University of Mary Washington
HIST 471D: Oral History
UMW Women’s Studies Department Oral History Project
Interview conducted by
Corrie Shellnutt and Nicole Kappatos in 2010
Interview with Nina Mikhalevsky of the UMW Philosophy Department
Interviewed by Corrie Shellnutt and Nicole Kappatos
Transcribed by Corrie Shellnutt and Nicole Kappatos
[Interview: November 11, 2010]
Table of Contents
00:15- History of involvement in Women Studies on other campuses.
10:06- What is Women’s Studies/ Feminist’s Studies?
17:30- Is Women’s Studies divisive or inclusive?
22:28- Involvement in the Founding of Women and Gender Studies at UMW.
28:08- Mikhalevsky discusses her view of women’s studies programs at universities.
32:59- Mikhalevsky talks about the criticisms of women’s studies.
35:41- Mikhalevsky discuss the UMW women’s studies program and the benefits of
having the program.
37:55- Mikhalevsky discusses criticisms of the program at UMW.
40:38- Mikhalevsky compares other women’s studies programs to UMW’s.
47:52- Mikhalevsky continues to discuss different women’s studies programs at various
52:45-Mikhalevsky concludes with describing the goals of UMW’s new program.
It’s November eleventh. My name is Corrie Shellnutt, will you please introduce yourself?
I am Nina Mikhalevsky. I am professor of philosophy.
What experiences in your life led you to be a women’s studies professor?
Well, I am not sure I would characterize myself as a women’s studies professor, I am a professor of philosophy but, I have certainly taught women’s studies. And, I have taught women’s studies both on the undergraduate and graduate level. What experiences, I suspect because I am a women and I entered into a field that was not dominated by women, in fact, had very few women in it. I think I became cognizant of the women’s studies as discipline really when I was an undergraduate and found myself often the only women in some of my classes and realized there was a whole area of study, if you like, that was looking at the role and place of women.
Where did you go for undergraduate and can you give me examples of these classes?
I went to Boston University as an undergraduate and my junior year for example, I was taking courses in symbolic logic and metalogic in the math department. There were no women in those classes.
Were you involved in any type of campus activism?
Um, campus activism… I was involved in a lot of different kind of activism. I mean, I hate to sound like I am a thousand years old but I graduated from high school in 1969. The late sixties and early seventies were a time of extraordinary social and political change in the United States and you could not be on a college campus and not experience a variety of campus protest and change and activism focused on anti-war activities, women’s rights, racial equality. I mean, this was a very explicit and dominating part of your educational experience, I think particularly if you were in places like Boston, or New York, or Berkley, or San Fransisco. So, there was a continual series of protests and demonstrations and activities going on all over Boston for example when I was in college, focused on all of those things. I participated in a march that went from downtown Boston to Cambridge to take over a building at Harvard to become a women’s center. And that sort of thing happened all the time.
Wow, that’s impressive. [Mikhalevsky begins to say something, but stops.] Sorry!
No, go ahead. [Mikhalevsky motions to Shellnutt to continue.] Okay. Can you describe your professional involvement in women’s studies before working as a part of the program here?
When I was at…I taught for a number of years at Mount Vernon College. Mount Vernon College was a women’s college and I learned a great deal about the history of women’s education and the history of women’s colleges. And in fact, I ended up writing a book on the history of Mount Vernon College which was a real focus on the development of the female seminary in the late part of the nineteenth century and then the evolution of the female seminary in some cases into colleges in the early twentieth century. So, I had a real interesting women’s education, and the history of women’s education and I also taught in a single sex environment, so I studied a lot of the research of a single-sex education.
When I was at GW the chair of the women’s studies program at GW at that time was a scholar by the name of Diane Bow. Diane Bow is one of the most remarkable scholars and women I have ever met in my life. She really established I think, one of the strongest programs at GW in women’s studies. She is also an anthropologist and is one of a hand full of people in the world who developed expertise in the practices and languages that are, that privilege, the feminine in Australian aboriginal culture. In fact, she was called as an expert witness to a land case in Australia where the government was going to be taking over a collection of aboriginal lands and the tribe maintained that some portion of this land; they were going to build a bridge, could not be used because it was protected, sacred land. And, when the government demanded evidence that it was sacred land, the women in the tribe said, well we can’t provide that for you,it’s forbidden for us to reveal our sacred practices. And the government, the Australian government said, well if you can’t demonstrate that this is used for religious purposes, then, you know, we have the right to take it over. And Diane Bow was called as an expert witness to provide evidence that in fact there are sacred religious practices that are specific to the women of this tribe and there was a long history of privileging those practices only to the females of the tribe. And they won their case. She was a remarkable, remarkable person. And she was the chair of women’s studies department at GW and she actually asked me if I would join the board, the women’s studies advisory board, and also teach in the program, and I eventually did.
