Archive for December, 2010

Analysis of Interview with Dr. Majorie Och by Erin Underwood

Monday, December 6th, 2010

            In 1908 the University of Mary Washington was founded as the State Normal and Industrial School for Women in Fredericksburg, Virginia.  This women’s school has undergone many changes over the years.  Through research on the formation of the new Women’s and Gender Studies program, one can begin to understand the history of the University of Mary Washington.  The complexities of the history of this program are important to understand because it took years for it to finally be completed.  The final formation of the program was largely due to the initiative of Dr. Marjorie Och, an Art History professor at the university.  Through this effort the Women’s and Gender Studies program has finally emerged, even though the majority of women’s studies programs across the United States had long been established at other universities.  The Women’s and Gender Studies program has been an important addition to this campus, especially in preserving the struggle of women’s rights and the history of a campus that has since been converted to co-ed. 

            During the 1970s many women at American universities became more active in the fight for women’s rights and women’s studies programs.  Marilyn Boxer, a prominent women’s studies author, writes “the expansion of women’s studies was fueled by a pervasive need for a usable past and validation for change in the present.” [Note 1]  This push was not just for women’s rights but also for recognition of women’s acceptance in universities and of their cognitive capabilities.  Most of the push for women’s studies programs stemmed from a lack of acceptance within the male sphere that dominated co-ed campuses.  It could be assumed that a women’s college would embrace such a program.  However, during the 1970s, the University of Mary Washington (UMW) had taken a completely different turn.  It was during this time that the university became co-ed and in the years that followed an intense de-feminization of the campus occurred.  Many of the names of campus buildings were changed from full names of important women to only their last names.  After the changes on campus started, as early as the 1980s but mostly into the 1990s, a small group of faculty started forming interest in a women’s studies program, but for many years there was a significant backlash by administration.[Note 2]  It was not until the early 2000s that an adjustment in attitudes brought about a significant change, as well as hope, for a women’s studies program at the University of Mary Washington.

            Dr. Marjorie Och was one of the founders and major contributors to the formation of the Women’s and Gender Studies program at UMW  In her interview she recalls a chance meeting with Dr. Nina Mikhalevsky, in late January of 2008, that really propelled the formation of the program. 

She said something like ‘What would you like to see happen here at Mary Washington?’ … 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.’[Note 3]

After this meeting Dr. Och sent out an email a number of faculty and few administrators and set up meetings to develop the proposal for the Women’s and Gender Studies.  This time of working on the proposal was not an easy one however.  She discusses the administrative pressures that were still prevalent against such a program.  Her narration is filled with careful diction to avoid naming anyone in specific opposition, but also in that she wanted to make sure that faculty were given credit for their participation.  During the interview there are a few times where Dr. Och is visibly upset when talking about this time and talks about her frustrations.  “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.”[Note 4]  This correlates to a disparity between the administrators and the faculty and is a pertinent representation of how the faculty were growing tired of the administrative changes surrounding the administration.[Note 5]  

            The formation of the Women’s and Gender Studies program will be an asset in helping solidify the women’s history of this campus.  The struggle between the faculty and administrators for a women’s studies program can be seen as not only a struggle for the program but also a larger struggle.  A struggle that is still based in women’s rights and trying to voice those rights.  While women were having this same struggle forty years before, the University of Mary Washington was opening its doors to men and started catering to their needs.  Professor Och said that this campus was started more as a women’s finishing school than a women’s college.  This is seen by the adamant rejection of women, who were trying to gain rights and escape from their normal gender roles, by recurring administrators.

            The Women’s and Gender Studies program at the University of Mary Washington was a few years late to be a revolutionary cause, like other programs were in the 1970s.  However, this program at UMW has instilled a new generation with the knowledge that anything is possible.  This program is revolutionary to this campus in that it has finally been able to overcome the hurdles of a narrow minded administration.  Dr. Och emphasizes the importance of forward thinking and embracing necessary change.  She concludes her interview by looking directly into the camera and giving a positive message of hope for those in the future.  The culmination of hard work and perseverance on the part of many faculty will make the Women’s and Gender Studies program a success.   This program will help secure the history of women on this campus and not let them fade away as if they never existed.

[Note 1] Marilyn Jacoby Boxer, When Women Ask the Questions: Creating Women’s Studies in America (United State of America: The John Hopkins University Press, 1998), 10.

[Note 2] Majory Och, interview by author, Fredericksburg, VA, November 16, 2010.

[Note 3] Marjory Och, interview.

[Note 4] Marjory Och, interview.

[Note 5] While Marjory Och was speaking of her frustrations I could see a correlation between her and the ‘rank-and-file’ narrators from the Portelli reading.  “Rank-and-file narrators are … more epic, and more imaginative.  Their stories swell with anger- thirty years after the fact—as if it had just happened.”  Alessandro Protelli, “The Death of Luigi Trastulli: Memory and the Event,” in The Death of Luigi Trastulli, and Other Stories: Form and Meaning in Oral History, (Albany, NY: SUNY Press, (1991), 8.

An Analysis of Interview with Nina Mikhalevsky by Nicole Kappatos

Monday, December 6th, 2010

Nicole Kappatos

Women’s and Gender Studies Interview Essay

On November 11, 2010, an interview was conducted with Dr.Nina Mikhalevsky, a professor of philosophy at the University of Mary Washington. The interview focused on her prior involvement with the feminist movement and more specifically her role in the University’s recently established women’s studies major. Dr.Mikhalevsky was involved with the founding of the new major while she was in an administrative position as acting provost. She used her position as provost to advocate the program to the University’s administration on behalf of a group of faculty that had been trying for some time to establish a women’s studies major. Thus far she has not taught any classes in the new major, which only recently began in the fall semester of 2010, but in her interview she expresses her hopes for the future of the major.

Dr.Mikhalevsky’s involvement with the feminist movement began in the 1970’s when she was an undergraduate at Boston University. In her interview she describes her participation in student activism when she marched from Boston to Cambridge to take over a building at Harvard to become a women’s center. She later spent a number of years teaching at an all women’s institution, Mount Vernon College. In her time there, she wrote a book on the history of Mount Vernon College which focused on the development of the female seminary in the late part of the nineteenth century and the evolution of the female seminary into colleges in the early twentieth century. The time she spent at Mount Vernon College led to her familiarity and interest in single- sex education. Following her involvement at Mount Vernon College, Dr.Mikhalevsky served as chair of the women’s studies program at George Washington University. Her position at George Washington University put her in contact with some of the most influential feminists in the country such as Betty Freidan.

In Female Studies V, an account of the shifting debates about women’s studies, Marilyn Salzman-Webb defines women’s studies as “The intellectual understanding of the historical struggle between domination and submission.” (1) Dr.Mikhalevsky expresses a similar perspective; she defines women’s studies as follows:

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. (2)

Like Salzman-Webb, Mikhalevsky believes it is important to understand the struggle of women and their contributions to history that have often been ignored.

Dr.Mikhalevsky described her classes in philosophy at UMW, “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.”[1] Although Mikhalevsky has not begun teaching classes for women’s studies in her field yet, she plans to incorporate varieties of feminist literature in her teachings.

In her article, “Vital to the Mission and Key to Survival: Women’s Studies at Women’s Colleges,” Dr.Claire Sahlin describes a successful women’s studies program as having mutually committed students and faculty, she says, “There is no more exhilarating and intellectually fertile place in the academic world today than a women’s college.”(3) In her final thoughts Dr.Mikhalevsky’s expressed her hope for the success of the University of Mary Washington’s Women’s Studies program. She too believes that students and faculty must work together in order to have a successful program and says, “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…” (4)

The interview with Dr.Mikhalevsky highlighted the importance of the genesis of a women’s studies program at UMW. Her long-standing reputation as a scholar, her experience with feminist activism, and her close contact with prominent feminist scholars, makes Dr.Mikhalevsky an important voice for UMW’s new program. At times her lack of familiarity with some of the inner workings of the program are limiting in completely understanding the new major. However, her overall qualifications, and her involvement in starting the program from the administrative level, make Dr.Miklavesky an important player in the establishment of the university’s women’s studies program.

End Notes:

1) Ellen Messer-Davidow, Disciplining Feminism from Social Activism to Academic Discourse (Durham [N.C.: Duke University Press, 2002),88.

2)“Interview with Dr.Nina Mikhalevsky,” interview by author, November 11, 2010.

3) “Interview with Dr.Nina Mikhalevsky,” interview by author, November 11, 2010.

4)Claire L. Sahlin, “Vital to the Mission and Key to Survival: Women’s Studies at Women’s Colleges,” NWSA Journal 17, no. 2 (Summer 2005):165.

5)”Interview with Dr.Nina Mikhalevsky,” interview by author, November 11, 2010.


Dr. Janet Wishner Transcript

Monday, December 6th, 2010

Interview with Janet Wishner

Interview by: Madalina Marcoci

Transcriber: Madalina Marcoci

[Interview #1: November 14, 2010]

1-00: 00:02

Marcoci:

It is November 14, and I am doing an interview with Mrs. Wishner.

1-00:00:11

Marcoci:

Okay, when were your last years teaching at University of Mary Washington?

1-00:00: 15

Wishner:

When did I last teach?

1-00:00: 16

Marcoci:

Yes ma’am.

1-00:00:17

Wishner:

I think 1995 [pause] I think.

1-00:00:20

Marcoci:

1995? Okay.

1-00:00:23

Marcoci:

[Um] When did the Women’s Studies Program get pushed for the institution?

1-00:00:27

Wishner:

[Laugh] I was afraid you would ask that.  I can’t remember my suspicion is 82 but I am not sure about that.

1-00:00:35

Marcoci:

Why was the Women’s Studies Program formed? What were the reasons?

1-00:00:40

Wishner:

[Sigh] Bill Kemp who was professor of English and chair of English department, thought that this would be a good idea and my suspicion is that he’d been to conferences cause frequently Women’s Studies comes out of English Departments. I think because they keep changing the canon of what their going to teach and they were doing more and more teaching of women’s writing so he thought “lets due a Women’s Studies course,” and there were a lot of them going on around the country. But the other thing was there was one heir called Elizabeth Clarke, she was from Vassar and very much a student of women’s colleges and she had been brought here to teach the history of religion and had just been working and I think had published by the time we set up the program a book called Women and Religion, so she was a bell ringer too and there were others of us…[pauses and glances at paper] Lets see. Neil Oliver who taught History, Art History she had been to a women’s college, Margaret- I think Margaret Huber was an anthropology was in on this and I know Dan Dervin from English was and Alice Rabson had taught at Antioc which is kind of rables in College in the Middle West and she was big on this. She by the way is Ann Rabson [daughter]- mother Ann Rabson blues pianist, and who else. That’s all I can remember. [Um] so we all got together and thought the course would be a good idea and the idea was it should be interdisciplinary. Some Anthropology, some Art History some of this and that and the deal was going to be that everybody would do a lecture during the semester and that I would that would be on one day and then I would do the discussion on the other day of the week. So the question was [laugh] who is going to present this to the faculty to get it through the curriculum. Cause Liz Clark and Alice and others were known to be rabble rousers and um we thought that the campus was heavily loaded with chauvinist of men still so we thought they thought Janet cause I was perceived to be fairly neutral and I think well respected by the faculty so they said, [laugh] your it kid! So I was the one who drew up the [prop]-  I think I drew up the proposal and I know I’m the one who presented it to the faculty-I’m pretty sure for approval it might have been to the curriculum committee but I have a feeling it was to faculty anyway it went through with no opposition whatsoever. We were astonished!  That’s how it got started.

