Libby Nutt Williams
The WGSX program began in 1990 as a grassroots effort spearheaded by a group of faculty who began to meet regularly to discuss women’s issues as well as the social and intellectual climate for women on campus. Called the “Women’s Forum” and led by Professor Katharina von Kellenbach, the group included Professors Dana Greene, Jackie Paskow, Merideth Taylor, Joanne Klein, Anne Leblans, Carol Giesen, Donna Iannotti, and Helen Daughtry. Responding to the Provost’s 1992 call for initiatives that would bridge disciplinary programming, the group began discussions of ways to formalize a women studies curriculum on campus. They drafted a number of different models for a “certificate” program in women studies, but the administration ultimately deferred action on these proposals.
Several organizations grew out of these initial campus meetings: SAGE (Scholars Alliance for Growth in Education) and its subsidiary student organization WAGE (Women's Alliance for Growth in Education), which was later transformed into the very successful FMLA (Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance), and later still into FUSE (Feminists United for Sexual Equality). With the financial support of a faculty development grant, a subcommittee of faculty developed the interdisciplinary, team-taught Introduction to Women Studies course, first offered in spring 1994. The group also sponsored several faculty workshops in women studies curriculum development, including one with noted feminist scholar Dr. Rosemarie Tong. The course was offered every spring semester subsequent to its inception, and demand was consistently high among both faculty and students. The class attracted a large group of willing faculty participants from all academic divisions and was repeatedly enrolled to its limit days before the close of registration. This core faculty group studied feminist literature together and advised other faculty on expanding their existing syllabi and curriculum. The group explained their objectives to the campus community through faculty seminars and retreats that promoted the integration of women's studies into the curriculum.
When the College formed the Honors College Curriculum Review Committee in 1995, the women studies group was instrumental in pushing forward cross-disciplinary study areas as a component of its eventual proposal. The WGSX program’s current organization, consisting of a coordinator and a steering that broadly represents the academic disciplines, and also the requirements for fulfilling the requirements as a course of study were codified in that document. After the College adopted the honors college curriculum, Women Studies (WMST) was the second cross-disciplinary study area to be formally approved. It became an officially recognized academic program in 1997.
In its first few years, the WMST program focused efforts on institutionalizing women studies and developing curriculum, including a 1998 all-day student/faculty WMST curriculum workshop conducted by Claire Moses, chair of Women’s Studies at the University of Maryland. That event helped the steering committee set a series of prioritized strategic planning goals for the next five years. From that emerged the First Annual Women Studies Colloquium, in 2000. Supported by the program’s private endowment, the Alice McClellean Birney Women Studies Fund, the colloquium intended to showcase the range of work in women, gender, and sexuality. Since its founding, the colloquium has grown to become the centerpiece of WGSX-sponsored events on campus. It has brought pioneers on the vanguard of knowledge to the campus and widened the college’s reputation throughout the community of scholars, artists, and administrators working in this territory. The history and data related to the colloquium are detailed elsewhere in the WGSX website.
Five years into its existence as Women Studies, program faculty began a two-year discussion of changing the name of the study area. The significant growth of WMST courses across disciplines and the influx of many new faculty members affiliated with the program resulted in a movement to broaden the scope and refine the accuracy of the study area’s title. Responding to widespread sentiment among faculty and students that the study area’s name should acknowledge inclusion of courses in gender and queer studies and that “women studies” reinscribed a construct (“woman”) that was increasingly troubled by field scholarship, the faculty initiated a series of debates, meetings, and workshops to deliberate the questions surrounding these issues. This process ignited passionate and instructive engagement on all sides, illuminating related issues from multi-disciplinary perspectives and practices. These discussions revitalized the entire group and resulted in a program name change to Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies – a compromise that retained the visibility of women as a focus of the curriculum and signaled an inclusive commitment to a broad scope of scholarly activities and teaching in these areas. The College formally approved the name change to its current Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies (WGSX) in spring 2002.