So it sounds like you have been involved with many mothers of the women’s studies discipline and could probably even be considered yourself one of those, I guess. But…
Well, I don’t know if I could be considered one, but I certainly have worked with a number of really remarkable women’s scholars and activists who I think made real contributions not only to women’s studies but to women. When I was at Mount Vernon for example, Betty Freidan decided she was going to leave New York and come to Washington and be involved in some educational programs and also some policy issues. And we extended her an academic appointment and she had three or four, she was responsible for, I can’t remember exactly how many, three or four pretty significant conferences, in which she asked me to serve on a couple panels. And so, you know, I met her many times and talked with her, had lunch with her. She was really quite an amazing person, really interesting.
Do you want to talk about maybe any conversations you had with her, or things that stick out?
Well, I’ll tell you three things about her. She was probably, I can’t, I have to go back and see how old she was there, but she was really getting near the end. I mean, she was supposed to be in retirement, but I don’t think she ever really retired. Three things that I thought were very striking about her: first of all she was one of the most warm, generous, and yet extremely difficult people imaginable. So, she was, she was in many ways a very warm generous person, generous with her time. But, if she thought you were an idiot, she would tell you and that would be the end of it. Very, very difficult, very tough. Secondly, she was extremely politically astute and could read the politics and the power relations readily; whether you are talking about a sort of national political level or an institutional level, or even a social level, and she was very focused on that.
And I think thirdly, she genuinely cared, genuinely cared, passionately cared about changing the economic and political status of women.
That must have been inspirational, so…
She was an interesting woman, she was difficult, but she was very interesting.
You brought up power relations, and I was just wondering how you define women’s studies, what you find important in a women’s studies curriculum and how that relates, do you see it relating directly to feminism, or how exactly it relates to feminist studies?
Well, it depends on the women’s studies program. Some of the earliest women’s studies programs were focused really on providing intellectual and academic experiences for women. And, one way they did that was by developing a knowledge base and scholarship on the history of women, the psychology of women, women in the arts, the economic and political and social status of women in industrialized countries and non industrialized countries.
But, their focus was initially on creating if you like, an academic space for women to develop and grow academically and personally. So, a lot of the early women’s studies programs were in part places, not just areas of study, but literally places for students, and particularly female students to develop. I think over time women’s studies became much more complex and much more varied. And the idea of gender as a theoretical concept, and the idea of gender as a concept that you can use to explicate, to study, to develop a methodology, I think developed a little bit later. And today, I think women’s studies is that much more complex, course of study, it can be, it encompasses historians looking at women in history. But, it also includes historians taking into account aspects of gender, or race, or ethnicity, or sexual orientation, but privileging gender as a kind of explanatory or methodological stand point, so it varies now. It’s a richer and much more complex, and diverse area of study.
Were you ever a part of the wave you mentioned first? Did you find yourself in places where women, you know, literally the place where women could study,whenever, during that time period, or during that move, or shift?
Well it’s interesting, there is second-wave feminism, there is third-wave feminism. I was, I did not study women’s studies and as I say as an undergraduate I was really interested in philosophy, so I just didn’t really let the fact that I might be the only female student. There were some women studying philosophy at BU, there were a number of them, but there were definitely courses where I was the only woman, or maybe one of two. There were, when I went to graduate school, there were no women on the faculty and there were only three female graduate students. I never thought, it never occurred to me, let’s put it this way: it never occurred to me, that what I should do is go into women’s studies. I certainly read a lot of what you would think of perhaps as feminist writing. So I was reading the Grim Case, I was reading Margaret Fuller, I was reading Betty Freidan, I was studying what we think of today maybe as feminist theory. But, it never occurred to me that I needed a place to go intellectually, it always occurred to me that I needed to go exactly where I was going intellectually and if there were people there who were uncomfortable with that, because I was a women, well then that was too damn bad.
