ever really retired. Three things that I thought were very striking about her: first of all she was one of the most warm, generous, and yet extremely difficult people imaginable. So, she was, she was in many ways a very warm generous person, generous with her time. But, if she thought you were an idiot, she would tell you and that would be the end of it. Very, very difficult, very tough. Secondly, she was extremely politically astute and could read the politics and the power relations readily; whether you are talking about a sort of national political level or an institutional level, or even a social level, and she was very focused on that.

And I think thirdly, she genuinely cared, genuinely cared, passionately cared about changing the economic and  political status of women.

9:57

Shellnutt:

That must have been inspirational, so…

10:01

Mikhalevsky:

She was an interesting woman, she was difficult, but she was very interesting.

10:06

Shellnutt:

You brought up power relations, and I was just wondering how you define women’s studies, what you find important in a women’s studies curriculum and how that relates, do you see it relating directly to feminism, or how exactly it relates to feminist studies?

10:25

Mikhalevsky:

Well, it depends on the women’s studies program. Some of the earliest women’s studies programs were focused really on providing intellectual and academic experiences for women. And, one way they did that was by developing a knowledge base and scholarship on the history of women, the psychology of women, women in the arts, the economic and political and social status of women in industrialized countries and non industrialized countries.

But, their focus was initially on creating if you like, an academic space for women to develop and grow academically and personally. So, a lot of the early women’s studies programs were in part places, not just areas of study, but literally places for students, and particularly female students to develop. I think over time women’s studies became much more complex and much more varied. And the idea of gender as a theoretical concept, and the idea of gender as a concept that you can use to explicate, to study, to develop a methodology, I think developed a little bit later. And today, I think women’s studies is that much more complex, course of study, it can be, it encompasses historians looking at women in history. But, it also includes historians taking into account aspects of gender, or race, or ethnicity, or sexual orientation, but privileging gender as a kind of explanatory or methodological stand point, so it varies now. It’s a richer and much more complex, and diverse area of study.

12:59

Shellnutt:

Were you ever a part of the wave you mentioned first? Did you find yourself in places where women, you know, literally the place where women could study,whenever, during that time period, or during that move, or shift?

13:18

Mikhalevsky:

Well it’s interesting, there is second-wave feminism, there is third-wave feminism. I was, I did not study women’s studies and as I say as an undergraduate I was really interested in philosophy, so I just didn’t really let the fact that I might be the only female student. There were some women studying philosophy at BU, there were a number of them, but there were definitely courses where I was the only woman, or maybe one of two. There were, when I went to graduate school, there were no women on the faculty and there were only three female graduate students. I never thought, it never occurred to me, let’s put it this way:  it never occurred to me, that what I should do is go into women’s studies. I certainly read a lot of what you would think of perhaps as feminist writing. So I was reading the Grim Case, I was reading Margaret Fuller, I was reading Betty Freidan, I was studying what we think of today maybe as feminist theory. But, it never occurred to me that I needed a place to go intellectually, it always occurred to me that I needed to go exactly where I was going intellectually and if there were people there who were uncomfortable with that, because I was a women, well then that was too damn bad.

But you know, I never, I never thought that I needed to focus on that as my course of study, per say. Now, as I get more interested in philosophy I discover, not surprisingly, that there are things that are considered canonical and things that are not, and many of the things that are not considered canonical, just as was that was the case with literature and writing and a lot of other places, should have been. And often those things were probably excluded because the authors or the thinkers were women. And I certainly noticed those things but, I never felt the need to study, you know, to locate myself in women’s studies. I think I probably intellectually located myself as a women doing philosophy for whom women’s studies was almost a kind of assumption, how about that.

15:59

Shellnutt:

Okay. So, now you are teaching philosophy courses that are part of a women’s studies course. [Mikhalevsky nods in agreement] Can you talk about how your course is aligning with the curriculum at Mary Washington?

16:16

Mikhalevsky:

Well I haven’t taught, I don’t know that I’ve taught anything yet, since the women’s studies major actually is just starting, that is specific to the major. At some point I will probably teach the upper level course in feminist theory. We have a couple of courses in the philosophy department that are not only specific to the women’s studies program but some cases required. So, I have taught feminist theory, particularly upper level, and I’ve even taught at GW a graduate course in feminist theory, so I will probably teach that at some point. But I would say that all of my classes, all of my courses, take seriously, particularly the ones that do historical surveys, but all of them take seriously, the contributions that are made by women. So, I don’t think I’ve ever taught a single course, in thirty years, if it had relative, substantive work that was important by women, that didn’t get included.