And unfortunately I think the first year we taught it Liz had already gone off to um Duke she was invited to go there as distinguish professor and down chair and all that kind of stuff but I’m, I’m pretty sure that when we started the program she had already gone and that’s what makes me think it was 82.

1-00:04:13

Marcoci:

Can you discuss um how the meetings were? What went on in these meetings?

1-00:04:20

Wishner:

[Laugh] Well we tried to get, this was a motley crew we tried to get them to kind of agree on something what they were going to do and how they were going to fit into the program and we all kind of agreed about what we would do and when they came to lecture they just went all over the place and that was the biggest problem. [Um] Neil lectured on how women are represented in mythology but it’s not really a degradation of women and how women are all so often represented nude but that’s not really degradation of women and we kind of wondered well you know how does this hook in Women’s Studies and um I can’t remember the other problems we had [but] but it was kind of like hurting cats everybody um had their own agenda. And not surprisingly you get that in interdisciplinary studies and what the people say they are going to do when you do planning and what they actually do when it comes down to giving the lecture, quite different. So it was hard to keep, it was hard to keep a central line going, but it was a lot of fun and we all very fond of each other so there was a lot of collegiality in the planning of it, but it was wild.

1-00:5:35

Marcoci:

Do you remember [um] any other obstacles that you guys faced?

1-00:5:42

Wishner:

No, [um] you know it was one more lecture for everybody to give because [um] they couldn’t get time off because it was everybody was when they joined an hour lecture or an hour and half or something like that but I don’t remember other obstacles.  Yeah! There way it was how to choose the books and till this day I can’t remember how we did that. That was really before the anthologies that are now so neat for Women’s Studies that give you that [um] interdisciplinary approach and if we had, if we had one of those books it would of been easier to get everybody kind of coordinated because the psychologists would talk about the reading that we did in psych and the anthropologists would talk about the reading we did in anthropology. But, but yeah the reading was a problem and choosing books was a problem so I can say I can’t remember what we chose. [Pause] A long time ago, gosh almost twenty years isn’t it? Yeah

1-00:6:47

Marcoci:

Yes, [small pause] do you [um] remember like if these books were used like worldwide or if it was just Mary Washington using these books?

1-00:6:55

Wishner:

[Um] they were used pretty generally I think in other colleges and because we were just starting up the program I hadn’t received and nobody else had [um] we would call desk copies publisher extension copies of books that they think you might be interested in teaching. So once we got started I got a lot of those books and then, then it was a lot easier to see what we could do and how we could do it. But [um] at the beginning the distribution of books was probably more general than I realized just because they weren’t coming to me through the College. Also we didn’t have then the bookstores that we have now there was no borders and [um] I would then always go up to Washington to get the books that I was interested in [um] but that didn’t center on Women’s Studies so much I just went for general reading. So I suspect one of the biggest changes would be reading [pause] and a focus for the discussions.

1-00:08:06

Marcoci:

Could you discuss the curriculum of the classrooms?

1-00:08:13

Wishner:

Well [pause] I can’t remember, I just can’t remember what the curriculum was. I remember [um] Margaret talking. This might help I remember Margaret Huber talking about [um] different tribal attitudes towards women and how that affected people’s behavior. [Laugh] She said that anthropologists discovered that you know we know this about animals but anthropologist discovered that men are much more attractive to women who are fertile then women who are infertile. Well a student wrote a paper about that and told me [laugh] that men are attracted to women who are furtailed. F-u-r-t-a-i-l-e-d, [laugh] we also asked I remember this one too we asked and that was Dan Dervin’s question how is your experience as a women different from what you think life would be if you were a man? And one of the students said I think with some justification “well I don’t think it would be any different cause I’m what I really am is a skier and I think women’s skiing is just like men’s skiing.” But one of the other students who was male said that he liked to go off to the gym and conjugate with boys [laugh] and that’s of course what you do with verbs and so the people were very fluent in other languages and I would do so wish they did and again I think this came from anthropologic Margaret. But anyway [um] somebody wrote in a paper that these days women are demanding equal sex rolls with the men. R-o-l-l-s [laugh]. Well I had a bulletin board outside my office and you know grading papers is difficult as we were talking before, and anything that kind of lightened it, helps. So I would write this kind of stuff down and I would never put a name to it but I would post it on my bulletin board “You will be interested to know that, and then listed these things” and one student said “I can’t think why Mrs. Wishner wastes her time with stuff like this.” [laugh] But there we are [small pause] Mrs. Wishner wastes her time in lots of ways. [laugh]

1-00: 10:47

Marcoci:

Okay and what was the student involvement, how did students participate in the Women’s Studies Program?

1-00:10:53

Wishner:

Oh! They after the lecture lets say was on Tuesday, on Thursday the first thing I would ask them is what was said that you didn’t understand or what was said that you would like to have elaborated and if necessary as I recall I said you know I’ll go back to the professor and ask for clarification I hope I did that, and then they would talk about what had been said in the lecture and how I would like to have sought how the lectures related to their lives and how the lectures related to other things that had been said in the course but that didn’t happen as much as I would liked it to have done. [Um] I think perhaps because my field is philosophy and not psych or English we didn’t do as much relating to their lives as I think we might of done. But there again styles of teaching have changed a lot and, and over the course of so many years it was less likely then that we were expecting students to be explicit about how their personal life interrelated with their academic life. That’s now just assumed but it wasn’t at the time I was teaching or at least it wasn’t in the style that I taught. I regret that.

1-00:12: 10

Marcoci:

So they were they were in strong [um] favor of the program?

1-00:12:15

Wishner:

Oh I think so, I think so.

1-00:12:17

Marcoci:

And were they [um] a lot of African Americans?

1-00:12:20

Wishner:

No, we didn’t have any. [Pause] We had a scattering of boys maybe men two or three but not, not as many as I would like.

1-00:12:38

Marcoci:

How many students would [um] do you think would like to be or to take courses that were Women’s Studies?

1-00:12:48

Wishner:

Many more now than before and I think that’s for the reason that I talked a little bit about earlier I think now students are expecting college courses to impact directly on their lives. [Um] Gender Studies, International Studies, Women’s, courses in women’s literature especially asks students to see how this was relating to their lives. [Um] Ask me the question again please.

1-00:13:18

Marcoci:

[Um] how do you think or how many students would you think that would enroll in these courses?

1-00:13:24

Wishner:

Oh more than before, I think I probably had about twenty- five and I suspect now you’d probably be able to run two sections of twenty-five each. You could look at what’s going on with Mr. Vassey and Allyson [Pause] Poska I think they are teaching oh and Connie Smith teaches a very powerful course in women’s I think women’s literature so we could look at their enrollment and see what they get. I think Connie Smith might of been in on the initiative planning too.   

1-00:14:03

Marcoci:

What was the public response in the Fredericksburg area?

1-00:14:06

Wishner:

We didn’t have any response at all. I never heard of anything.

[Pause] While your, well yeah while your looking I can tell you a very interesting story. About the time that we were teaching this course there was an article that came out called “Chili Climate Maclaser for Women,” for women and it was studies were done and it was seen that even female professors tended to favor male students answer their questions more enthusiastically, called on them more, reinforced their participation and so on and that was a shock to many of us who were interested in Women’s Studies and the education of women. I never taught that article or not I don’t remember teaching it but friends of mine down at William and Mary decided to run a Women’s Studies course team taught by a man and a woman and the first day of class [um] professor Belgam the woman, came early and was calling the role and seeing what was going on and professor Harris, the man, came in and said here is your coffee professor Belgam. Well of course everyone collapsed they thought this was so funny but they used the Chili Climate article as an experiment in their class so when women would pipe up and say something they would say “that’s really interesting what made you think of that,” would you elaborate on that and when guys would speak up they would say “well that’s okay that’s interesting,” and pass them over. Well after about three weeks you know maybe more or less it doesn’t matter but anyway they asked students how is the class going? And the women all thought that the class was fabulous! And there were learning all kinds of things in the men said they were totally turned off. So they said well we are going to read an interesting article so they show the kids this Chili Climate article and that all of them men and women were furious that they had been duped into this experiment not willing participants. So the professor said “hey guys you took this course we thought to learn about men and women and specifically to learn about women’s experiences, well we showed you.” They still were mad. Isn’t that interesting?

1-00:16:53

Marcoci:

Very interesting.

1-00:16:55

Wishner:

I wish we had been as experimental here we just weren’t.

1-00:16:59

Marcoci:

So men or like male students they weren’t against this program [um] against it.

1-00:17:05

Wishner:

No, they weren’t particularly for it either. I think the three males, three or four males who were in the class were there just because it was um fulfilling some kind of requirement. But again I don’t know what that would have been.

1-00:17:29

Marcoci:

Can you [um] maybe discuss the effects the changes of the presidency at Mary Washington that they had on Women’s Studies?

1-00:17:39

Wishner:

Um [pause] I don’t think the presidency had much to do.[Um] if anything Woodard, during Woodard, tenure we introduced the bachelor of liberal studies which is for returning adults [um] that [pause] was introduced over the summer and the faculty were furious. Because we weren’t consulted about that and Woodard said well it was during the summer you were all away, and we said you know what that we could of been away, on [facul]- teachers salary where were we going to go?  So then they introduced the MALS course and they made sure that that had a lot of faculty involvement, a lot! [Um] And in fact my husband and I were very much involved in that MALS program. So I think probably the idea that we could get a Women’s Studies Program going it being interdisciplinary and [um] not in the traditional academic tradition [um] might have been helped by the fact that Woodard had pushed those other two programs, but I don’t know.

1-00:18:57

Marcoci:

And I want to go back a little bit to talking about um the projects that you were involved with Women’s Studies? Do you mind talking a little bit about them?

1-00:19:07

Wishner:

I can’t really remember any projects. [Pause] The projects that I remember more vividly are the MALS, working on that program. I only taught, I think I only taught the Women’s Studies course twice and then it was handed over to Carol Corcoran and Craig Vassey, but I don’t remember projects.

1-00:19:39

Marcoci:

Okay, do you believe that there will be disciplines that will dominate in the future?

1-00:19:46

Wishner:

Dominate Women’s Studies?

1-00:19:47

Marcoci:

Yes, ma’am

1-00:19:49

Wishner:

Um, [pause] it started out primarily English, um English Literature because so much of women’s writing Virginia Wolf, Alan Glasco um Edith Ward [pause] are women, oh and Kate Chopin, women specifically writing about women’s issues from a particularly feminine point of view. [Um] much more kind of introspection stream of consciousness. So people teaching literature found those, a way of getting students interested in what they might not otherwise explore. And it was a way of women getting women’s focus of literature in a way it hadn’t been before. But then I think there’s an offshoot of that historians began very interested in more social and domestic history and [um] [pause] and also anthropologists have always been interested women and tried to figure out how women in different societies fit or fail to fit in. So if there were going to be dominant disciplines they would be those three but interesting as I say that philosophy has been really strong too cause professor Harris and Belgam that I talked about down at William and Mary they were both philosophers. And Mr. Vassey’s first agree was in um studies with Levines my understanding is a historian and philosopher of women’s thinking and he’s also a student of Simone de Beauvoir who wrote the Second[pause] the Second Sex, maybe the Second Sex. So philosophers were used to taking an idea and saying where did this come from and how does it fit into our intellectual structure of thinking. There good at exposing assumptions and tracing them out so Philosophy might be- So the more we think about which disciplines were, I don’t think any one of them can be dominant. Psych of course, and the two people who took over for me were psychology and philosophy but [um] psych of, psych of women came to Mary Washington I think when Alice Rabson came and that was 1969. Alice came when I did and she was really strong on women’s issues. So I [know], I don’t see any dibs and no discipline gets to have dibs on it because we all think we have dibs on it. Similarly with Decartes they teach Decartes in French and they teach Decartes in philosophy um and neither ones have dibs on him. Plato we teach Plato is philosophy and they teach him in political science. Nobody has dibs, though he really belongs to us.

