Allyson Poska

Quote

“Well, like I said, it’s pretty, it’s been pretty unusual to teach at a state university that doesn’t have a program…a major that has been in existence at other schools for more than 40 years.” -Dr. Poska

Biography

Allyson Poska received her Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota in 1992 and joined the Mary Washington faculty the same year. Primarily a social historian, she regularly teaches upper-level courses on the histories of Spain and Latin America and frequently offers seminars dealing with gender issues. Her most recent book is Women and Authority in Early Modern Spain: The Peasants of Galicia (2006) which won the Roland H. Bainton Prize given by the Sixteenth Century Studies Association (the early modern history professional society) to the best book in early modern history or theology.

Interview Video

Transcript

Note: This transcript has neither audio nor video components.

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

Interview Conducted by Amy Van Ness and Max Samsky in 2010

Table of Contents- Dr. Allyson Poska

1-00:01:00

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

1-00:09:59

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

1-00:17:46

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

2-00:00:26

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

2-00:10:10

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

2-00:15:48

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

Interview with Dr. Allyson Poska

Interviewed by: Amy Van Ness and Max Samsky

Transcriber: Amy Van Ness

[Interview #1: November 10, 2010]

1-00:00:01

Van Ness:

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

1-00:00:23

Dr. Allyson Poska:

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

1-00:00:56

Van Ness:

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

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

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

1-00:01:16                                                                                                                                                                                   Van Ness:

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

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

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

1-00:02:16                                                                                                                                                                                   Van Ness:

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

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

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

1-00:03:08                                                                                                                                                                                   Van Ness:

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

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

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

1-00:04:45                                                                                                                                                                                   Samsky:

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

1-00:04:53                                                                                                                                                                                   Poska:

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

1-00:05:53                                                                                                                                                                                   Van Ness:

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

1-00:06:15                                                                                                                                                                                   Poska:

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

1-00:07:50                                                                                                                                                                                   Van Ness:

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

1-00:07:56                                                                                                                                                                                   Poska:

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

1-00:08:54                                                                                                                                                                                   Van Ness:

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

1-00:08:59                                                                                                                                                                                   Poska:

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

1-00:09:49                                                                                                                                                                                   Van Ness:

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

1-00:09:55                                                                                                                                                                                   Poska:

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

1-00:11:06                                                                                                                                                                                   Van Ness:

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

1-00:11:11                                                                                                                                                                                   Poska:

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

1-00:11:28                                                                                                                                                                                   Van Ness:

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

1-00:11:30                                                                                                                                                                                   Poska:

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

1-00:12:41                                                                                                                                                                                   Van Ness:

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

1-00:12:47                                                                                                                                                                                   Poska:

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

1-00:14:44                                                                                                                                                                                   Van Ness:

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

1-00:14:47                                                                                                                                                                                   Poska:

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

1-00:16:42                                                                                                                                                                                   Van Ness:

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

1-00:16:53                                                                                                                                                                                   Poska:

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

1-00:18:33                                                                                                                                                                                   Van Ness:

Do you think it took a woman president to…?

1-00:18:35                                                                                                                                                                                   Poska:

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

1-00:20:00                                                                                                                                                                                  Van Ness:

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

1-00:20:17                                                                                                                                                                                   Poska:

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

1-00:21:39                                                                                                                                                                                  Van Ness:

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

1-00:21:50                                                                                                                                                                                   Poska:

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

1-00:23:04                                                                                                                                                                                   Van Ness:

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

1-00:23:17                                                                                                                                                                                   Poska:

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

1-00:24:53                                                                                                                                                                                   Van Ness:

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

1-00:25:01                                                                                                                                                                                   Poska:

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

1-00:27:02                                                                                                                                                                                   Van Ness:

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

1-00:27:08                                                                                                                                                                                   Poska:

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

2-00:00:02                                                                                                                                                                                   Samsky:

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

2-00:00:19                                                                                                                                                                                   Poska:

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

2-00:00:02                                                                                                                                                                                   Samsky:

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

2-00:02:56                                                                                                                                                                                   Poska:

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

2-00:04:16                                                                                                                                                                                  Samsky:

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

2-00:04:28                                                                                                                                                                                   Poska:

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

2-00:05:15                                                                                                                                                                                   Samsky:

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

2-00:05:26                                                                                                                                                                                   Poska:

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

2-00:06:43                                                                                                                                                                                   Samsky:

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

2-00:06:58                                                                                                                                                                                   Poska:

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

2-00:09:53                                                                                                                                                                                   Samsky:

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

2-00:10:11                                                                                                                                                                                   Poska:

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

2-00:11:13                                                                                                                                                                                   Samsky:

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

2-00:11:18                                                                                                                                                                                   Poska:

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

2-00:12:56                                                                                                                                                                                   Samsky:

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

2-00:13:04                                                                                                                                                                                   Poska:

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

2-00:15:12                                                                                                                                                                                   Samsky:

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

2-00:15:23                                                                                                                                                                                   Poska:

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

2-00:16:02                                                                                                                                                                                   Samsky:

What are plans for Student Involvement in the new Curriculum?

2-00:16:06                                                                                                                                                                                   Poska:

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

2-00:17:17                                                                                                                                                                                   Samsky:

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

2-00:17:31                                                                                                                                                                                   Poska:

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

2-00:18:52                                                                                                                                                                                   Samsky:

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

2-00:18:55                                                                                                                                                                                   Poska:

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

2-00:19:00                                                                                                                                                                                   Samsky:

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

2-00:19:08                                                                                                                                                                                   Poska:

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

2-00:21:23                                                                                                                                                                                   Samsky:

Alright, thank you so much for your time.

One Response to “Dr. Allyson Poska Transcript”

  1. Dr. Norline Jenkins-DePeiza says:

    Dr. Poska,
    I am interested in provided women’s leadership workshops here in the Stafford, Fredericksburg area. I would like to talk to you in more detail about the topics that I plan to host. The first workshop is scheduled for June 2, 2012. I am excited about this venture and look forward to hearing from you. v/r Norline