17:30

Shellnutt:

So there’s like different schools of thought, that when it comes to women’s studies, one would say, you know, women’s studies, by making it different, you’re giving them a voice because you are grouping them together but at the same time you are separating them, so it kind of sounds like you understand women’s studies as more of a, you can find women anywhere.

17:53

Mikhalevsky:

Well this has always been a very important debate and it’s a really interesting debate. I mean, just think back, when the National Museum for Women in the Arts was created in Washington D.C., there was a huge debate about this. Should we have a museum that’s focused on women’s contribution to the fine arts or not? I mean, why would we? We’ve got plenty of painter, women painters hanging in the National Gallery or the Hirshorn, why do we need a museum that’s only focused on women? And this was part of the debate about women’s studies, it’s also part of the debate about African American studies, and all of these identity privileging areas.

I think women’s studies has a really important role, but I don’t think they’re mutually exclusive and I don’t think they contradict each other in any way, I think women’s studies is a particular area of interest and a particular area of study, and as I say it also has a sort of theoretical grounding to it now. That doesn’t mean that when you teach American history you don’t talk about the contributions of all of those individuals who have contributed to the particular narrative that you have argued is the narrative of this particular history, whatever that narrative may be.

And so, for example, in American philosophy which I am going to teach in the spring, one of the first questions is what is American philosophy? What is it? Who were the canonical writers? Who were the canonical philosophers? If you’re going to construct a syllabus for American philosophy, who are you going to put on it as being American philosophers, or people who are important to the development of, or your understanding of, American philosophy.

Well, if you look at most, what most colleges and universities have in their American philosophy courses, if they have them at all, you might see, you know,Classical American Philosophy [holds up a copy of Classical American Philosophy text] This is a well-respected textbook, Oxford University Press. Here’s whose in it: Charles Sanders Purse, Williams James Royce, Santiana, Duey, Reed, right? Where’s Sarah Grimcay’s “Letters on the Equality of the Sexes,” one of the first and major arguments for the political equality of women. Don’t you think that arguments, theoretical, philosophical, arguments for the equality of women and inclusion in the social…she’s a Lacian…social…that that’s a contribution to our understanding of the American philosophical tradition, or Margaret Fuller. And by the way I don’t see Elaine Locke, or W.E.B. Dubois, or any African American thinkers.

So, you have women’s studies as a focused area of study and it has become very diverse, it has a lot of different courses you can take, things you can look that. That if you like privilege the experiences of women and the role and place of women. But, you also have women’s studies as a discipline that argues for certain kinds of methodologies and techniques. At the same time you have all these other course and all these other disciplines that in the past have ignored or elided the contributions or the ideas of women. So it seems to me if you are going to take a course in American philosophy, you should at least ask, have women contributed in any substantive way to the development of American philosophy? Or if you teach a course in American history, you should ask, have women played a role in the development of whatever historical narrative you are generating?

22:28

Shellnutt:

Alright, well, I guess we can talk more about the women’s studies program at UMW, now that we got all of the theory out of the way. When did the program begin, do you know, and who was involved?

22:42

Mikhalevsky:

It’s my understanding that there has been an interest in developing a women’s studies program for a long time and there were a lot of faculty who were very interested in this. And again, if you haven’t already talked to her, obviously you are going to to talk to Allyson Poska, and Margarie Och, I think of those two in particular, and Craig Vassey is another one who had a real interest in developing a women’s studies for a long time. It’s my understanding that they ran into a certain amount of resistance, and I don’t really know exactly what the nature of that was or what the history of that is.

What I do know if when I was the acting Provost, so I was serving as the chief academic officer of the institution, I ran into Margarie Och one day outside of Dupont and I’m just chatting with her and asking her how things are going and what she’s interested in and how I can be helpful to her. And she looks at me right in the eye and says, “If you really want to be helpful, you could help us develop a women’s studies major, we’ve been trying to do this for a long time,” and I said “Of course!” And she and Allyson and others pulled together the faculty, they developed the proposal, I met with them once and talked with them about it and gave them some suggestions and they pushed it through the approval process. And, by the time it was ready and had gone through all the requisite faculty committees, the president at that time was president Hample, she approved it, the board approved it, and it started this fall.