1-00:23:20

Marcoci:

How do you think that Women’s Studies will affect admissions?

1-00: 23:24

Wishner:

[Mm] I think the, it used to be that we were so strict in our requirements for graduation and we still are and I’m glad about that. [Um] it means Mary Washington is not just a diplomat millet it really is pushing good education. But the fact that we offer Women’s Studies and the fact that I think we even offer now a concentration, might attract students who don’t want to go the traditional routes of philosophy or education or anthropology but who want something more interdisciplinary, and a lot of women want to work with women and um this offers them a way of doing that.  So it might attract students in the same way that historical preservation and business administration attracts students. Mainly students who don’t want the more traditional concentrations and want something more imaginative that they can make more of their own. So I think it will, it might attract students. [Pause] Not just Women’s Studies but um now we have studies in [um] cultural diversity and so on, they appeal to students for very good reasons they appeal to the kind of students we would like to have, imaginative, innovative.

1-00:25:00

Marcoci:

And who do you think will teach these classes in the future?

1-00: 25:06

Wishner:

I don’t know. [Um] it was I don’t think that I was the best person to teach [um] Women’s Studies cause it wasn’t part of my academic training and because I didn’t know enough. But I was very disappointed when it was taken away from me, and it was taken away in a very subtle way because I had all of those books that came to me from publishers and books that I had purchased myself. I thought I was being generous and allowing Carole Corcoran in psych to borrow them um I didn’t realize at that time that she had plans to take the course, class herself, take it for teaching and I also didn’t realize though I should of that Craig Vassey was interested in teaching it, he was in my department. So I can’t remember how the, the transfer happened but I can remember being disappointed that I wasn’t more openly informed that that was what was going to happen.

1-00:26:13

Marcoci:

Okay and what kind of training would you need to teach for Women’s Studies, what kind of courses would you have to take before?

1-00:26:22

Wishner:

Um one of the things that Craig did and I never was fully aware of it but I have a feeling that he took a course maybe with professor Alyson Cork or in some other discipline that was related to or that could be brought into Women’s Studies and he actually did that probably under a tip [pause] the better teaching program. I would [pause] have done well to have done something like that. We tried to set up and I wish it had been more successful Connie Smith, Diane Hatch in classics and some others tried to set up a reading group when we would read literature pertaining to women. I remember specifically Diane having us read a Virginia Wolf article on not being able to teach um not being able to study Greek. [Um] and that book group would have been wonderful for getting an insight into how other people saw this problem and what liturgy they saw as pinpointing big problem. We didn’t get very far with book group because we had a time constraint but that would of helped. Even better would be a program in Women’s Studies,  I have attended several conferences down at Duke um where people who are teaching Women’s Studies come and read papers and it’s a Women’s Studies conference. Attending those conferences would have been helpful as preparation too. I think, I think what we did with those conferences was lectures and then some I think they call them breakout sessions where people sort of in small seminars talk and the people who go down there who give the papers and who conduct the seminars are high powered and that would of been good preparation too. But I started going to those after I retired so I don’t know whether they were happening when I was doing this or not, but I sure didn’t know about them.

1-00: 29:05

Marcoci:

And can you talk a little bit how these classes were taught, you said you taught for two semester or two Women’s Studies programs can you talk a little bit about what you would teach or how you would teach?

1-00: 29:19

Wishner:

Well it was not so much me it was I think both times we did it [um] we did a lecture on sort of like the Great Lives series the lecture on one day and then the discussion on the other. I then taught a course on [um] sexuality by myself and I can’t remember how I did that and I can’t remember the readings either. But I remember that it was, it was not very well received because I tried to talk about why women had been regarded as they had been regarded. And particularly I can remember [laugh] I think it’s Immanuel Kant who wrote a book about how women are by nature feminists and dote and the morals the person whose puts the moral structure in the family and they are the protectors and it’s the man who is the aggressive one and so on. Well I find that extremely interesting to have that actually explicitly discussed my students were simply so off put by that, I never got them back. [Laugh] And I can’t remember what other texts I used but I can remember they hated that. I might have, I think I did teach In a Different Voice the Carol Gilligan book about male and female reasoning patterns. [Um] I’m pretty sure I did teach that. I find it very interesting that I find that book extremely interesting and convincing. I have lost three copies of it. Lost! [Laugh] Is Freud telling us something. Isn’t that funny?

1-00: 31:15

Marcoci:

Okay and I want to go back to [um] talking about the future history of Women’s Studies how do you think that people’s aspects on women’s studies will change since it’s becoming so popular today?

1-00: 31:31

Wishner:

Oh I think that there going to be more courses. A philosophy course, not a- several philosophy courses which Craig is greatly pushing. Brightly! I think there are going to be more history courses, more psych courses, and as this happens more disciplines are going to discover that gee I have something to say here too. Biology for example, and not to my knowledge are they doing gender studies in biology but they should be doing. [Um] even in medicine we’re discovering all these files of drugs that have been done by mature men and were begging a [big] big controversies whether the brain is wired for gender discrimination. [Um] big questions about gay people and um cross stressing and so on. People are so much more open about sexuality that it’s becoming that various ways in which people express their sexuality are becoming so much more openly recognized that this gives reason to believe that academic studies should be devoted to this.

I was in Holland in the fall, and there was a bus driver called Polla and when we got off the bus our tour leader said did you notice anything funny about Polla? And all the rest of us said yeah she’s transsexual. I was just stunned! And they said to me Janet what have we said to upset you and I said I’m just trying to figure out whether is that in your face or am I supposed to be sympathetic with this person who wants to have another body or is it just that something so different was right there and I didn’t recognize it. And they said Janet where do you live? [Laugh] And I said Fredericksburg, and they said well we see that all the time in San Francisco and New York you just live in Fredericksburg. And one of them said what kind of a rock have you been hiding under [laugh]. And what struck me, two things struck me, one is the fact that I was so thrown by that I was not disapproving I just was so totally off guard. But the other one was how kind they were in explaining the process that these people have to go through, the distress that they have in being born in the wrong body and so on. I just didn’t know any of that, I wish I had, I wish I had.

Though it’s interesting when Liz was- ah Liz! I told you she was a rabble rouser, forgotten all about this. When Liz was teaching she invited John Money who’s a sex researcher over I think at Hopkins to come and talk to us and he talked to us about people who have been born in the wrong body. Well, Woodard had a blue fit! She [laugh] and I shared an office cause Monroe was being renovated and she was kicked out of Monroe and I was in her office when Woodard called. He just blew up the phone line he was so mad at her. But now I mean if that course- if that lecture had been given people would of thought well yeah that’s something that happens and good thing he is investigating it and she tried to explain to Woodard that this was a professor that this was going on at Hopkins and it’s something that our students should be aware of. No! So I think, I think that the need for that kind study of being more imaginative about how people are and being more invescative about where we’ve come from, very much needed.

1-00:35:43

Marcoci:

Would you say that um the same applies with um lesbians, that the-[interrupted].

1-00:35:48

Wishner:

Oh yes, oh yes. Yes. I should add that one of the reasons that I’m so, always been so interested in gays is that I lived with a gay man as best friend. We had lived in separate dorms but best friends. There were three of us the man I married, Richard, and me and we did everything together. [Um] except sex [laugh]. And I knew him for four years before he came out of the closet to me and that was only because my husband was here in America and I needed some place to live. And he said I could go and live with him and David but he would never really discuss it with me you know I was going to live there but he wouldn’t talk about it and finally he wrote me a letter saying well the reason I haven’t been able to talk about it is because I’m gay and if you don’t want to live with us then I would understand. I was heartbroken that my best friend couldn’t tell me.

I talked about that in a class I can’t remember whether it was in Women’s Studies or where but one of my students said “I don’t know any gay people,” and the whole class laughed. Which I was very grateful for because I didn’t know how I would of replied to her there are many, many gay people on our campus, men and women, in the closet still.

1-00:37:15

Marcoci:

Was this in a Women’s Studies class?

1-00: 37:20

Wishner:

I think it was. I think it was. And I get very emotional even now Richard is dead I think he died of AIDS. [Pause] And he wouldn’t tell me, it was the very beginning of AIDS and he was a very promiscuous gay and he traveled internationally, I’m sure that’s what got him. [Pause] I know several people who have died of AIDS, I know why men tend to find me very comfortable because I don’t make sexual demands on them and I form extremely close relationships with single men but never sexual ones. That doesn’t say I haven’t had a lively life, I have, but not with gay men they have been friends.

1-00:38:19

Marcoci:

What about black feminists?

1-00:38:23

Wishner:

Black feminists?

1-00:38:24

Marcoci:

Yes ma’am.

1-00:38:25

Wishner:

Well I love gay active Babolla who is a very openly gay woman but hasn’t been gay that long. She’s um [pause] put out an album called “Gay without shame,” which I very much like and one of the things that she has on that album which just cuts through me is there are many similarities between being gay and being black. One big difference is you don’t have to tell your mom. It just breaks my heart, it just breaks my heart. She did tell her mother.

1-00:39:09

Marcoci:

Do you have um any other memories that you might have of Women’s Studies that we haven’t went over.

1-00:39:19

Wishner:

[Looks at paper] Well one of the biggest things I liked about our putting the program together was it was a collaboration, that nobody owned the program. [Pause] Um I, we made I think we made a lot of mistakes, one of the mistakes we didn’t make one of the men used to ask his students to write about their fantasies including their sexual fantasies and it was suggested that we do that. And I said no! [Um] and I can’t remember other things that we didn’t do but we were very cautious about not inviting people into territory they were going to feel uncomfortable with. I think that might have been a mistake I think some of the stuff that they would be uncomfortable like the William and Mary stuff they probably should’ve done. But we didn’t do that, and I’m glad we erred on the side of caution. [Pause] Um I as a consequence of trying to teach that class and as a consequence of being very friendly with a number of people who are very much taken with Women’s Studies I have done a lot of reading since, and I’m very glad I did that. A former professor of mine suggested that I get into contact and keep in contact with several women Alison Jaggar is one who had written philosophy books about women and I very much regret that I didn’t do that. It could have been an avenue of research and inquiry I would have enjoyed but I just felt time pressured and didn’t do it and a bit shy they were high fluent women and I was shy to approach them. But I’ve read their books and I very much admire them. A lot of what I read I wish I had the courage to figure out and had the right kind of colleagues to figure out with. The problem with Fredericksburg is that we are a little too much pressured by time and teaching mode and [um] pressures from the administration.

Yeah one of the things that you asked me before how I could of prepared better for the class? And one of the things would have been to have some time off to just go and visit different courses I mean not the whole course but I could of popped in to hear Margaret Huber do a couple things in anthropology and I could of popped in to hear Alison do some of the things on women. And I would very much enjoy Chris Kilmartin although he talks about men, he is a very bright man and his insides are stunning. So I would have done that.