But you know, I never, I never thought that I needed to focus on that as my course of study, per say. Now, as I get more interested in philosophy I discover, not surprisingly, that there are things that are considered canonical and things that are not, and many of the things that are not considered canonical, just as was that was the case with literature and writing and a lot of other places, should have been. And often those things were probably excluded because the authors or the thinkers were women. And I certainly noticed those things but, I never felt the need to study, you know, to locate myself in women’s studies. I think I probably intellectually located myself as a women doing philosophy for whom women’s studies was almost a kind of assumption, how about that.
Okay. So, now you are teaching philosophy courses that are part of a women’s studies course. [Mikhalevsky nods in agreement] Can you talk about how your course is aligning with the curriculum at Mary Washington?
Well I haven’t taught, I don’t know that I’ve taught anything yet, since the women’s studies major actually is just starting, that is specific to the major. At some point I will probably teach the upper level course in feminist theory. We have a couple of courses in the philosophy department that are not only specific to the women’s studies program but some cases required. So, I have taught feminist theory, particularly upper level, and I’ve even taught at GW a graduate course in feminist theory, so I will probably teach that at some point. But I would say that all of my classes, all of my courses, take seriously, particularly the ones that do historical surveys, but all of them take seriously, the contributions that are made by women. So, I don’t think I’ve ever taught a single course, in thirty years, if it had relative, substantive work that was important by women, that didn’t get included.
So there’s like different schools of thought, that when it comes to women’s studies, one would say, you know, women’s studies, by making it different, you’re giving them a voice because you are grouping them together but at the same time you are separating them, so it kind of sounds like you understand women’s studies as more of a, you can find women anywhere.
Well this has always been a very important debate and it’s a really interesting debate. I mean, just think back, when the National Museum for Women in the Arts was created in Washington D.C., there was a huge debate about this. Should we have a museum that’s focused on women’s contribution to the fine arts or not? I mean, why would we? We’ve got plenty of painter, women painters hanging in the National Gallery or the Hirshorn, why do we need a museum that’s only focused on women? And this was part of the debate about women’s studies, it’s also part of the debate about African American studies, and all of these identity privileging areas.
I think women’s studies has a really important role, but I don’t think they’re mutually exclusive and I don’t think they contradict each other in any way, I think women’s studies is a particular area of interest and a particular area of study, and as I say it also has a sort of theoretical grounding to it now. That doesn’t mean that when you teach American history you don’t talk about the contributions of all of those individuals who have contributed to the particular narrative that you have argued is the narrative of this particular history, whatever that narrative may be.
And so, for example, in American philosophy which I am going to teach in the spring, one of the first questions is what is American philosophy? What is it? Who were the canonical writers? Who were the canonical philosophers? If you’re going to construct a syllabus for American philosophy, who are you going to put on it as being American philosophers, or people who are important to the development of, or your understanding of, American philosophy.
Well, if you look at most, what most colleges and universities have in their American philosophy courses, if they have them at all, you might see, you know,Classical American Philosophy [holds up a copy of Classical American Philosophy text] This is a well-respected textbook, Oxford University Press. Here’s whose in it: Charles Sanders Purse, Williams James Royce, Santiana, Duey, Reed, right? Where’s Sarah Grimcay’s “Letters on the Equality of the Sexes,” one of the first and major arguments for the political equality of women. Don’t you think that arguments, theoretical, philosophical, arguments for the equality of women and inclusion in the social…she’s a Lacian…social…that that’s a contribution to our understanding of the American philosophical tradition, or Margaret Fuller. And by the way I don’t see Elaine Locke, or W.E.B. Dubois, or any African American thinkers.
So, you have women’s studies as a focused area of study and it has become very diverse, it has a lot of different courses you can take, things you can look that. That if you like privilege the experiences of women and the role and place of women. But, you also have women’s studies as a discipline that argues for certain kinds of methodologies and techniques. At the same time you have all these other course and all these other disciplines that in the past have ignored or elided the contributions or the ideas of women. So it seems to me if you are going to take a course in American philosophy, you should at least ask, have women contributed in any substantive way to the development of American philosophy? Or if you teach a course in American history, you should ask, have women played a role in the development of whatever historical narrative you are generating?