2:47

Shellnutt:

Do you remember the race and gender intensive requirement we have?

2:51

Mikhalevsky:

Yea, and that actually goes back to a grant that I think Craig Vassey and a number of other people were involved in, they actually put together a proposal and received some external funding, this was a number of years ago, to develop courses that had both a race and gender studies component to them. And, as those courses were being developed, the curriculum was also changing and so the faculty created the across the curriculum requirement that students needed to take courses in which they would get some exposure to issues of race and gender, particularly in the context of the disciplines. And, I don’t really know what happened to to the proposal women’s studies in that context, but that across the curriculum requirement actually goes back to a group of people, some of whom include the people who created the women’s studies major, and a grant they received.

25:27

Shellnut:

Do you…I understand that it’s no longer a gen-ed requirement. Do you agree with that, or think that women’s studies needs to be a part of the general education requirements?

26:05

Mikhalevsky:

Well, the argument for, there was one I think pretty compelling argument, this was for eliminating it for a requirement. And it was that, at the time that we were re-doing all of the general education requirements, the sense was that most courses now do include perspectives on race and gender. In other words, the across the curriculum requirement has been fairly successful. And particularly, as more and more faculty come out themselves of academic programs that no longer ignore issues of race and gender, that’s a standard part of their level instruction. So, the view was that it is relatively integrated already into the course of study and most students are being exposed to issues of race and gender in the context either of general education programs or in their disciplines.

27:11

Shellnutt:

Okay. Alright. Okay, many colleges and universities report more diverse admissions as a result of women’s studies programs, have you noticed this trend at UMW? Specifically, you said you’ve taught women’s studies this semester? Yeah.

27:29

Mikhalevsky:

No, I haven’t taught it this semester. I haven’t taught any specific courses in women’s studies yet. Don’t forget the major just started this fall.

27:37

Shellnutt:

Yeah.

27:40

Mikhalevsky:

I don’t know that data that if you develop a women’s studies major that  it somehow helps you with diversity. You know, I think it does something different, it may do that, I don’t know, I’d have to see the data, and I am not sure how you’d measure that. You’d have to, you’d have to somehow have to be surveying students that would indicate that that was a clear deciding factor in their preferences.

28:08

Shellnutt:

I think that its more like faculty note that women’s studies courses have more ethnicities

Mikhalevsky:

That’s a different issue. That’s a different issue. So in other words that you see a more diverse cohort of students in women’s studies course. Well, That might be true. I don’t know. I don’t know. What I have noticed is that colleges and universities that have women’s studies programs. I think that there is a higher level of activism and cognizant about the role and status of women at those institutions and in other words this goes back to again some of the early qualities or characteristics of women’s studies programs is that provided a place, for women to study and think and develop academically. In a very particular kind of environment that privileged the experience of women and that was important and I do think, although again this is just my impression. Its not research. Its just my absolute opinion grounded in nothing, that academic environments that have women’s studies programs have a higher level of cognizance and activism that pertains to issues about women, so you are more likely to see quicker responses to issues of concern to women. And I think the same thing is true, for example, in colleges and universities that have African American Studies departments. I think there is a higher level of awareness and cognizance of issues that pertain to African Americans in those environments. Even if you are not talking about a lot of students who are majoring in those programs. Those programs provide a place for those kinds of discussions, irrespective of those courses. And they provide a kind of intellectual and personal environment for students regardless of the students taking those courses.

30:28

Shellnutt:

You just mentioned activism and I was wondering, do you foresee that happening on the UMW campus? The activism associated with many Women’s Studies programs

30:42

Mikhalevsky:

I don’t know. We’ll see. You know? We’ll see. UMW is fortunate that we have for example we have a lot of very accomplished already a lot of very accomplished women on campus, in the faculty and staff. We have a majority of female students. We already have an environment that certainly recognizes and supports the development and the accomplishments of women. Do we have an environment where women are treated equally, to some degrees in some areas we may have some issues. Its not clear to me what kind of activism yet it is that will emerge, but it would not surprise me at all if there are issues or problems or concerns that are specific to women, or that are important to women who are studying women’s studies and that that program would assist in developing strategies for taking action. I certainly think that will happen. I can’t predict what those will be but we’ll see.