1-00:42:46

Marcoci:

Okay, anything else?

1-00:42:47

Wishner:

Not that I can think of. We’ve done a lot of talking. [Laugh]

1-00:42:50

Marcoci:

Okay, thank you very much for your time.

1-00:42:53

Wishner:

Your welcome, I’ve enjoyed your questions thank you.

Analysis of Interview with Janet Wishner, by Madalina Marcoci

Monday, December 6th, 2010

Janet Wishner, a former professor of philosophy at University of Mary Washington, shared her experiences from the early formation of the Women’s Studies Program on November 14, 2010. The idea of the program originated in 1982 with Bill Kemp who was professor and chair of the English Department, along with other professors such as Elizabeth Clark, Neil Oliver, Margaret Huber, Dan Dervin, and Alice Rabson. Wishner and the members of the committee gathered at a meeting and agreed on the decision that the program was going to be interdisciplinary.  The agreement indicated that each teacher in their specialized fields lectured at least once during the semester, and Wishner was the supervisor who carried out the discussions. Their main concern involved presenting the project to the faculty to get it through the curriculum. Wishner was chosen and she stated that “the program went through with no opposition. We were astonished!”[1] This early formation is vital to understanding the changes that later took place in the Women’s Studies Program at UMW.

Once the program was officially accepted by the faculty, the members of the group held weekly meetings to discuss the material that was going to be taught in the classrooms. According to Wishner, the task of incorporating Women’s Studies within the lectures posed a challenge for many teachers. Many of the strategies agreed upon in the meetings proved to be more difficult when applied in the classroom, because it was an interdisciplinary program and each teacher had a different agenda. Wishner noted that during the meetings “it was hard to keep a central line going, but we were very fond of each other so there was a lot of collegiality in the planning of it.”[2]

An issue at the center of the program involved reaching an agreement on the types of books that were going to be used in the classrooms. The interviewee made a clear distinction between the anthologies for Women’s Studies used today that provide the interdisciplinary approach, and the lack of them in 1982. At the very start of the program no faculty members received “desk copies,” which were books published only for faculty members to use in their classrooms.[3] However, that suddenly changed when the program took off. Wishner discussed that they did not have the bookstores that we have now and that made it difficult to purchase Women’s Studies books. She even went as far as Washington D.C. to purchase her personal readings. This information is significant for recognizing the reading and curriculum changes over the course of the Women’s Studies Program at UMW. As Wishner makes the distinction between the few books available when she taught, and the books available now on Women’s Studies at UMW, she states that “one of the biggest changes in the courses would be reading and a focus for the discussions.”[4]

Students were in favor of the program, but the styles of teaching differed from those that teachers use in Women’s Studies courses today. Wishner discussed her style of teaching while she was professor at the college, and explained that teachers were less likely to expect their students to be explicit about how their personal lives interrelated with their academic life. She further went on to say that teachers teaching in Women’s Studies courses today presumably assume their students are expected to have courses impact directly on their lives.

The types of students enrolled in these courses were mostly women. Wishner also describes the classroom setting consisting of three or four males and no African Americans. The male students were not in opposition or necessarily in favor of the program. In fact most of the males enrolled in Women’s Studies courses because they had to fulfill major requirements. Her recollections correlate with Still Brave edited by Frances Foster, Beverley Guy-Sheftall and Stanley James. They discuss the male criticism towards the program, and illustrate that male students accepted and participated in the program.[5] Although, Wishner hoped that more men would have taken the Women’s Studies courses, the numbers proved far less than students that enroll in Women’s Studies Programs today at UMW.

In the second part of the interview, Wishner talked about the various ways that Women’s Studies might affect admissions in the future. Since UMW now offers more Women’s Studies and concentration courses, the attraction of students might be greater. Particularly pertaining to those students who do not want to take traditional routes, but who want something more interdisciplinary. Wishner thinks that the program will draw students in the same way that historical preservation and business administration has, in that they want something more “imaginative and that they can make their own.”[6]

In addition, Women’s Studies courses offer female students the opportunity to build new experiences and work with other women in the field. Students have a better chance now that in the past to relate their personal lives to the courses and form new meanings in their lives. In Disciplining Feminism, Ellen Davidow shares the same aspects in the formation of Women’s Studies Programs and the women’s personal ideas that helped form the program.[7] The same ideas originated at UMW when the program was first formed, and the more students enroll in these courses the more popular support the Women’s Studies Programs will gain.

Wishner also discussed that in the future more courses will be constructed around the Women’s Studies Program. She thinks more gendered studies will be created because as discrimination and controversies over sexuality continue, more ideas will be brought in and taught in classrooms. In result, with more diverse courses offered more students will attend the Women’s Studies Programs.

 1. Janet Wishner, interview by Madalina Marcoci, Fredericksburg, VA, November 12, 2010.

2. Ibid.

3. Wishner, interview.

4.Ibid.

5.Beverly Guy-Sheftall, Frances Foster, and Stanley James, Still Brave: the Evolution of Black Women’s Studies (New York: Feminist Press, 2009.

6. Wishner, interview.

7. Ellen Davidow, Disciplining Feminism: From Social Activism to Academic Discourse (Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 2002), 55-65.

An Analysis of Interview with Nina Mikhalevsky, by Corrie Shellnutt

Monday, December 6th, 2010

And she looks me right in the eyes 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!”1

Above is a blurb taken from a part of the interview with Philosophy professor, Nina Mikhalevsky, where she recounts a conversation she had with a professor Art History professor, Margarie Och. In the months following this conversation, Former President Hample and the academic board would approve the Women and Gender Studies program proposal in the beginning of 2010, and, after two failed attempts in the past two decades, finally establish the major for undergraduate students in Fall 2010. While serving as the acting provost (senior academic administrator), Mikhalevsky helped the group of faculty, led by Margarie Och and Allyson Poska, move the proposal through the final stages of the approval process. Mikhalevsky’s academic, professional, and political experiences regarding Women’s Studies, led her to promote this program. Based on these past experiences, Mikhalevsky has many ideas and goals for the future of UMW’s Women and Gender Studies program.

According to Mikhalevsky, the Women’s Studies discipline has a number of strengths that are attributed to its methodology and content.  When Women’s Studies programs first developed they functioned not only as an area of study that recognized contributions from female scholars who have been historically marginalized, but also as a place where women could achieve academic goals without constraints of the patriarchic academic society. Women’s Studies program do not only serve the students involved in the major, but the student body alike by giving the community an academic location to actively engage in issues that privilege women.   As the field developed, scholars have incorporated questions challenging universal notions of gender, sexuality, and race creating an extremely varied and complex course of study. Mikhalevsky understands the interdisciplinary nature of the discipline as a major asset, since it forces students to critically study an issue through a variety of viewpoints.

Mikhalevsky support for Women’s Studies dates back to her undergraduate education at Boston University during the early 1970s. As a philosophy major, Mikhalevsky immersed herself in feminist’s theories and participated in pro-women campus activism.  During her professional career, Mikhalevsky served as a professor at Mount Vernon College (MVC), a private women’s college in Washington, DC. When working as a professor at The George Washington University (GW), Mikhalevsky served on the Women’s Studies advisory board and taught courses for their program.

In both institutions, Mikhalevsky worked with inspirational figures involved in Women’s Studies that reinforced their political beliefs through their academic work. At MVC Mikhalevsky worked with Betty Friedan, a leading figure in second wave feminism and author of The Feminist Mystique. Mikhalevsky’s memories of Friedan include her “genuinely” and “passionately” caring “about changing the economic and political status of women”2 At GW Mikhalevsky worked with Diane Bow, an anthropologist who served as the chair of the Women’s Studies program at GW. Bow used her expertise in the Austrailian aboriginal cultural practices of a specific group of women to defend the conservation of their sacred lands.

Mikhalevsky’s exposure to Friedan and Bow has made her set high standards for the future of Mary Washington’s program in how it serves the student body and the Fredericksburg community. Her idea of an effective program will assist students to recognize issues that are both specific and important to women by providing them with strategies and resources to take action.  Mikhalevsky hopes the program engages in forms of community interaction and activism, common in many Women’s Studies programs at colleges and universities across the country, by setting up internships that research and aid in these women specific. According to Mikhalevsky, regional engagement will dissolve “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”3

Given that the program is inherently interdisciplinary, Mikhalevsky calls for an overall strengthening in interdisciplinary studies. Improving the faculty for this program will serve to strengthen all interdisciplinary studies.  The Women and Gender Studies program must hire faculty for the program that have specialized in Women’s Studies in order to provide a substantive base to branch out to other disciplines. She envisions incorporating “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” 4

The future of Mary Washington’s Women and Gender Studies program has yet to be written, but hopefully through the commitment of faculty, like Professor Mikhalevsky, and a growing group of student majors a strong interdisciplinary program will develop that questions universal concepts of gender, provides a space for new intellectual conversations, and widens the scope of the university.

  1. Nina Mikhalevsky, interview by author, Fredericksburg, VA, November 11, 2010.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid.

Analysis of Interview with Dr. Judith Parker, by John Rowley

Monday, December 6th, 2010

On November 22, 2010 I interviewed Dr. Judith Parker on her thoughts about the newly created Women and Gender studies major that had just been approved at The University Of Mary Washington.  Dr. Parker is currently a Professor of English and Linguistics, and has been teaching at UMW since 1978.  One of the reasons that she first came to UMW in the late 70’s was to teach an intro to women’s studies course.  During the interview, which lasted a little over an hour, Dr. Parker’s responses reinforced the idea that the women and gender movement is not, and should not be taken as, a different entity towards other minority right’s movement, so it would be illogical to describe the founding of the Women’s and Gender Studies program at UMW without mentioning the other voices, which took the interview in an unexpected direction from my point of view as the interviewer.

Dr. Parker got her undergraduate degree at Sarah Lawrence College, which a small private liberal arts college in New York.  Parker herself described it as a “fairly progressive women centered college,” and a place where she was able to do work for Gerda Lerner, who was a large figure in the early women’s studies movement.[1] She then got her advanced degree at Brown, where, though she focused on psycholinguistics, which she categorized as “fairly straightforward scientific work,” she joined a women’s graduate group, which discussed different issues of what it was to be a women.[2]

In 1978 she came to teach at UMW for a variety of different reasons, one of them being that she would teach an introduction to women’s studies course.  She described the school as having awareness with certain members of the faculty about the importance of women’s studies courses and talking about women as a group.  Still, the campus was far from having a complete acceptance of the idea of women’s studies.  Early on in the interview she described going to a small faculty meeting, when she was still relatively new at Mary Washington.

The Dean of the faculty Phil Hall l was there and I remember us having a discussion about what kinds of goals we might want to achieve and Phil said “there will never be a women’s studies program on this campus,”[3]

Dr. Parker was initially shocked by the comment and the lack of support throughout the campus.  She recalled how difficult it was to keep the Introduction to Women’s Studies course offered to students, despite its popularity among students.  From that point it would take decades of resistance to eventually create the Women and Gender Studies program that is in place today.

The interview I did with Dr. Parker was part of a larger community study, which focused on faculty that dealt with, in some way, the Women And Gender Studies major and program on campus.  I did not have any decision in the choice of narrators for this project, and when I choose to interview Dr. Parker I knew very little about her.  On the other side Dr. Parker, knew very little about the interview project I was part of, which may have affected her interest in the interview.[4] Though the interview did not go in the direction I had imagined, I felt I got a lot of insightful comments and was able to develop a good rapport.[5] What I got from the interview was that to Dr. Parker, the creation of the Women and Gender Studies major and programmed was not a simple linear progression of obstacles that were overcome until the eventual creation of the program and that talking simply about women’s issues was missing the bigger picture.

