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.
- Sahlin, Claire, Vital to the Mission and Key to Survival, Women’s Studies at Women’s Colleges, 166 ↩
- 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. ↩
- Dean Rucker, interview by author, Fredericksburg, VA, November 12, 2010. ↩