32:04

Shellnutt:

Did you notice that, I guess in your previous experiences teaching Women’s Studies at other…

32:10

Mikhalevsky:

Yes. That Women’s Studies programs are a source for students to get assistance, support for causes and activities that are important to them. GW just recently passed a major in Disability Studies.  A major. Not a minor, not courses. A major in Disability Studies. And that major was given strong support by the Women’s Studies program.

32:42

Shellnutt:

So activism and academics is—Women’s Studies brings the two together in certain cases. So how would you respond to critiques of Women’s Studies that question, like intellectual justification in the discipline?

32:59

Mikhalevsky:

Well it depends on who is advancing those claims.  I mean, Women’s Studies has been criticized for some reasons that are not specific to Women’s Studies. For example, Women’s Studies is inherently interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary and the academy is grounded and defined by the disciplines. The entire political organization of any college or university is discipline based. That’s why we have a history department and a math department. We don’t have a history and math department. So the entire political organization of a college or university is grounded in the disciplines and the disciplines are distinguished by their areas of study and methodologies. So as soon as you start developing interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary courses of study, you are challenging the traditional disciplines and challenging the traditional methodologies. So Women’s Studies came under a lot of criticism, and still comes under some criticism today, but its not so much focused on women as is interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary. So what you are describing, some “lacking intellectual rigor”, that criticism is also addressed to a lot of interdisciplinary or multidisciplinary kinds of studies. That’s one criticism. I think that its, its not a good one. And there are a variety of ways you can justify interdisciplinary or multidisciplinary course of study. And in fact there is tremendous value to them. Second reason why it sometimes gets criticized goes back to what you were addressing before, why should we segregate and pull out a focus on women and is there something problematic about privileging one cohort of individuals. And again, that criticism comes from multiple different kinds of directions. If it’s both a legitimate area of study, which it is, and it has some very interesting kinds of theoretical concerns, which it does. I don’t see that as a problem. I actually, again, see it as a strength.

35:34

Shellnutt:

And then, do you agree with the way Mary Washington is approaching the interdisciplinary aspect of…

35:41

Mikhalevsky:

Yeah. I think what we have done is developed a program that at least to start provides students with a very sound course of study, in Women’s Studies. But one would hope that it grows. One would hope that, for example it isn’t dependent on faculty, exclusively dependent on faculty from across the disciplines, but rather at some point we have faculty who are specifically hired and if you like housed in the program to teach Women’s Studies while also relying on the expertise and the research and the resources across the university. And again for any interdisciplinary program, think about your major American Studies. American Studies is enhanced and supported by faculty across the disciplines: English, History, Philosophy, Religion, Art History. All of those disciplines contribute and make American Studies a very rich and vibrant course of study.  But there are also people who specialize in American Studies, who get PhDs in American Studies, and who teach in American Studies.  And a strong American Studies program is going to have people who have PhDs in American Studies and who have PhDs in history. Both of whom teach in the program. And that what I think ultimately we would like to see for Women’s Studies. That we have faculty who are specifically trained in and grew out of graduated programs in Women’s Studies in addition to people who are historians and sociologists and anthropologists and art historians and musicians and others, who also teach in that program.

37:31

Shellnutt:

So, you talked also about the academy, do you know the overall perception the faculty and administration at Mary Washington has towards the Women’s Studies program or can you think of any examples where there has been criticism, like instances of criticism from the faculty?

37:55

Mikhalevsky:

I haven’t heard any. Now that doesn’t mean that there aren’t any but I haven’t heard any. Maybe I am at a disadvantage because I do believe in the Women’s Studies program and maybe people know that and, as a consequence, they are less likely to say negative things about it. I think, you know, administratively one concern is resources and any time you are trying to generate a new program—you know the university has been going through budget cuts for the last four and a half years and so how do we balance offering high quality programs that we offer now and generating new programs. Those are resource allocation issues. Those are very difficult ones. One advantage that interdisciplinary programs, multidisciplinary programs have is that they can be sustained by the contributions of other disciplines. So I think there was certainly concern about whether or not we had the resources to develop and to offer a high quality Women’s Studies program. I think its clear that we do have those resources. It would be a goal to get more resources and eventually as I said increase the faculty in Women’s Studies but I haven’t heard any criticism. I mean have you heard criticism?