Though she mentioned that she came to Mary Washington in part to teach an introduction to women’s studies course, it was not her only reason.  Her other reasons for coming to Mary Washington were for the interdisciplinary position that she would hold and to help work with students with disabilities.  One of the first programs that she mentioned she got involved with was the Society for the Advancement of Learning Disabled Students, and throughout the interview she mentioned the importance of all different kinds of identities and how the relate to one another.

And the point is, is that it’s not just take this and take that (the different identities) and put them in the same pot and that you know it’s together, it’s together in one person so you need to uh you need to recognize that a person can have many different types of identities and they are going to be distinct and if that person comes from a small town in the South or an urban center in the South if that person you know is impoverished or not, if that person is an immigrant or not, if that person has a college education or not , if that person has a physical or mental disabilities or not… Just thinking about those categories uh they’re going to be much richer if you understand all they different possible ways that those characteristics could manifest.  And power, I’m talking about the power difference.[6]

This goal of understanding all types of identities and how a person creates his or her own with the different identities is important to understanding Dr. Parker’s ultimate academic goal.

Dr. Parker mentioned different identities throughout the interview.  When describing the history of how the Women and Gender studies program finally came into existence, she frequently mentioned a race and gender grant that started in the later part of the eighties.  Once again, this grant did not simply focus on women and gender, but all kinds of diversities.  Like many of the women who founded women’s studies programs across the nation, Dr. Parker had a background with the Civil Rights movement, and her background played a very important role in her contribution to the Women and Gender Studies program here at Mary Washington.[7]

The Women And Gender Studies major and program is a big step for the University, but it is still only a step and not the definitive goal. Dr. Parker would like to see the new major help create a physical space, such as a library or social center, for the program.  She would like to see the majors get involved within the community more.  And she is also excited about other possibilities in the school, such as the possible James Farmer freshman seminars that have recently been getting administrative support, once again with on the larger picture of all of kinds of diversities.[8]


[1] Judith Parker, interview by author, Fredericksburg, VA, November 22, 2010

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Narrators are more likely to have an interest if they know the significance.  See: Valerie Raleigh Yow, Recording Oral History (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 1994), 147.

[5] Ibid., 60-66.

[6] Judith Parker, interview by author, Fredericksburg, VA, November 22, 2010

[7] Florence Howe, ed., The Politics Of Women’s Studies: Testimony From 30 Founding Mothers (New York: Feminist Press, 2000), xxiii.

[8] Judith Parker, interview by author, Fredericksburg, VA, November 22, 2010

Analysis of Interview with Dr. Craig Vasey, by Alice Wagner

Sunday, December 5th, 2010

The recent establishment of Women and Gender Studies program at the University of Mary Washington may strike many as oddly late in its arrival, considering the campus’ historically feminine nature.  Contrary to popular notions, however, its status as a formerly all-women’s college does not necessarily mean it was automatically in a prime position to support such a program.  In fact, as Claire Sahlin points out, the same negative stereotypes that women’s institutions face, that they “promote antipathy towards men or encourage lesbianism” are the same stereotypes encountered by those who support the development of women’s studies programs, making it “somewhat precarious” for the two to go together. 1 Of course, this negative conception of female-dominated campuses and programs is only one of many issues that together held back the foundation of the Women and Gender Studies program.  Dr. Craig Vasey, head of the Classics, Philosophy, and Religion Department at Mary Washington, has been with the university since 1986 and has long been involved in promoting women’s studies here, provides a long-term and unique perspective on the process of how Women and Gender Studies finally became a major and the problems facing the program and others like it.

One of the unique experiences Dr. Vasey brought with him to UMW was the time he spent in France as a doctoral student at the University of Paris from 1976-1979. 2 Coming into the interview with him, I had expected to find that France was a center of the feminist movement, after all, the famous feminist work, The Second Sex, was written by a French woman, Simone du Beauvoir.  This expectation was shared by Dr. Vasey, but to his surprise and my own, he found that French culture was “less sensitive … to issues of women’s equality or inequality than back in the United States.” 3 Of course, in the 1970s, feminists and proponents of women’s studies in America still faced plenty of obstacles, but from the founding of the first women’s studies program at San Diego State in 1970, women’s studies had spread to 1500 campuses across the nation by 1976. 4 Clearly, it was a fast-growing phenomenon on American campuses; while in Paris, Dr. Vasey found that even his relatively minor discussion of the feminine in his dissertation was considered to not be of scholarly importance. 5 The resistance he faced in Paris, rather than discourage his interest in women’s studies, seemed to help foster it.  This did not appear to be something he consciously pointed to as an influence, though, since my question concerning the connection between his current attitude towards women’s studies and his experience in Paris surprised him.   Nevertheless, seeing the discrepancies between French and American attitudes towards the Women’s Movement would have probably brought the issue more to the forefront of his mind, as it is often not until people confront another culture’s differences that they consciously begin to take notice of their own.

If nothing else, the resistance to viewing women as a valid academic subject that Dr. Vasey faced in Paris would prepare him for administrative resistance at Mary Washington.  He recalled that during his job interview for a position here, the dean at the time, Philip Hall, said to him, “We’re never going to have a Women’s Studies major.”6  Dr. Vasey followed this recollection with laughter, presumably at the irony of the statement, but he was quick to become serious again as he emphasized how Hall’s adamancy that no women’s studies major would ever be developed at the college  “kept it from making any progress.” 7  Later, Dr. Vasey wanted to clarify that it should not be set up as “too much as a confrontation with him.” 8 In other words, the former dean should not be viewed as the only thing hindering the establishment of women’s studies.  Still, it is clear from the way Dr. Vasey speaks of people’s reactions to Hall that he was considered at least one of the major roadblocks to the development of the program.  Dr. Vasey speculated that Hall’s resistance came from thinking women’s studies was a not viable academic topic. 9 This is an understandable speculation, as many academics of Hall’s generation felt that way.  But there is also the strong possibility that Hall’s resistance stemmed from the institution’s overall attempt to draw in more men to the college, which Dr. Vasey mentions later. 10

In any case, the lack of administrative support for the program had to be worked around, and is during that time that Dr. Vasey and another faculty member, Dr. Carole Corcoran, created the Race and Gender Curriculum Development Project, which educated faculty members in the fairly new fields of Gender Studies and Race Studies and encouraged them to take these ideas and make them part of classroom curriculum. 11 This was a vital first step towards the eventual creation of the Women and Gender Studies major, as it helped create a community of faculty who were committed transforming the curriculum so that it did not simply reflect the values of white, upper class men.

This idea of transforming university curriculum is a major goal of women’s studies programs across the country, it is not simply enough to have their own separate program. That can be easily dismissed as a niche sort of program that need not interfere with the rest of the departments.  Instead, women’s studies must act as a transformative program, which changes how all the departments in a university think and teach and discuss.  Despite not having a women’s studies program to promote this, Dr. Vasey and Dr. Corcoran managed to accomplish some of this goal through their project.  In around 2003, they decided that the program had changed enough of the campus-wide curriculum that the program was no longer necessary. 12 After that, though he did not play a key role in the logistics of starting the Women and Gender Studies program, Dr. Vasey continued to support the program and the work he had done in previous years had laid down an invaluable groundwork for the new major.

  1. Sahlin, Claire L.  “Vital to the Mission and Key to Survival: Women’s Studies at Women’s Colleges.” NWSA Journal 17, No 2 (Summer 2005): 165.
  2. Craig Vasey, interview by author, Fredericksburg, VA, November 11, 2010.
  3. Ibid.
  4. The Politics of Women’s Studies: Testimony from 30 Founding Mothers.  Edited by Florence Howe.  New York: The Feminist Press, 2000. xv.
  5. Vasey, interview.
  6. Ibid.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Ibid.
  9. Ibid
  10. Ibid.
  11. Ibid.
  12. Ibid.

Analysis of Interview with Dr. Poska, Director of Women’s and Gender Studies Program, by Amy Van Ness

Sunday, December 5th, 2010

Amy Van Ness

December 6, 2010

Hist 471

Women’s and Gender Studies Interview Essay: Dr. Poska

On November 10, 2010, Max Samsky and Amy Van Ness interviewed Dr. Allyson Poska. The topic of the interview regarded the creation and development of the Women’s and Gender Studies Program at the University of Mary Washington. Specifically, Dr. Poska discussed the history the program had at the University, the obstacles that were faced and overcome throughout its development, the support the program received from the students, faculty, and administration, and the imagined future of the program. The facts and information received during the interview can be analyzed by examining how this particular program fits into the broader array of women’s studies programs. Dr. Poska’s perspective about the program and her personal involvement are crucial components to be added to the Women’s and Gender Studies Oral History website that is being created in Dr. Rigelhaupt’s 471 Oral History class. Her participation in the creation of the program was part of the momentum that was needed in order for the program to come into effect. Her narration contained vital information about the Women’s and Gender Studies Program at the University of  Mary Washington which can be compared to other universities who strove to create their own program, and that is crucial for the website being created about UMW’s program.

Dr. Allyson Poska’s initial comments about the program included the barriers that prevented the program from being developed during the 1980s and 1990s. When William Anderson was President of the University, he strove to create a school with a 50/50 gender ratio. He wanted to make UMW a more masculine place to attract more men. Dr. Poska mentioned that, in response, administration took the women’s names off of all of the buildings because they thought men would not want to sleep in a building named after a woman. They also advocated for a name change for the University from Mary Washington College to Washington Monroe College. This was the main reason she gave for why the program was created more recently (this year) as opposed to thirty or forty years ago when many other colleges and universities were developing the same type of program. During Dr. Poska’s description of the way in which the Women’s and Gender Studies Program was developed, the role of activism was not mentioned. She even went as far to say that community activism did not play any role in helping to create this program. Dr. Poska was very adamant about stressing the disconnection about the University and the community. She seemed almost upset which is reasonable because she, herself, is fairly connected with the community through various women’s groups she is involved in. This differs from the many programs that were created during the 1960s and 1970s. In the book Politics of Women’s Studies: Testimony from 30 Founding Mothers that was edited by Florence Howe, Mari Jo Buhle explains in the introduction that “…between university life and community activism was slight.”1 Buhle is clearly saying that activism in the community was linked with the university life which was actually not the case for UMW. The push for a more equal gender ratio is a crucial part to understanding why the program was not created so many years ago when many other women’s studies programs were being developed.

During the interview, the subject of student involvement in the development of the program arose. Dr. Poska explained that throughout her own personal education, she had not been subjected to and did not partake in any courses that involved women’s studies. This detail is interesting to note because of the fact that Dr. Poska has, since her arrival here in 1992, taught many classes on women over the years, written books on women’s history, and is now a key leader in the Women’s and Gender Studies Program at UMW. After her arrival at Mary Washington, she was struck by the fact that the University, which had a large female population of students, did not have some sort of women’s studies program. Further, she said that the students within her classes seemed to be very interested in learning about women and had many questions that related to women’s history. She believed the students’ discussions and ideas about women were part of what drove her and others to really begin to think about creating a program at the University. Students have been curious about women since before and after the rise of the second-wave feminist movement during the 1960s and 1970s. In When Women Ask the Questions: Creating Women’s Studies in America by Marilyn Jacoby Boxer, the author states, “Women’s studies in higher education grew out of advocacy for and inquiry about women…” 2 The students at the University of Mary Washington were curious like so many students were at other colleges about women and about their history. The public needs to know that although students may not have advocated personally about creating this sort of program, they were a driving force behind the reason the conversations about a women’s studies program began at this campus.

