Archive for the ‘Papers’ Category

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

Monday, December 6th, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

 [4]Ibid.

 [5]Ibid. 

 [6]Connie Smith, interview by Megan Whiteaker.  

 [7]Connie Smith, interview by Megan Whiteaker. 

 [8]Connie Smith, interview by Megan Whiteaker. 

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

 [10]Connie Smith, interview by Megan Whiteaker.

Analysis of Interview with Marjorie Och, by Clark Castillo

Monday, December 6th, 2010

Analysis of Interview with Marjorie Och

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 6th, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

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

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

Analysis of an interview with Cedric Rucker, by Eric Halsey

Monday, December 6th, 2010

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

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

Analysis of an Interview with Cedric Rucker, by Jenn Arndt

Monday, December 6th, 2010

Dean Rucker

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

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

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

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

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

Jenn Arndt

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

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.

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.