39:36

Shellnutt:

I guess from—not from faculty or anything. Do you see the Women’s Studies program at Mary Washington reaching out to the community or you experienced—

39:45

Mikhalevsky:

I think eventually it will. I mean I think again this is only the first semester, but certainly that is a strong component and very strong tradition in Women’s Studies programs. They develop internships and externships and community based programs that serve a much broader community frequently. And its extremely common in Women’s Studies majors that they are doing internships in ways that sustain and support women in the community or they are doing research for projects on issues that are specific to women.

40:25

Shellnutt:

Now that we kind of got a picture of Women’s Studies at Mary Washington, you mentioned earlier that you taught at Mt Vernon and wrote a book. Can you compare your experiences there?

40:38

Mikhalevsky:

Well they are really very different. Mt Vernon college was a small, liberal arts college in Washington DC and it was a women’s college and it had grown out of a nineteenth century female seminary. You know, UMW is a public, liberal arts university, so they are very very different. What I can tell you is that—the University of Mary Washington started out as a women’s institution. It started out as a normal college for women teachers. And the word normal there meant establishing a norm or standard. In other words, the normal college was one that established the highest possible standards. So if you are going to train teachers, you are going to train them by giving them the highest possible standards, the highest possible expectations because obviously you want your teachers to be the best. So, Mary Washington and also James Madison started out, actually and they were both founded in the same year and also kind of interesting political reasons for that, they started out as colleges for women to train women as teachers, which for obvious reasons the early part of the nineteenth century was the very few roles, social roles, public roles that women could have and it was also a critically necessary role. Over time it develops as a lot of women’s institutions did, it begins to broaden to more courses, more types of courses, courses of study and by the 60s it is a very high quality women’s college. And it’s actually viewed as the, and was by charter, became the women’s college of the University of Virginia. So you have the University of Virginia, which is sort of this Virginia flag ship university for males and you have Mary Washington, which was the college for women and the curriculum began to develop and even the campus began to develop as a kind of mirror of UVa. Many people who taught, particularly women who taught at women’s institutions took the intellectual and academic development of women very seriously. So the intellectual and academic environment in the classroom at a women’s college is one of the most demanding and rigorous environments that a young women could experience. In some respects it is much more challenging and demanding than being in a coed environment. There is also a tremendous focus on the individual student, developing her intellectually, academically, personally, fostering confidence, fostering self-inquiry, fostering certain attributes of seriousness and ambition. Those are all things fairly common to women’s colleges. Women’s colleges that go coed often retain those same core values, they don’t loose them. And I think some of the real core values that we have here at the University of Mary Washington, the quality of our academic environment is a legacy of this having been a women’s college. Focus in the individual student, individual student development, rigorous academic environment, taking the students seriously. I think some of that is a real legacy of this having been a women’s college. I also think the fact that women were taken seriously and still remain in the majority is the legacy of that. There are other things that went away. And one of the things that I want you to do with you interview of Allyson Poska. Have you interviewed her yet? Ok. She told me the most amazing story about the time when all the names on the buildings got changed. So originally they were all named obviously after important women in the history of Virginia or in the history of the institution and then at some point someone decided that it was going to be last names only. As in to suggest that Lee could be anyone. Or that Randolph could be anyone. But those, it wasn’t just any Randolph. And I think that’s were you see someone or an institution changing in ways that were designed, at least thought to be, accommodating to a more diverse, in this case a coeducational environment. Although, one can observe, that the fact that buildings being named after males was never thought to be a concern for female students who might be on campus. But the fact that buildings might be named after females was thought to be a concern for males on campus.

46:37

Shellnutt:

That is interesting.

46:48

Mikhalevsky:

But I think that that—There is a quality of our academic environment here that I think bears the legacy of it having been a women’s college at one point. Those are good things. I think the layout of the campus. I think there are certain aspects to the campus that still reflect the fact that at one time it had been a women’s college. And there were things thought very very important for the physical environment for females that we still have.

47:09

Shellnutt:

[Like what?]

47:10

Mikhalevsky:

Well, you know, the cultivation of beauty and the cultivation of elegance and the cultivation of balance and grace and there are qualities to some of the original buildings here that reflect that.