Dr. Allyson Poska stated that it would be difficult to predict the future of the program when the Women’s and Gender Studies Program has only been in place beginning in the fall of 2010. In her book, Boxer also mentions the difficulty in trying to imagine the future of women’s studies’ programs within such a short time frame. 3 Dr. Poska did say, however, that she hopes for more money to be given to the program and more freedom for the faculty to create additional and interesting courses, team-teach and one day even be able to make the Women’s and Gender Studies program into a department. With this type of knowledge being made available to the public, outside support (e.g. alumni) may become more involved with the program and the decisions about it which may help to further the program’s goals and objectives for the future.

The Women’s and Gender Studies Program’s development told through the perspective of Dr. Allyson Poska was unique and beneficial in understanding the development of the program and the reason for its success thus far. She was one of many who supported the idea to create the program since the early 1990s. The publication of her story will help the public become more knowledgeable about this program through learning about the obstacles it faced, student and faculty involvement and support, and the hopes for the future of the program.

Bibliography

Boxer, Marilyn Jacoby. When Women Ask the Questions: Creating Women’s Studies in America. Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998.

Buhle, Mari Jo. “Introduction.” In The Politics of Women’s Studies: Testimony from 30      Founding Mothers, ed. Florence Howe, xv-xxvi. New York: The Feminist Press, 2000.

Poska, Dr. Allyson. Interview by author and Max Samsky, 10 November 2010, University of Mary Washington. Video Recording.

  1. Mari Jo Buhle, “Introduction,” in The Politics of Women’s Studies: Testimony from 30 Founding Mothers, ed. Florence Howe (New York: The Feminist Press, 2000), xxv.
  2. Marilyn Jacoby Boxer, When Women Ask the Questions: Creating Women’s Studies in America (Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998), 7.
  3. Marilyn Jacoby Boxer, When Women Ask the Questions: Creating Women’s Studies in America (Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998), 225.

Dr. Allyson Poska Transcript

Sunday, December 5th, 2010

Note: This transcript has neither audio nor video components.

Women’s and Gender’s Studies Program at the University of Mary Washington

Interview Conducted by Amy Van Ness and Max Samsky in 2010

Table of Contents- Dr. Allyson Poska

1-00:01:00

The beginning of Women’s and Gender Studies program, idea for program at this university was created many years ago, motivation to create the program, how the University of Mary Washington’s lack of a women’s studies program compared to other schools, resistance due to a push for more men to come to the University.

1-00:09:59

The main advocates and contributors to the program, Dr. Poska’s role in the creation of the program, research and documentation that went into creating the program, how her education and gender factored into her interest in creating the program

1-00:17:46

Institutional support, President Hample’s support, community’s lack of knowledge about what goes on with the University, connections between women’s studies and feminism.

2-00:00:26

Women’s studies and Gender Studies differences, interdisciplinary courses offered within the major, lack of courses in science and math program.

2-00:10:10

Culture of University of Mary Washington involving the students, interest of students in program.

2-00:15:48

Students who are interested and involved in program, impact of program on University and students, how program will change in the future.

Interview with Dr. Allyson Poska

Interviewed by: Amy Van Ness and Max Samsky

Transcriber: Amy Van Ness

[Interview #1: November 10, 2010]

1-00:00:01

Van Ness:

Today is November 10, 2010 and I am interviewing Dr. Allyson Poska. So I’m going to be talking about the Women’s studies program and its development here at UMW. So my first question is: Why are we finally seeing a women’s program NOW instead of in the 1970s like in San Francisco?

1-00:00:23

Dr. Allyson Poska:

Well first of all it’s Women and Gender studies. That’s kind of important. Um, well, I think that we are seeing it now because a lot of people worked for a really long time to make it happen. And we finally came to a perfect conjunction of people who were willing to do really hard work to make it happen and administration willingness for us to have this kind of program.

1-00:00:56

Van Ness:

And when did the idea for a women’s studies program first appear here at the University of Mary Washington?

1-00:01:02                                                                                                                                                                                    Dr. Allyson Poska:

Oh, um, I have no idea. But a long time ago. Cause I’ve been here 18 years and people have wanted some kind of program for at least 18 years.

1-00:01:16                                                                                                                                                                                   Van Ness:

What do you think motivated people to begin to think about creating a women’s studies program at Mary Washington?

1-00:01:18                                                                                                                                                                                    Dr. Allyson Poska:

Women’s and Gender studies. [laughs] Well like I said, it’s pretty, it’s been pretty unusual to teach at a state university that doesn’t have a program…a major that has been in existence at other schools for more than 40 years. Um, it seemed like the normal thing to do. And certainly by the time I got here in the early nineties it was by far and away the normal thing. Almost all colleges and universities in the country had some kind of similar program. Except in Virginia and definitely except for Mary Washington where people…there were a lot of things working against it. Um, so, the unusual part was us not having one already at that point.

1-00:02:16                                                                                                                                                                                   Van Ness:

Did the school you worked at before have a women’s studies or women’s and gender studies program?

1-00:02:20                                                                                                                                                                                    Dr. Allyson Poska:

Well, this was my first, this was my first job, but all the schools I’ve um, I went to Minnesota for my PHD and it was uh, that was a huge women’s studies program. It was a big center for advanced feminist studies and had for thirty years at that point, right? So, um, to come out here and see that not only were we a primarily a women’s state, primarily women’s college, but that we didn’t have almost anyone who taught about women and no program to study women was really surprising to me. Shocking to me. I can’t imagine how that had happened.

1-00:03:08                                                                                                                                                                                   Van Ness:

During the 1970s, the institution went co-ed. How do you think this impacted the creation of the program?

1-00:03:14                                                                                                                                                                                    Dr. Allyson Poska:

Well, I think that actually the move to becoming co-ed, uh, the decision to become co-ed and let men in actually worked against even longer us ever having a women and gender studies program because certainly by the time President Anderson became president, his goal was to make this as masculine a place as possible. He wanted, he really wanted 50/50 men and women, um, they took all these steps to try and make this place more attractive to young men and I can promise you that having a women’s and gender studies program was not on the table as a part of that, you know, kind of administration’s emphasis. Men were affirmative action, you know.  They took all the women’s names off of all the buildings so that, cause they thought that the young men didn’t want to sleep in buildings named after women. And they tried to change the college’s name to Washington Monroe College so that we wouldn’t be named after a woman to attract more men. So if all of that is the goal of the administration then women’s studies has no place in that. You know, so the move to co-ed in and of itself probably was not a big but the push to have more men here and an equal gender ratio was really critical.

1-00:04:45                                                                                                                                                                                   Samsky:

If I may interject here, why was this push so extreme?

1-00:04:53                                                                                                                                                                                   Poska:

Anderson really, President Anderson really wanted to be, it really bothered him that this place was so female so long after co-education even though now we’re kind of right in line with the generations at all universities but at the time it really bothered him and he wanted boys here at whatever cost, you know? It’s just his thing. Everyone has their thing. I think, you know, not to speak for him but it certainly seemed like he thought that being president at a mostly women’s college was somehow, not as…high status or something?

1-00:05:53                                                                                                                                                                                   Van Ness:

A race and gender requirement used to be a part of the general education requirement for an undergraduate degree here at UMW. Did this requirement or the fact that it was taken off as a general education requirement play a role into allowing women’s studies to come into existence here at the college?

1-00:06:15                                                                                                                                                                                   Poska:

Well I think, from the time I got here there was a core group of people here, of faculty who really wanted to have some kind of, at the time women’s studies, women’s and gender studies and when somewhere in the late nineties, or around 2000, when they did the curriculum reform we were surprisingly able to push through a requirement that students take some kind of race and gender intensive class and really the benefit was that, well there was some opposition to that at the time, but it allowed faculty, encouraged faculty to teach all kinds of classes on race and gender and it kind of encouraged student interest in the whole thing, it really became part of the curriculum, part of what we do here. So that even though they took it out of the most recent curriculum revision, everybody was ready for it, you know? All the faculty were ready for it, there were all different classes and you know find affiliating, people to be affiliated within the faculty was easy because there are all kinds of people here who work on gender issues. And I think that having that race and gender intensive requirement for a decade, or whatever we had it for was an important part of integrating it into everyone’s mentality that this was something you’re supposed to study and that this was a part of most scholarly disciplines.

1-00:07:50                                                                                                                                                                                   Van Ness:

Do you know of any reason why they took that out of the general education requirement?

1-00:07:56                                                                                                                                                                                   Poska:

Um, I mean, I think there are kind of parts of, I mean the whole general education revision was just really different than what we had before. I know that some people have said that there was a sense that it was already being taught in lots and lots of classes and so it wasn’t as much of an issue that it had been a decade before. But also, you know I think in the human experience part of the new curriculum, there is kind of something about universal structures of race and gender or something, there is something that kind of, that has some of that language in it. So it didn’t go away completely, it’s just that the singular emphasis on it went away. But it’s also just the whole curriculum revision just took a different view of the way race and gender work I guess.

1-00:08:54                                                                                                                                                                                   Van Ness:

President Hample was the first woman president here and did she have any effect on the creation of the program?

1-00:08:59                                                                                                                                                                                   Poska:

She was super into it, I don’t think…through all of the difficulties with her, she said from the moment that she got here she wanted to have a women and gender studies major. And she told everybody that she wanted it to happen and she told Nina Mikhalevsky her close provost and Nina saw to it that other people knew, that faculty were interested to do and really brought people, made the connection between the change in the administration’s plans and that the faculty wanted to initiate a group of faculty together to start planning the major.

1-00:09:49                                                                                                                                                                                   Van Ness:

And who were the other main advocates and contributors to the creation of the program?

1-00:09:55                                                                                                                                                                                   Poska:

Oh there were lots of people, that is kind of what is really amazing cuz when it was finally ready to happen all kinds of people really took part. Marjorie Och from Art History, um this is in no particular order, Craig Vasey from Philosophy, Connie Smith from English, Mindy J. Erchull from Psychology, Kristen Marsh from Sociology, those people all did a ton of work, came to lots of meetings, Kevin McCluskey from theater, Cedric Rucker, I know that there’s lots of other people too but all of those people spent a lot of time coming to our meetings, um doing planning, writing up stuff so that we would have something to present to the administration. So there was really a big, whole, core group of people. That’s not even everybody. Chris Kilmartin from Psychology. I know I’m going to leave people out but there were a lot.

1-00:11:06                                                                                                                                                                                   Van Ness:

Do you think it was primarily women who initiated the creation of the program?

1-00:11:11                                                                                                                                                                                   Poska:

There were a lot of women, but there were plenty of men involved the whole time. So I think, you know.

1-00:11:28                                                                                                                                                                                   Van Ness:

And what role did you play in the creation of the program?