Alright, well, I guess we can talk more about the women’s studies program at UMW, now that we got all of the theory out of the way. When did the program begin, do you know, and who was involved?
It’s my understanding that there has been an interest in developing a women’s studies program for a long time and there were a lot of faculty who were very interested in this. And again, if you haven’t already talked to her, obviously you are going to to talk to Allyson Poska, and Margarie Och, I think of those two in particular, and Craig Vassey is another one who had a real interest in developing a women’s studies for a long time. It’s my understanding that they ran into a certain amount of resistance, and I don’t really know exactly what the nature of that was or what the history of that is.
What I do know if when I was the acting Provost, so I was serving as the chief academic officer of the institution, I ran into Margarie Och one day outside of Dupont and I’m just chatting with her and asking her how things are going and what she’s interested in and how I can be helpful to her. And she looks at me right in the eye and says, “If you really want to be helpful, you could help us develop a women’s studies major, we’ve been trying to do this for a long time,” and I said “Of course!” And she and Allyson and others pulled together the faculty, they developed the proposal, I met with them once and talked with them about it and gave them some suggestions and they pushed it through the approval process. And, by the time it was ready and had gone through all the requisite faculty committees, the president at that time was president Hample, she approved it, the board approved it, and it started this fall.
Do you remember the race and gender intensive requirement we have?
Yea, and that actually goes back to a grant that I think Craig Vassey and a number of other people were involved in, they actually put together a proposal and received some external funding, this was a number of years ago, to develop courses that had both a race and gender studies component to them. And, as those courses were being developed, the curriculum was also changing and so the faculty created the across the curriculum requirement that students needed to take courses in which they would get some exposure to issues of race and gender, particularly in the context of the disciplines. And, I don’t really know what happened to to the proposal women’s studies in that context, but that across the curriculum requirement actually goes back to a group of people, some of whom include the people who created the women’s studies major, and a grant they received.
Do you…I understand that it’s no longer a gen-ed requirement. Do you agree with that, or think that women’s studies needs to be a part of the general education requirements?
Well, the argument for, there was one I think pretty compelling argument, this was for eliminating it for a requirement. And it was that, at the time that we were re-doing all of the general education requirements, the sense was that most courses now do include perspectives on race and gender. In other words, the across the curriculum requirement has been fairly successful. And particularly, as more and more faculty come out themselves of academic programs that no longer ignore issues of race and gender, that’s a standard part of their level instruction. So, the view was that it is relatively integrated already into the course of study and most students are being exposed to issues of race and gender in the context either of general education programs or in their disciplines.
Okay. Alright. Okay, many colleges and universities report more diverse admissions as a result of women’s studies programs, have you noticed this trend at UMW? Specifically, you said you’ve taught women’s studies this semester? Yeah.
No, I haven’t taught it this semester. I haven’t taught any specific courses in women’s studies yet. Don’t forget the major just started this fall.
I don’t know that data that if you develop a women’s studies major that it somehow helps you with diversity. You know, I think it does something different, it may do that, I don’t know, I’d have to see the data, and I am not sure how you’d measure that. You’d have to, you’d have to somehow have to be surveying students that would indicate that that was a clear deciding factor in their preferences.
I think that its more like faculty note that women’s studies courses have more ethnicities
That’s a different issue. That’s a different issue. So in other words that you see a more diverse cohort of students in women’s studies course. Well, That might be true. I don’t know. I don’t know. What I have noticed is that colleges and universities that have women’s studies programs. I think that there is a higher level of activism and cognizant about the role and status of women at those institutions and in other words this goes back to again some of the early qualities or characteristics of women’s studies programs is that provided a place, for women to study and think and develop academically. In a very particular kind of environment that privileged the experience of women and that was important and I do think, although again this is just my impression. Its not research. Its just my absolute opinion grounded in nothing, that academic environments that have women’s studies programs have a higher level of cognizance and activism that pertains to issues about women, so you are more likely to see quicker responses to issues of concern to women. And I think the same thing is true, for example, in colleges and universities that have African American Studies departments. I think there is a higher level of awareness and cognizance of issues that pertain to African Americans in those environments. Even if you are not talking about a lot of students who are majoring in those programs. Those programs provide a place for those kinds of discussions, irrespective of those courses. And they provide a kind of intellectual and personal environment for students regardless of the students taking those courses.
