Studies as an academic discipline in the U.S. has now turned thirty,
and this occasion has prompted a number of public and private reflections
and reassessments from those in the field. It is almost universally
acknowledged that Women's Studies has been at the forefront in giving
students an awareness of the history and cultural conditions of
women's lives domestically and globally and challenging patriarchal,
androcentric assumptions in nearly all academic fields.
At our multicultural
urban university, where 63 per cent of students are female, Women's
Studies programs and activities have taken a variety of forms since
the early 1970s, from the offering of women-centered courses to
the establishment of full-fledged Women's Studies majors and minors.
Brief descriptions of current activities on seventeen campuses are
posted on the Web
site of the Women's Studies Forum at CUNY. As a discipline,
Women's Studies is deeply rooted in civil rights activisim-hence
its significant impact far beyond the ivory tower. But how is Women's
Studies faring within that tower?--and, more specifically, how fares
the discipline on campuses of the City University?
to encourage reflection on these questions-and with a University Faculty Development
Program grant-we co-organized and co-chaired a University-wide conference last
November, "Women's Studies at CUNY in the New Century." This day-long
forum brought together faculty, staff, and students involved in Women's Studies
and Women's Centers to strategize, collaborate, and re-evaluate the roles of this
interdisciplinary field on our campuses. In addition to several reports, strategy
sharing, and roundtable discussions on various concerns within Women's Studies,
guest presenters Barbara Rubin (New Jersey City University) and Layli Phillips
(Georgia State University) spoke on the keys to building and strengthening Women's
By day's end a consensus emerged that, with such a distinguished array of scholars
who teach and publish on women's and gender issues, Women's Studies at CUNY should
enjoy greater clout and resources than it does. The passion and energy of those
involved in Women's Studies at CUNY offer a prime example of how much can be achieved
despite small budgets and uneven institutional support. At the same time, the
hard work and struggles witnessed in every Women's Studies program remind us of
the sad fact that the work of women is still perceived as less significant than
that of men.
The forum produced a clear acknowledgment that Women's
Studies curricula have, over time, had a powerful positive impact at CUNY, and
that much work remains if we are to achieve a strong campus-based and cross-campus
Women's Studies alliance. Indeed, this 30-year-running scholarly inquiry has led
to the re-envisioning of many academic disciplines and has changed the landscape
of humanities scholarship by urging that issues of gender, often intersecting
with questions of race, class, sexuality, health, work, family, and language (to
name some major issues) take center stage.
Today, introductory courses
are offered and other classes in Women's Studies are cross-listed on many CUNY
campuses in the humanities, social sciences, and sciences. For example, at the
CUNY Law School, questions of gender are at the core of its course offerings,
and most of the senior colleges and Kingsborough Community College offer some
form of concentration or minor in Women's Studies. Hunter College, Brooklyn College,
and the College of Staten Island offer the major.
But more can be done. Some of the senior colleges and most of the community colleges
have only a few courses focused on women's lives, such as "The Psychology
of Women" or "Women in Literature," and provide very little institutional
and administrative support beyond, say, a small budget for events in March celebrating
Women's History Month. Clearly, these campuses-where nearly two-thirds of the
student body is female-would benefit greatly from the strong mentoring, intellectual
challenges, and contextual histories that Women's Studies curricula can provide.
While there are faculty members on most of the two- and four-year campuses publishing
and teaching cutting-edge women's and gender studies, we hope that more colleagues
will join our ongoing collaborative efforts to accomplish this expansion on the
campuses that underserve women.
Many innovative strategies have helped
raise awareness of Women's Studies concerns. For example, Borough of Manhattan
Community College, with a budget from its office of Academic Affairs, has its
own version of the University's 10- year-old Faculty Development Seminar, "Balancing
the Curriculum for Gender, Race, Ethnicity, and Class." At LaGuardia Community
College, some faculty members offer liberal arts clusters on topics such as "Women
and Work" and "Women Talking Across Cultures." Other colleges,
like New York City Technical College, have received grants for programs designed
to foster women's careers. City Tech's Access for Women Program prepares women
for non-traditional technical careers. Although not formally linked to Women's
Studies, its potential for combining scholarship, work, and activism is certainly
in the historical spirit of the field.
New Web Site of Our Own
With the assistance of Web artist Béatrice Coron, we conceived
of our Web site (http://www.bmcc.cuny.edu/womens_studies/)
as an information center for the November conference. Since
then, it has become an archive for resources on Women's Studies
at CUNY. The Web page now offers a regularly updated "Links"
page for access to related sites of interest within CUNY and
beyond. The two keynote speeches by Phillips and Rubin can
also be found on the site, along with summaries of the roundtable
discussions. In addition, we have created a CUNY Women's Studies
listserv to post discussions, calls for papers, and other
information. To join, simply go to the "Home" page and sign
up. Finally, the results of our questionnaires on the status
of Women's Studies at the 17 CUNY campuses are shown on the
"Women's Studies by Campus" page. For more information to
offer updates or suggestions, updates, contact Cheryl Fish
(firstname.lastname@example.org) or Tricia Lin (email@example.com).
an interdisciplinary field, Women's Studies can build on the strength of a diverse
and distinguished faculty. Yet, as Hester Eisenstein, the outgoing director of
Women's Studies at Queens College, pointed out at the forum, such interdisciplinarity
almost guarantees marginalization.
What happens at many CUNY colleges is that, without dedicated faculty
lines and little staff support, many Women's Studies courses are
taught by adjuncts. Women's Centers, which traditionally have had
strong ties with Women's Studies programs, tend to rise and fall
without security for their directors and budgets.The challenges
of our age of globalization certainly give the work of Women's Studies
a new sense of urgency. Our guest speaker Layli Phillips reaffirmed
that women's studies must be vigorously pressed in order to address
the vast discrepancies between women in Western and developing nations.
Given the uniquely global character of CUNY's demography, Women's
Studies workers, scholars, and teachers can also help us to re-examine
Western-based cultural assumptions and the meaning of global sisterhood.
Barbara Rubin, an early pioneer
in Women's Studies, spoke in her address of seeing a recent shift from Women's
Studies to Gender and Women's Studies. This, she feels, reflects a national trend
toward integrating new definitions of gender to include men, gays, and lesbians.
Some CUNY programs are considering this trend.
acknowledges every founding mother who figures in The Politics of
Women's Studies by titling her preface "Everyone a Heroine."
CUNY, for its part, has had many heroines, sung and unsung, in Women's
Studies in the past, and we hope a new infusion of institutional
energy will assure the appearance of new heroines at the City University
to meet the challenges of this dynamic field in the new millennium.