1-00:11:30                                                                                                                                                                                   Poska:

Well, I actually was away the first year when all the conversations started. Um, I was in Argentina. So I wasn’t even here. But I did get all of the emails. Um, and definitely when I came back, I knew that this was something that I had worked on before, um, talked to administration about before, and it was something I really wanted to be a part of. When I came back, um, I had a course reduction so I offered to do a lot of the writing up of a lot of the stuff we needed to present since I had some “spare time.” [laughs] Not exactly and since I had some time that I can dedicate to…we were originally going to SCHEV to be a permanent major uh a regular major, so we spent a lot of time developing the materials to take to the state council of higher education. That’s not exactly, that’s not the way it ended up working, but that was the plan at the time and that required a lot of research and documentation.

1-00:12:41                                                                                                                                                                                   Van Ness:

How did your education influence or affect the reason you were interested in helping to create this program?

1-00:12:47                                                                                                                                                                                   Poska:

It didn’t at all. Even though…first of all I went to an undergraduate, I don’t know, almost all men’s place. Uh, where there was none of this. When I was at Minnesota and there was such a big contingent of feminist intellectuals, in a lot of ways. I actually wasn’t interested in any of those things at all. [laughs] When I came here, I came here in 1992, to a place that was almost all female, you know, it was 70% female students and 85% male faculty. Um, there were hardly any women on the faculty. The year I was hired, they hired I think ten women. We were a huge cohort compared to the women that were here and I was really struck that here I was teaching almost all women and never being able, nobody at school, very few people at school were teaching about people who made up the majority of the population here. So it was actually my teaching experience here and students who really wanted to learn about women, um, that really transformed me. Cause I have to say, I didn’t take any women’s history classes ever, um, it wasn’t, my first book doesn’t have anything to do with gender. It’s just not the way I did it. But being here made me really aware of how understanding women experience and gender experience could be really transforming for students. So, it was purely my contact with the students here who, you know, they were having, getting a very traditional, masculine curriculum and that’s not what they were interested in.

1-00:14:44                                                                                                                                                                                   Van Ness:

And the fact that you were a woman? Did that play any role?

1-00:14:47                                                                                                                                                                                   Poska:

Oh yeah. Well I was, I’m only, still the second full-time woman in the department. Ever. [laughs] You know? And so, um, yeah, I was particularly conscious of, first of all I was very young. I was only 29 years old and I only had one other female colleague, Dr. Ferrell. And I was, that was also a very different experience; working in a very masculine place. So, that made me very conscious of how gendered my experience was and I had to learn all about it. I had to learn about it because the things that students wrote about on their self-evaluations of me, about my clothes, about my earrings, and about…was all very gendered, right? Um, about how I wasn’t motherly enough. Things that they would never would have written for my male colleagues’ student evaluations. So I started doing all this research. You know, was my experience the only one? Or how was my experience more different? Um, and so that made me conscious of my own gendered experience in a way that had just not been an issue for me before. I mean, this place has changed a lot in almost twenty years. So yeah, I became very conscious of it, and again my students really wanted to talk about it. You know, they really wanted to learn about, people wanted to do senior theses on women’s topics because they finally had somebody here who was interested in that kind of thing.

1-00:16:42                                                                                                                                                                                   Van Ness:

What support did the program obtain from the institution? Were the faculty and administration, including the various presidents, believe in the program and support it?

1-00:16:53                                                                                                                                                                                   Poska:

Well, no one was supportive of the program until a year and a half ago. We tried on at least two other occasions over the past twenty years to move into the direction…for them to create a women’s studies major. The administration said absolutely not. They said this was a women’s college and everything was about women and we didn’t need it. They wanted to say the same thing about the women’s center. Most colleges and universities have a women’s center. They said all centers on campus are women’s centers. [laughs] That’s what administration told us. So nobody was supportive actually until Hample. And then, I have to say once somebody from above gave the cues that we could enter the late twentieth century [laughs] and have a major that everybody else had had years ago, everybody was right on board. I mean really, everybody in administration and almost everybody in the faculty was well on board. I mean, lots of faculty. And so…we got none, zero support absolutely at all and then, suddenly everything changed and everybody was interested and onboard and ready. That’s probably the main reason we were able to make it happen so fast. Really. A year and a half from beginning to end.

1-00:18:33                                                                                                                                                                                   Van Ness:

Do you think it took a woman president to…?

1-00:18:35                                                                                                                                                                                   Poska:

I have to say, I don’t think it took a woman president. I don’t, I think it took a president who understood how backwards our curriculum was. I mean, not just in terms of women and gender studies but a few interdisciplinary majors we have, you know which was a trend, of the Nineties, that we still hadn’t caught up with. She was very conscious that we were behind the times in terms of what we were offering our students. We were still offering really a set of majors from the 1970s. So, I think that, that is probably much more than anything about her gender. Although, I think it couldn’t hurt. I didn’t hurt, you know? Certainly many powerful women, many women who succeed and become into positions of power, come to understand the big difference gender makes and the very fact that you would ask that question that way tells you that people think that gender makes a difference. But she was just really interested in bringing us into the 21st century in a lot of ways. That’s one of them.

1-00:20:00                                                                                                                                                                                  Van Ness:

The public, surrounding community and alumni are definitely able to keep up with issues, events, and programs relating to the institution. What were the positive or negative responses to the program the University received?

1-00:20:17                                                                                                                                                                                   Poska:

I think it’s too soon. You know, I do a lot of work in the community with women’s groups and they’re not very well connected with the college. It is kind of one of the college’s great failings that it is not linked very closely to the community at all. All the time I give talks to women’s groups and people tell me that they’ve lived here for forty years and never come onto campus before. You know for a long time it had a big women’s history month program and women’s history month did, was a way to bring people to town and to come and hear speakers and stuff for women’s history and I think it would be more so now because we have the program. But I can tell you people don’t know, have no idea what we do, they don’t, they don’t have, almost no interaction. Even women’s groups in the area have almost no interaction with the college so. Hopefully that’s something that our program can change because I’m already trying to work with different people to try and make those connections between our program and the community more explicit. It’s going to take some time to develop those connections but that’s an important part so hopefully we can make that happen.

1-00:21:39                                                                                                                                                                                  Van Ness:

Activism played a large role in the creation of many women’s studies programs during the 1970s. Has activism or feminism in the community played any role in the creation of the program that you know of?

1-00:21:50                                                                                                                                                                                   Poska:

Um, [pause]. I think, mostly in the way that a number of us were active in the creation of the program were also active in community groups for and about women because you know one thing about women’s studies traditionally is that it does emphasize community activism, you know, in a personal is political and that you take your activism, you engage your activism in all different kinds of sectors of your life and for a lot of us especially those of us who had been here a really long time. Part of that was about doing things, engaging in activism on campus, trying to get this group together. Part of it has also been doing it in the community for all those years that we couldn’t…that wasn’t really the place for us to do it, campus. So there’s a connection but it’s not direct. But I think it’s an important part of how women’s studies has always been or has been since its founding.

1-00:23:04                                                                                                                                                                                   Van Ness:

Sometimes women’s studies is viewed negatively because people tend to relate it to feminism. How do you think women’s studies relates to feminism? What connections are there between the two and how has this connection impacted students’, faculty’s and the community’s view of the program?

1-00:23:17                                                                                                                                                                                   Poska:

Oh, well they are intricately connected. You don’t have one without the other. There are ways to study women that are not explicitly feminist but, and women’s studies programs generally across the nation tend to have discussions of the women’s movement and things like that but, it ties in really closely to your last question. The same activism that most faculty engaged in at a point in their lives in the feminist movement is what has propelled not only women’s studies majors but feminist scholarship which is really the foundation of these majors. And now in a more gender studies because now as…a lot of the scholarship has moved from gender studies, you know, studying men and studying, you know kind of an interplay of gender roles in society, all of that comes explicitly from a feminist analysis of how the world works. So I think it’s impossible to separate them. And certainly from a faculty point of view there’s not a problem with that, you know? And for most people who end up studying it and the students who are interested may come to it thinking that it’s a problem but that’s not usually where they end up in the end.

1-00:24:53                                                                                                                                                                                   Van Ness:

Did the changes in a growing and more diverse faculty have an impact on the creation of the program?

1-00:25:01                                                                                                                                                                                   Poska:

Well, I think that’s part of what’s going to set us up to be ready to do this. Over the past twenty years we’ve hired lots of interesting faculty, we’ve hired lots of young women. This place is very different in terms of its gender ratio from the faculty side when I came. That’s played a big role in it. You’ve got lots of female chairs of departments, lots of women who are active and who have important roles in the administration and that’s made a big difference. There also kind of just generally a more diverse and younger and…faculty that’s active in scholarship. If you were trained in the past twenty years and it almost didn’t matter what field you were in, you were trained in some kind of women’s stuff or some kind of gender analysis. It’s what everybody’s been doing in terms of graduate study for a long time now. Even if it wasn’t exactly her specialty, you read the books, you knew why it was important, you talked about it in graduate school and then a lot of people it’s what is actually their academic specialty. Even among lots of women that we’ve hired in the past twenty years, they’re interested in these topics, they work on these issues, on gender, on sexuality, on women’s issues, it didn’t matter…I mean, we have as many women who do it as we have men that do it because it’s part of the scholarly world and that’s made a huge difference. We have this great cohort of people teach about it, who think about it, and you know that it’s important and important to bring to our students.

1-00:27:02                                                                                                                                                                                   Van Ness:

How has the local political climate affected the decision to begin a woman’s program now?

1-00:27:08                                                                                                                                                                                   Poska:

I don’t think it has. Again, nobody knows what we do here. [laughs] You know, um, we are our own island at Mary Washington and the political climate doesn’t have anything to do with it.

2-00:00:02                                                                                                                                                                                   Samsky:

Moving on to the curriculum, now the title of the program is called Women and Gender studies not just women’s studies. What was the controversy surrounding the creation of the name of the program? How do you think the title of the program affects people’s views of the program?

2-00:00:19                                                                                                                                                                                   Poska:

Well, I wasn’t here during all the initial discussions of the program so I can’t speak firsthand about it but I can tell you that they are two different fields of scholarship. There is women’s history and the study of women and then there’s the study of gender in society and from what I gather from, from what I heard once I got back was that people wanted to make sure that both of those got equal time and were…we wanted to have a place just to study women and we also wanted to be current and up to date with the direction that the scholarship has gone and in a lot of fields it’s gone beyond just studying women. The program started out as women’s studies only then as the disciplines changed and the focus of different scholarly focus changed then they moved to women’s and gender studies and some now are just gender studies- feeling like that encapsulates everything. So that I think is, even though I wasn’t a part of those conversations I know that that’s the bigger intellectual issue. And in terms of the effects of kind of having that complicated title is, I think that it makes it more inclusive; it allows people who wanted to study women to just study women. It also allows people who want to study men and masculinity, who want to study sex and sexuality, who want to study the intersection of feminity and masculinity and sexuality to all have a place, and as we kind of think about the direction of the program in the future we want to expand in all those other directions so that there is, so that people who want to study kind of gender broadly have that, have that opportunity to make of it what they want. So it’s most useful for our students.

2-00:00:02                                                                                                                                                                                   Samsky:

The courses offered within Women’s and Gender studies are all interdisciplinary ranging from English, Classics, Sociology, to Psychology, Art History, and History. Do you think it is important to have this program be interdisciplinary? Have any of these departments been particularly supportive in the creation of this program?

