Program engenders new areas of study


What a difference 25 years makes, and the Women's Studies program is celebrating just that.

Between 1964 and 1974, the women's experience at Penn transmogrified like no other: In that time, the University ceased to monitor women's social lives; the College for Women became integrated with the entire University; women started writing for the school newspaper; student governments merged; and women got organized on a grand scale.

The first meeting was hardly grand scale. When Women for Equal Opportunity at the University for Pennsylvania (WEOUP) convened in 1970 to discuss affirmative action, about a dozen female students, faculty and staff showed for the meeting.

From that group came big change, including today's growing Women's Studies Program at Penn.

It was the spring of 1972 when two undergraduates from WEOUP proposed a Department of Female Studies to then-President Martin Meyerson.

A new group, Penn Women's Studies Planners (PWSP), then organized. Under the leadership of Professor Ann Beuf, the Planners published a report regarded by women's studies administrators as a pioneering classic of women's studies research.

"It was a very exciting time," said Phyllis Rackin, professor of English and general honors. "Women finally had a place to come together intellectually and further our research and bring a new perspective to undergraduate education."

That perspective came with the introduction of respected scholarship in the women's studies arena -- from the likes of Ann Beuf and Carroll Smith-Rosenberg.

"Originally, the goal of women's studies was to get scholarship on women into the curriculum," said Demie Kurz, co-director of the Women's Studies program. "Fortunately, more and more has happened."

Not only has there been "an explosion" of scholarship on women's studies issues; there has been increased attention to studying gender relationships between men and women, and, more importantly, to studying women's roles with regard to class and ethnicity, Kurz said.

"There is so much diversity between women and men," Kurz said. "You cannot really generalize; you have to examine them in context -- their race, ethnicity, sexuality and social class. Global gender issues and class and ethnic studies have also become a very important part of the curriculum."

With its broader appeal, the program of Women's Studies is still growing, Kurz said. In the 1997-98 school year, a total of 1,568 students were enrolled in Women's Studies courses, compared with 1,446 students the previous year. (Most of the courses are cross-listed with other departments.)

"The program has grown slowly, but surely," Kurz said. Besides the curriculum's growth -- resulting in a major, a minor and a graduate certificate, as well as the cross-listed offerings -- the department has sponsored the venerable Penn Mid-Atlantic Seminar since the early 1980s, a feminist theory seminar for faculty and graduate students and numerous lectures, two-year dissertation fellowships and professor fellowships (thanks to the Trustees Council of Penn Women).

The 25th anniversary celebration on Sept. 24th and 25th, will feature numerous panel discussions with a range of scholarship. "The panels forming for the celebration are really indicative of the exciting work going on among people who focus on gender issues."

The keynote speaker for the celebration will be Catherine Stimpson, graduate dean of New York University, who will deliver "Mary, Martha or Ally McBeal? Who and Where is Women's Studies?" (4:30 p.m., Thursday, Sept. 24, in Logan Hall, room 17). For a complete run-down of events and panel discussions, call the Women's Studies department at 898-8740, or visit the Web site.

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Originally published on September 17, 1998