Amy Van Ness
December 6, 2010
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.
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.
- 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. ↩
- Marilyn Jacoby Boxer, When Women Ask the Questions: Creating Women’s Studies in America (Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998), 7. ↩
- Marilyn Jacoby Boxer, When Women Ask the Questions: Creating Women’s Studies in America (Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998), 225. ↩