You just mentioned activism and I was wondering, do you foresee that happening on the UMW campus? The activism associated with many Women’s Studies programs
I don’t know. We’ll see. You know? We’ll see. UMW is fortunate that we have for example we have a lot of very accomplished already a lot of very accomplished women on campus, in the faculty and staff. We have a majority of female students. We already have an environment that certainly recognizes and supports the development and the accomplishments of women. Do we have an environment where women are treated equally, to some degrees in some areas we may have some issues. Its not clear to me what kind of activism yet it is that will emerge, but it would not surprise me at all if there are issues or problems or concerns that are specific to women, or that are important to women who are studying women’s studies and that that program would assist in developing strategies for taking action. I certainly think that will happen. I can’t predict what those will be but we’ll see.
Did you notice that, I guess in your previous experiences teaching Women’s Studies at other…
Yes. That Women’s Studies programs are a source for students to get assistance, support for causes and activities that are important to them. GW just recently passed a major in Disability Studies. A major. Not a minor, not courses. A major in Disability Studies. And that major was given strong support by the Women’s Studies program.
So activism and academics is—Women’s Studies brings the two together in certain cases. So how would you respond to critiques of Women’s Studies that question, like intellectual justification in the discipline?
Well it depends on who is advancing those claims. I mean, Women’s Studies has been criticized for some reasons that are not specific to Women’s Studies. For example, Women’s Studies is inherently interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary and the academy is grounded and defined by the disciplines. The entire political organization of any college or university is discipline based. That’s why we have a history department and a math department. We don’t have a history and math department. So the entire political organization of a college or university is grounded in the disciplines and the disciplines are distinguished by their areas of study and methodologies. So as soon as you start developing interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary courses of study, you are challenging the traditional disciplines and challenging the traditional methodologies. So Women’s Studies came under a lot of criticism, and still comes under some criticism today, but its not so much focused on women as is interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary. So what you are describing, some “lacking intellectual rigor”, that criticism is also addressed to a lot of interdisciplinary or multidisciplinary kinds of studies. That’s one criticism. I think that its, its not a good one. And there are a variety of ways you can justify interdisciplinary or multidisciplinary course of study. And in fact there is tremendous value to them. Second reason why it sometimes gets criticized goes back to what you were addressing before, why should we segregate and pull out a focus on women and is there something problematic about privileging one cohort of individuals. And again, that criticism comes from multiple different kinds of directions. If it’s both a legitimate area of study, which it is, and it has some very interesting kinds of theoretical concerns, which it does. I don’t see that as a problem. I actually, again, see it as a strength.
And then, do you agree with the way Mary Washington is approaching the interdisciplinary aspect of…
Yeah. I think what we have done is developed a program that at least to start provides students with a very sound course of study, in Women’s Studies. But one would hope that it grows. One would hope that, for example it isn’t dependent on faculty, exclusively dependent on faculty from across the disciplines, but rather at some point we have faculty who are specifically hired and if you like housed in the program to teach Women’s Studies while also relying on the expertise and the research and the resources across the university. And again for any interdisciplinary program, think about your major American Studies. American Studies is enhanced and supported by faculty across the disciplines: English, History, Philosophy, Religion, Art History. All of those disciplines contribute and make American Studies a very rich and vibrant course of study. But there are also people who specialize in American Studies, who get PhDs in American Studies, and who teach in American Studies. And a strong American Studies program is going to have people who have PhDs in American Studies and who have PhDs in history. Both of whom teach in the program. And that what I think ultimately we would like to see for Women’s Studies. That we have faculty who are specifically trained in and grew out of graduated programs in Women’s Studies in addition to people who are historians and sociologists and anthropologists and art historians and musicians and others, who also teach in that program.
So, you talked also about the academy, do you know the overall perception the faculty and administration at Mary Washington has towards the Women’s Studies program or can you think of any examples where there has been criticism, like instances of criticism from the faculty?
