Oregon State University’s Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies program turns 50 this year, and a week of activities is planned for Jan. 23-29 to celebrate the anniversary and to learn about the program’s history and future from alumni, faculty, guest scholars and current students.
“While we have made progress around gender, it’s been uneven and we have faced backlash, especially in recent years with the overturning of Roe v. Wade; the attacks on trans people, particularly trans youth; the resistance to the Black Lives Matter movement; what we’re seeing with immigration — all these are issues feminists care about,” said Susan Shaw, professor and former director of the program.
“We need women, gender and sexuality studies and these conversations because we need to be working toward social transformation.”
The 50th anniversary celebration begins with a keynote address Jan. 23 by feminist activist, author, professor and 2022 MacArthur “Genius” grant awardee Loretta Ross, co-founder of the SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective. Her lecture will focus on reproductive justice.
Students, faculty, staff, alumni, donors and OSU collaborators are invited to submit original poetry for the “Writing as Resistance” virtual poetry reading on Tuesday. Anyone may join the virtual book club on Wednesday to discuss Sara Ahmed’s “Living a Feminist Life.” A hybrid panel discussion on Thursday will feature women, gender and sexuality scholars from across the country to talk about important issues in the field today.
The celebration continues through the weekend with an alumni reunion, which will include a reception; panels with faculty, alumni and current graduate students; an arts and activism exhibit and a drag show at Corvallis’ Whiteside Theatre. The drag show is free for OSU faculty and students and $10 for community members.
To see the full list of events and to register for any of them, visit the WGSS 50th anniversary website.
OSU’s original Women’s Studies program began in 1973 and was first led by Jeanne Dost, an economics professor with a doctorate who worked to ensure women faculty at the university received the same opportunities and pay as their male peers. She filed a formal complaint with the U.S. Department of Labor and the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, contending that she was denied a full-time position in economics in favor of a less-qualified man.
In August 1973, the Oregon Bureau of Labor negotiated a settlement in her favor that included back pay. Dost gave up that money in exchange for OSU agreeing to take steps to hire more women and minorities.
OSU’s program was one of the first women’s studies programs in the country, and its origins were tenuous, with courses taught by women faculty from other departments around the university who were not being paid for their extra time, Shaw said.
In 1976 the program offered 10 courses, including “Images of Manliness in the Work of Women Novelists,” “Sociology of Sex Roles” and “Women’s Studies: Theories of Discrimination.”
Today, OSU’s program is one of only 19 in the country offering a doctorate in the field, and there are 12 faculty members housed in or affiliated with the program. The name was changed to Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies in 2012 to reflect its broadening scope of academic offerings as more faculty with expertise in gender and sexuality were hired, Shaw said.
The current course list reaches a wide swath of the OSU student body as several classes fulfill graduation requirements within the university’s baccalaureate core. Classes like “Disney: Gender, Race and Empire” and “Gender, Race and Pop Culture” fill up every year, Shaw said.
“Women, gender and sexuality studies help people learn how to look at the world with a critical eye to gender and its intersections with other forms of social difference,” she said. “It also helps us identify places where we can resist, where we can intervene and where we can bring about positive social change for inclusion, equity and justice.”