47:27

Shellnutt:

You mentioned how Mary Washington went coeducational in the 1970s and this time there was a lot of activism that we talked about relating to Women’s Studies, do you see any contradiction between Mary Washington changing the names, something like something there?

47:52

Mikhalevsky:

Well I think that you had, and this happened at a lot of different places. The University of Virginia went coed, a lot of institutes, one of the last ones. It’s really interesting because institutions were starting to go coed in the late part of the nineteenth century. The University of Wisconsin was admitting women in the late part of the nineteenth century. Cornell was admitting women in the late part of the nineteenth century. So there were institutions that went coed almost one hundred years before the University of Virginia did, but as more and more institutions went coed, which I think is a really good thing, you know.  I think it’s a good thing to provide equal access to women to resources and education to medical schools, law schools, excreta. Those were good things. When that happened though a lot of single sex institutions, a lot of women’s colleges lost enrollments and that’s why more and more women’s colleges started to go under because women didn’t want to go to a women’s college. They thought “Why should I go to Mt Holyoke if I can go to Brown? Why should I go to Smith if I can go to Harvard?” Those are interesting questions. What does Smith have that Harvard doesn’t? What is Harvard lacking that Smith can give you? Those are important questions. There are still a number of women’s colleges thriving today, but when the University of Virginia went coed, so the women, particularly instate women, could go to UVa, what are we going to do as a public institution. We can’t be a public single sex institution. See what I am saying? So if UVa goes coed, University of Mary Washington, Mary Washington College needs to go coed. So, in a sense that interest in, or that success in providing equal access to women also needed to apply to everyone in the state. Now, did apply equally to everyone in the state? Well, it took us a long time to begin to focus on the fact there was still a whole constituency in the state that being excluded from public education and that was African Americans. But I don’t know that there is a contradiction there, you know, you are now providing coeducation at all the major public institutions in the state of Virginia. But it does mean a qualitative change in the environment. Just as UVa would say, “Well there’s qualitative change.” I don’t know defensible that claim would be but I would assume that in the early stages when women were attending the University of Virginia, there were probably some interesting manifestations of that. Just as there were here.

50:44

Shellnutt:

I am just thinking, I guess, do you see that as preventing Mary Washington founding their Women’s Studies programs when those other schools were. Almost as rejecting that…

51:03

Mikhalevsky:

Oh I see what you are saying, because Women’s Studies programs were really starting to proliferate in the 60s we didn’t develop one. Um. I don’t know. I wasn’t here. I don’t really know a lot the academic and kind of environmental conditions were. I really don’t know. I mean—I don’t know. I don’t know why that is. Again Women’s Studies is something that is growing out of, particularly in the 60s, growing out of a very clear need to provide an academic, an intellectual, a psychological place for women who are not getting not only the focus and development and training that they need but also the content and the academic course of study that is of interest to them. And why—what was happening here academically, I don’t know.

52:11

Shellnutt:

I guess the place, like maybe since this was a women’s college, the place was already…

52:18

Mikhalevsky:

Well that certainly would have been the case, historically that would have been the case. What happened when men were admitted, I don’t know.

52:40

Kappatos:

I have a question. What are your goals for the future for the Women’s Studies program here?

52:45

Mikhalevsky:

Well, a number of things. I think Women’s Studies is a important as I said before it a diverse and very rich course of study. It’s not just for women. It’s for anyone interested in issues of gender and a focus on the role and place and the experiences of women. So I hope it continues to thrive. I think its one of what I hope will be a continuing development of interdisciplinary studies, so that we have a very rich and substantive set of courses of study that are interdisciplinary for our students. I think this a—I think our students need to be able to think across and study across disciplines.  I think the world is very very complicated and somebody who has experience working across disciplines or looking at a particularly complex problem from multidisciplinary perspectives or can understand and appreciate those multidisciplinary perspectives even if they don’t have a command of them is at an advantage in terms of solving problems. So I hope that it develops and is sustained along with some other kinds of interdisciplinary studies. I also hope, getting back to what you were mentioning, that it serves us well in terms of our regional engagement.  I think the university has a lot to offer and much more to do in terms of becoming a full partner in our region and kind of dissolving the walls of the university so that we are connected and that our students are— and our faculty and staff and the community are kind of permeating through our educational environment and in our region.