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   from the issue of November 1, 2007

Women's and Gender Studies celebrates 30th anniversary


When sociology professor Helen Moore arrived at UNL in 1979, the university's nascent women's studies program didn't have an office or a budget.

It was, however, one of the first programs of its kind in the country to offer both a major and minor, and that - paired with the dedication and energy of inaugural program director Moira Ferguson - gave faculty and students a sense of stability despite the department's lack of a central meeting space on campus.

This year, UNL's Women's and Gender Studies program celebrates its 30th birthday. Founded in 1977, the program has morphed - geographically, academically and intellectually - during its lifetime, but one thing has remained constant: the passion for scholarship and enthusiasm of its faculty and students.

"Women's studies was an all volunteer group when I first got here," Moore said. "It was a small, dedicated group, diverse in terms of perspectives. We had Marxist feminists, radical feminists, liberal feminists... It was delightful to have such diversity in such a small group. The philosophy of the program at the time was one of collaborative learning. That was very important to us in terms of our own scholarly survival. There was also a very strong activist component to the program from the early days."

The first classes of women's studies students were often as committed to activism as they were to scholarly pursuits. Much of their political involvement, Moore said, was "still flowing through anti-war activism, even in the late-70s," and was also born of concern for civil rights and women's rights, and how those struggles were at once connected and disconnected.

In the 1970s and 80s, women's studies students and faculty would frequently congregate outside of class. Two professors formed a feminist psychology group, composed of faculty from women's studies and psychology graduate students. Others advocated for women's reproductive rights and sexuality education. Because the department was small and had no office, communication happened via fliers and classes and the women's center. Faculty members also strived to send students to national conferences. "There were no funds from the university to support that," Moore said, "but somehow we found ways to get ourselves to those conferences."

Despite the close-knit nature of the program, the academic climate could be tough in the early era of women's studies. As faculty members were trying to get tenure and build their scholarship, women's studies was seen as an "add-on." Teachers were, in a sense, "permitted" to pursue women's studies scholarship as long as they also completed "regular" scholarship.

"I was the first person in my program to take a doctoral exam in sociology of gender," Moore said. "At that time, one of the faculty members told me that anything I wrote in that area would be purely political and not viewed as scholarly."

The last 30 years have seen a number of changes. The women's studies program did eventually get office space - first in Oldfather, and now in Seaton Hall. A few years ago, the program's name was officially changed to Women's and Gender Studies, in recognition of shifting attitudes within the field. In 2006, a new minor in LGBTQ/Sexuality Studies was added to the program. And last year, the department was awarded a permanent teaching budget.

Department chair Margaret Jacobs has, in the past few months, revisited and completely overhauled the program's curriculum, allowing for new required courses in theory and methodology. The program is also emphasizing transnational women's studies, through a recent colloquium series and additional course offerings.

Many of the program's original founders continue to play integral roles in the department.

"It's cool having them still involved," said Rose Holz, associate director of the women's studies program. "There's a shared camaraderie. We feel a huge respect for what they've done. When the program got funding for teaching, it was obviously a huge moment for the program itself, but it was also a nice gift to give back (to the founders.)"



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Campus Rec to present preliminary renovation plans
Combined Campaign begins Nov. 1
Women's and Gender Studies celebrates 30th anniversary
Nov. 1 tree planting to recall 1997 snow storm
Researcher helps define climate history in Africa
Student helps gauge future ANDRILL sites
UNL, UNMC sign research collaboration agreement