2-00:02:56                                                                                                                                                                                   Poska:

Well, by nature it is interdisciplinary. I mean certainly you can do women’s history or whatever but women’s studies and gender studies are by nature interdisciplinary majors. And we wanted to emphasis the importance of learning how to study these issues through a lot of different methodological lenses because different fields bring different ideas and we think that that…interdisciplinary, interdisciplinarity does a couple of things. First it makes teaching and working among the faculty really interesting because you have a lot of interaction with people from other departments and you get to do a lot of good intellectual bonding. It’s also really good for students because it pushes them into areas that they hadn’t thought about being related and how understanding how physiology of gender and the history of women…there might be connections that could be useful. Again, we want to push students to do interesting and cool things and interdisciplinarity is one way to allow all kinds of fruitful interactions to happen. That was the first part of the question. I can’t remember the second part.

2-00:04:16                                                                                                                                                                                  Samsky:

That’s ok, um, have any of these departments (the ones I mentioned, English, Classics, Sociology), have they been particularly supportive in the creation of this program?

2-00:04:28                                                                                                                                                                                   Poska:

You know, again, we have faculty I think from, I’ve got a list from at least nine different departments. You know, History’s been super supportive, Psychology’s been, I mean we’ve got three or four people from Psychology on our list, um, yeah, everybody has been eager to be a part, again, everybody was ready for this to happen. Certainly lots of faculty were ready for this to happen and so I couldn’t tell you that any department in particular played a, you know, took a leading role because it’s a little bit of everybody from a lot of different places.

2-00:05:15                                                                                                                                                                                   Samsky:

Can you give any explanation as to why Science and Mathematics have not been included in the departments that offer courses for the Women’s and Gender studies program? What are your opinions or feelings on not including science or math in the courses represented for this program?

2-00:05:26                                                                                                                                                                                   Poska:

Well, they just didn’t volunteer. You know? Um, this is a completely volunteer effort. This is “who wants to be a part?” A part of it is that they don’t offer courses that have that, that have that framework of analysis. It’s not that they couldn’t, I don’t know a lot about those fields but they don’t offer courses that have that framework of analysis and so I think they just aren’t thinking that they could play a role but we can certainly foresee the point in which they might be involved.  I have to say particularly departments like Biology would be great…for me, it’s hard for me to think about how to get Math involved but it’s not to say that you couldn’t get Math involved if they wanted to. It just would take some creative thinking on their part about how they could be involved but it is a completely volunteer effort and hopefully we’ll be able to be that “in control.” Sooner than later.

2-00:06:43                                                                                                                                                                                   Samsky:

Alright, um, well, having all this energy that led to the creation of the Women’s and Gender Studies program, um, how is that going to be changed now that it is in existence and it does have an academic say and power here?

2-00:06:58                                                                                                                                                                                   Poska:

Um, well, it’s a little hard to predict the future but the thing that’s been kind of astounding is in the first month we had eight majors. And so, for the first two months we have eight majors. And so we already have a good cohort of majors. Many more than we thought. We thought we were going to have, like, three. We already have eight. We’re actually figuring that we are going to have a lot more. The more majors we have, the more things that we can do all around campus. You know? We’re already trying to do things like co-sponsor speakers and be involved in all those student-led events, and things with the multicultural center so that we can play a role in all different aspects of University life. The more, the longer we’re here and the more students we have involved, the more cool things we can do. We can team teach more classes that are just for the major, for instance, as opposed to relying on courses that are already taught in other majors. Um, we can put together all kinds of programs for both faculty and students who are already interested, you know? To increase interest. I’ve been talking a lot to Student Life, about how we can be involved in dorm life and residence life and kind of do some programming with them in the future. So, now that we’re a major and we’re real and we have a little budget, we can be a part of a whole bunch of different things which is, again, all part of the interdisciplarity of it and part of it is this world of integrating activism and regular life with academic life and encouraging all different kinds of people to be involved. Now that we’re a program and we’re a major, we can do all of those things and we’re really excited to do them. We’re talking to everybody we can about,” ok, now, what can we do with you?” I’ve already met with half a dozen people in the administration and in Student Life and said, “Ok, what is it that you do, and how can women and gender studies be involved?” So that our majors can work with outreach programs, so our majors can be involved in programming in Residence Life, so we can be more involved in the Multicultural Center, so we can do work in the community, so that we can be a part of, not only the intellectual life here, but the way the place works in the big picture.

2-00:09:53                                                                                                                                                                                   Samsky:

Alright, well, moving on to student support. When the creation of women’s studies’ programs were beginning to appear in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, students’ involvement played a big role in their development. Do you think student involvement played a big role in the creation of the program here at this campus?

2-00:10:11                                                                                                                                                                                   Poska:

Um, it didn’t. It’s not the way our students work. Our students don’t kind of, um, bang the drums for the programs they want. They are just kind of glad to do what’s here. I mean, we have had lots of students do special majors in women’s and gender studies over the years regularly. Um, but, you know, our student body just doesn’t work that way. In twenty years we’ve never had students, you know, actively working to get an academic program started for themselves. That’s not, it’s not the culture of the place. It would be cool if it was, and students are supportive and interested, not only in our program but in other programs but I don’t think that they think it is a choice for them.

2-00:11:13                                                                                                                                                                                   Samsky:

Can you give any explanation as to why this might be?

2-00:11:18                                                                                                                                                                                   Poska:

You know, the culture of the University is something that’s really hard to explain. And this place, it has a culture; it attracts a certain kind of student which reinforces that sense of culture, right? And you know, I have to say, it’s a pretty um. [pause] Students at Mary Washington don’t take as much of a leadership role in the academic side of their experience here. They are pretty content to let the faculty do it. Except in the individual cases where they go into a special major in Gender studies or “I’m going to do a special major in Sexuality studies.” And now we’re able to be the umbrella for all of those people, but I’ve never…well not never. I can say in the mid-nineties we had a student who was really pushing for African American studies. One guy. But I remember really well.  I mean he was really into it. Then it didn’t go anywhere and he graduated and other people didn’t take up the push to have African American studies here. That’s the only time in all my years here that I’ve ever met a student who wanted something and wanted it for more than just themselves and their own educational experience but to try to transform the curriculum in a more substantive way. That’s just not the “Mary Washington way.” [laughs]

2-00:12:56                                                                                                                                                                                   Samsky:

What were the general opinions of students when the idea of creating the program was first discussed or when the program was finally created?

2-00:13:04                                                                                                                                                                                   Poska:

Um, well because we thought we were going to go to SCHEV with this, we actually did a series of student surveys in a number, I can’t remember how many different classes, six or so classes maybe more than that. This was two Falls ago I think.  We did a student survey that said “What do you think of this idea?” “Are you interested?” “Do you think it’s a good idea even if you’re not interested?” “Are you interested in being a major?” Questions like that. Because for SCHEV, you had to address student interest. Overwhelmingly, students were like, “Yeah, why don’t we already have this?” Most students said that even if they weren’t personally interested in it, it seemed like something that we needed to have. Lots of students were then, very enthusiastic about it- how important it was going to be, if we had it, they would major in it and, again, we’re already seeing that. That we have 8 majors right away. Students, too, were ready for it. They just weren’t going to advocate for it themselves. And, you know, people…we had our first brownbag lunch the last week in September and we had forty students and faculty there. I mean, tons of students, and we didn’t even know who they were, but they heard about it and decided to come. So far the events that we’ve co-sponsored we’ve had really good turn-outs. So, the students are into it. And we’ll know more over the next couple of years once we see how many people actually declare and how many people actually graduate with the major. That’s something that’s going to take some time to see. There’s lots of Women’s and Gender studies majors that are double majors. And we’ll have to see how many complete both of the majors.

2-00:15:12                                                                                                                                                                                   Samsky:

Has there been a group of students based on race, gender etc. that have been particularly interested in this program or were when it came about?

2-00:15:23                                                                                                                                                                                   Poska:

Well, that’s another thing…no. [laughs] You know, so far all of our majors are women. All eight are women. They range from freshmen to seniors. But they are all women. Uh, freshman to juniors. Uh, I think it’s too soon to answer that question. I can tell you that looking at the population of students who are coming to the events, it’s a very mixed bag. It’s lots of women but it’s not just women. We’ll have to see. It’s too soon to know the answer.

2-00:16:02                                                                                                                                                                                   Samsky:

What are plans for Student Involvement in the new Curriculum?

2-00:16:06                                                                                                                                                                                   Poska:

Well, we’re trying to involve students in all of this planning that we’re doing…about speakers, a student is planning the brownbag lunches herself, on her own initiative. This was her idea, she wanted to do it. We said, “Go ahead.” We have students working on Women’s History Month. I am talking to students and have met already with this one group of students about how, if we had a Residence Life component, if we worked with Residence Life to develop something, how it might work, would they like to be involved? We’re trying to involve students at every stage of the program. They get all of our emails, the majors get all of our emails. There’s also another student who said they couldn’t major but they wanted to hear about us. So they get all of our emails. We send out a newsletter…we’re doing what we can as a part of this world of reaching out to all different parts of the University.

2-00:17:17                                                                                                                                                                                   Samsky:

Referring to the impact of the program and the imagined future, what do you think the impact of the program will be on the University and students in the future?

2-00:17:31                                                                                                                                                                                   Poska:

[laughs] The future? Um, I think the most important thing we are doing by doing this is with the great success that we have had is getting the curriculum up to date, being a leader in interdisciplinary studies at school, put them together as to get students involved in interdisciplinary work. Those are the things, for me, those are the great signs of success. We don’t know how many majors we’ll have. Again, we already have more majors than any other school in Virginia so, again, we’ll have to wait and see how many people graduate, but the interest has been really strong and we have to work to keep that going. A lot of that is about building this sense of inclusivity and doing a whole bunch of things within the Women’s and Gender studies major. You can make it what you want, you can study the things that you want. Those kinds of things are going to be signs of success in the future. Those are the kinds of things that we’re working for. I think that’s the best way I can answer that.

2-00:18:52                                                                                                                                                                                   Samsky:

So, moving on to the imagination part of it at least.

2-00:18:55                                                                                                                                                                                   Poska:

Ok, we have just a few more minutes and then I have to go to class.

2-00:19:00                                                                                                                                                                                   Samsky:

Ok, that’s fine. We’ll wrap it up with this one. How do you think the Women and Gender studies program will change now that it exists?

2-00:19:08                                                                                                                                                                                   Poska:

I don’t know. Um, we’re still working out the technical problems with Banner, I mean [laughs] I don’t think you realize thinking about the future when they’re still trying to figure out how to code an interdisciplinary major into Banner is creating a lot of foresight. I think, I mean, I know one of the next things we are trying to move towards is we would like to have, um, is we would like to have, like a Sexuality’s track because there are a lot of students who are interested in studying various aspects of sexuality and we’d like to over the next few years develop a track within the Women’s and Gender studies, a formal track, as opposed to just putting things together in whatever way they can to study sexuality. Um, that’s one thing that we’re going towards. We’d certainly like to be able to, you know, in the world of wild imagination the things that you want to have are more money to work with so you can be more involved because it takes money to do everything and to have more freedom to give faculty the opportunity to put together more classes which means more classes offered. Certainly, the pinnacle of success is to be able to have your own lines, own faculty lines in a program like this. You know? To have a department. We’re not a department; we’re just a program and a major. And I can’t imagine any of those things are anywhere in the near future but those are things that are now that we can possibly think about working towards in the long run. We’d like to get to that point. But for right now, I have to say we’re very much in the thick of working out how to make what we have as easy and as accessible and as exciting as we can for students and faculty.

2-00:21:23                                                                                                                                                                                   Samsky:

Alright, thank you so much for your time.