I haven’t heard any. Now that doesn’t mean that there aren’t any but I haven’t heard any. Maybe I am at a disadvantage because I do believe in the Women’s Studies program and maybe people know that and, as a consequence, they are less likely to say negative things about it. I think, you know, administratively one concern is resources and any time you are trying to generate a new program—you know the university has been going through budget cuts for the last four and a half years and so how do we balance offering high quality programs that we offer now and generating new programs. Those are resource allocation issues. Those are very difficult ones. One advantage that interdisciplinary programs, multidisciplinary programs have is that they can be sustained by the contributions of other disciplines. So I think there was certainly concern about whether or not we had the resources to develop and to offer a high quality Women’s Studies program. I think its clear that we do have those resources. It would be a goal to get more resources and eventually as I said increase the faculty in Women’s Studies but I haven’t heard any criticism. I mean have you heard criticism?
I guess from—not from faculty or anything. Do you see the Women’s Studies program at Mary Washington reaching out to the community or you experienced—
I think eventually it will. I mean I think again this is only the first semester, but certainly that is a strong component and very strong tradition in Women’s Studies programs. They develop internships and externships and community based programs that serve a much broader community frequently. And its extremely common in Women’s Studies majors that they are doing internships in ways that sustain and support women in the community or they are doing research for projects on issues that are specific to women.
Now that we kind of got a picture of Women’s Studies at Mary Washington, you mentioned earlier that you taught at Mt Vernon and wrote a book. Can you compare your experiences there?
Well they are really very different. Mt Vernon college was a small, liberal arts college in Washington DC and it was a women’s college and it had grown out of a nineteenth century female seminary. You know, UMW is a public, liberal arts university, so they are very very different. What I can tell you is that—the University of Mary Washington started out as a women’s institution. It started out as a normal college for women teachers. And the word normal there meant establishing a norm or standard. In other words, the normal college was one that established the highest possible standards. So if you are going to train teachers, you are going to train them by giving them the highest possible standards, the highest possible expectations because obviously you want your teachers to be the best. So, Mary Washington and also James Madison started out, actually and they were both founded in the same year and also kind of interesting political reasons for that, they started out as colleges for women to train women as teachers, which for obvious reasons the early part of the nineteenth century was the very few roles, social roles, public roles that women could have and it was also a critically necessary role. Over time it develops as a lot of women’s institutions did, it begins to broaden to more courses, more types of courses, courses of study and by the 60s it is a very high quality women’s college. And it’s actually viewed as the, and was by charter, became the women’s college of the University of Virginia. So you have the University of Virginia, which is sort of this Virginia flag ship university for males and you have Mary Washington, which was the college for women and the curriculum began to develop and even the campus began to develop as a kind of mirror of UVa. Many people who taught, particularly women who taught at women’s institutions took the intellectual and academic development of women very seriously. So the intellectual and academic environment in the classroom at a women’s college is one of the most demanding and rigorous environments that a young women could experience. In some respects it is much more challenging and demanding than being in a coed environment. There is also a tremendous focus on the individual student, developing her intellectually, academically, personally, fostering confidence, fostering self-inquiry, fostering certain attributes of seriousness and ambition. Those are all things fairly common to women’s colleges. Women’s colleges that go coed often retain those same core values, they don’t loose them. And I think some of the real core values that we have here at the University of Mary Washington, the quality of our academic environment is a legacy of this having been a women’s college. Focus in the individual student, individual student development, rigorous academic environment, taking the students seriously. I think some of that is a real legacy of this having been a women’s college. I also think the fact that women were taken seriously and still remain in the majority is the legacy of that. There are other things that went away. And one of the things that I want you to do with you interview of Allyson Poska. Have you interviewed her yet? Ok. She told me the most amazing story about the time when all the names on the buildings got changed. So originally they were all named obviously after important women in the history of Virginia or in the history of the institution and then at some point someone decided that it was going to be last names only. As in to suggest that Lee could be anyone. Or that Randolph could be anyone. But those, it wasn’t just any Randolph. And I think that’s were you see someone or an institution changing in ways that were designed, at least thought to be, accommodating to a more diverse, in this case a coeducational environment. Although, one can observe, that the fact that buildings being named after males was never thought to be a concern for female students who might be on campus. But the fact that buildings might be named after females was thought to be a concern for males on campus.
That is interesting.
But I think that that—There is a quality of our academic environment here that I think bears the legacy of it having been a women’s college at one point. Those are good things. I think the layout of the campus. I think there are certain aspects to the campus that still reflect the fact that at one time it had been a women’s college. And there were things thought very very important for the physical environment for females that we still have.
Well, you know, the cultivation of beauty and the cultivation of elegance and the cultivation of balance and grace and there are qualities to some of the original buildings here that reflect that.
You mentioned how Mary Washington went coeducational in the 1970s and this time there was a lot of activism that we talked about relating to Women’s Studies, do you see any contradiction between Mary Washington changing the names, something like something there?
Well I think that you had, and this happened at a lot of different places. The University of Virginia went coed, a lot of institutes, one of the last ones. It’s really interesting because institutions were starting to go coed in the late part of the nineteenth century. The University of Wisconsin was admitting women in the late part of the nineteenth century. Cornell was admitting women in the late part of the nineteenth century. So there were institutions that went coed almost one hundred years before the University of Virginia did, but as more and more institutions went coed, which I think is a really good thing, you know. I think it’s a good thing to provide equal access to women to resources and education to medical schools, law schools, excreta. Those were good things. When that happened though a lot of single sex institutions, a lot of women’s colleges lost enrollments and that’s why more and more women’s colleges started to go under because women didn’t want to go to a women’s college. They thought “Why should I go to Mt Holyoke if I can go to Brown? Why should I go to Smith if I can go to Harvard?” Those are interesting questions. What does Smith have that Harvard doesn’t? What is Harvard lacking that Smith can give you? Those are important questions. There are still a number of women’s colleges thriving today, but when the University of Virginia went coed, so the women, particularly instate women, could go to UVa, what are we going to do as a public institution. We can’t be a public single sex institution. See what I am saying? So if UVa goes coed, University of Mary Washington, Mary Washington College needs to go coed. So, in a sense that interest in, or that success in providing equal access to women also needed to apply to everyone in the state. Now, did apply equally to everyone in the state? Well, it took us a long time to begin to focus on the fact there was still a whole constituency in the state that being excluded from public education and that was African Americans. But I don’t know that there is a contradiction there, you know, you are now providing coeducation at all the major public institutions in the state of Virginia. But it does mean a qualitative change in the environment. Just as UVa would say, “Well there’s qualitative change.” I don’t know defensible that claim would be but I would assume that in the early stages when women were attending the University of Virginia, there were probably some interesting manifestations of that. Just as there were here.
I am just thinking, I guess, do you see that as preventing Mary Washington founding their Women’s Studies programs when those other schools were. Almost as rejecting that…
Oh I see what you are saying, because Women’s Studies programs were really starting to proliferate in the 60s we didn’t develop one. Um. I don’t know. I wasn’t here. I don’t really know a lot the academic and kind of environmental conditions were. I really don’t know. I mean—I don’t know. I don’t know why that is. Again Women’s Studies is something that is growing out of, particularly in the 60s, growing out of a very clear need to provide an academic, an intellectual, a psychological place for women who are not getting not only the focus and development and training that they need but also the content and the academic course of study that is of interest to them. And why—what was happening here academically, I don’t know.
I guess the place, like maybe since this was a women’s college, the place was already…
Well that certainly would have been the case, historically that would have been the case. What happened when men were admitted, I don’t know.
I have a question. What are your goals for the future for the Women’s Studies program here?
Well, a number of things. I think Women’s Studies is a important as I said before it a diverse and very rich course of study. It’s not just for women. It’s for anyone interested in issues of gender and a focus on the role and place and the experiences of women. So I hope it continues to thrive. I think its one of what I hope will be a continuing development of interdisciplinary studies, so that we have a very rich and substantive set of courses of study that are interdisciplinary for our students. I think this a—I think our students need to be able to think across and study across disciplines. I think the world is very very complicated and somebody who has experience working across disciplines or looking at a particularly complex problem from multidisciplinary perspectives or can understand and appreciate those multidisciplinary perspectives even if they don’t have a command of them is at an advantage in terms of solving problems. So I hope that it develops and is sustained along with some other kinds of interdisciplinary studies. I also hope, getting back to what you were mentioning, that it serves us well in terms of our regional engagement. I think the university has a lot to offer and much more to do in terms of becoming a full partner in our region and kind of dissolving the walls of the university so that we are connected and that our students are— and our faculty and staff and the community are kind of permeating through our educational environment and in our region.