The West Virginia University Center for Women’s and Gender Studies welcomed 71 new female faculty members to the academic community Sept. 16, during its 33rd annual potluck dinner.
West Virginia Delegate Barbara Evans Fleischauer, D-Monongalia, and a long-standing supporter of the Center, hosted the dinner at her home.
The dinner serves as an opportunity to introduce newer female faculty to those who’ve been with the University for some time. Judith Stitzel, the founding director of the Center was in attendance as were Dean Robert H. Jones and associate deans, Joan Gorham and Valerie Lastinger, of the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences, and WVU Associate Vice President Nigel Clark.
“It’s a good way for the new faculty members to network, to meet faculty members in other disciplines and to learn about some of the organizations that are available to them at WVU,” said Jennifer Orlikoff, interim director of the Center of Women’s and Gender Studies.
By Ann Oberhauser
Welcome to the first online newsletter from the WVU Center for Women’s and Gender Studies. In keeping with today’s digital revolution, we are switching to a new format that is more versatile and accessible for many of our readers throughout the country and the world. We have also developed a WGST Blog to keep you informed about upcoming events, activities, and feature stories with updates from our students, alumni, and faculty.
This has been an unusually busy and productive year at the Center. You can read about some of these events in this newsletter, but let me share a few highlights with you. The newly-named Women’s and Gender Studies Program has attracted more students to our courses and increased our majors, minors, and graduate certificate students. We have also been working to restructure and expand the curriculum with areas of emphasis for our undergraduates and a new LGBTQ minor this fall. Research in the STEM initiative is moving ahead in line with the university’s strategic plan in this field. In addition, several students and faculty in the program are working with women’s organizations at the state and national levels on a project that focuses on the status of women and girls in West Virginia.
Finally, this is my last year as director of the Center. I have enjoyed the challenges and great community that make up this program over the past four years, but am looking forward to spending more time on my research and teaching in the Geography Program. Dr. Jennifer Orlikoff from the Department of World Languages, Literature, and Linguistics will be Interim Director starting this summer. Under her leadership and with the Program’s excellent faculty, students, and staff, we can look forward to continued growth and change at the Center for Women’s and Gender Studies at WVU.
By Kasi Jackson
The Center has a leading role in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Education and Scientific Literacy “Mountain of Excellence”one of five areas identified for strategic investment by WVU. The Flexible Education Research Network (FERN) will develop, identify and test best practices that will broaden participation, as well as improve teaching and learning in STEM fields, thereby developing a strong pipeline for STEM professionals and a scientifically literate public.
FERN will have a primary focus on trans-disciplinary research. Initially centered on K-16, graduate, and professional training in STEM Education, FERN will be restructured as necessary to permit growth beyond STEM as future needs arise. This past year I have organized weekly meetings for a group of faculty and staff (Jeffrey Carver, Education and Human Services; Katie Stores, Eberly College; Robin Hensel, Statler College; Harry Boone, Davis College) to plan the overall direction of FERN. This group serves at the request of the deans of the four colleges. Women’s and gender studies provides training and support for faculty who wish to do trans-disciplinary work blending multiple disciplines’ insights to solve ‘wicked problems’, which include training a broad, diverse and inclusive STEM workforce. WVU’s Center is strong in STEM education due to 1) integration into science education projects that aim to enhance all students’ performance 2) collaborations with STEM researchers who did not previously work with women’s studies, and 3) success in securing external funding to support these activities.
The next step in the FERN Initiative is to hire the four tenure-track faculty: the Eberly Professor of STEM education to serve as a senior faculty member to take a leadership role, and three assistant professors of STEM education in each of the other colleges, as well as a grants development specialist to support faculty efforts, especially those that cross traditional disciplinary and college boundaries.
For all those individuals who think geography is only about naming the continents and state capitals, meet Allyssa Sobey, a graduate student entering her second year in the Master of Arts in Geography program, concurrently pursing a Graduate Certificate in Women’s and Gender Studies.
“Geography is not just about the removed maps. It is also about the way in which people see and experience the world,” she explains. The field is a combination of social and hard sciences, taking the facts of what phenomenon has transpired and asking why—why there, why those people, why then?
Sobey demonstrated that connection recently in a collaborative project with the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, West Virginia Women’s Commission, WVU Center for Women’s Gender Studies and agencies from across the state with an interest in women’s policy issues to help produce the 2013 Status of Women and Girls in West Virginia report. The goal of the report is to provide policy makers the data and analysis they need to make important decisions regarding education, government planning and business development.
Using the theories and concepts of feminist geography, Sobey used her knowledge of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) mapping to compile and analyze data on various socio-economic aspects of women in West Virginia.
As another academic year comes to a close, we would like to congratulate and recognize the success and accomplishments of our faculty in Women’s and Gender Studies: Marilyn Francus, Tesfa G. Gebremedhin, Jesse Kalvitis, Ruth Kershner, Kathleen McNerney, Ann Oberhauser, and JoNell Strough. Details below!
On Saturday, April 13, Heather Utt was recognized as the Outstanding Senior in Women’s and Gender Studies during the annual WGST Honors and Awards Ceremony. Here is what she had to say of her time at WVU and the Center:
The way I was brought up, it was never really a question of whether or not I would go to college. I always enjoyed school, and I was lucky enough to be pretty good at it, as well. So, when senior year of high school came around, I sent in my application to West Virginia University.
Like for many others that I grew up with in this town, it was the one of the best and easiest options. And, like many of the people I’ve met since, I didn’t really know Women’s and Gender Studies was even an option, here or anywhere. Even so, I came across the intro to Women’s and Gender Studies course at my very first advising appointment at student orientation. The woman advising me said it was an easy course, not to mention that it sounded pretty interesting, so I signed up. I am so thankful I did, too.
For the first time I was getting answers to questions I hadn’t even realized I was asking. In that classroom I got my first opportunity to watch the film Iron Jawed Angels, a cinematic adaptation of the history of suffrage in our country. To this day that film holds a spot among my top favorite movie moments. More than that, it was because of that course that I decided to pursue a double major.
The West Virginia University Center for Women’s and Gender Studies hosted the third Women’s and Gender Studies Fair on Thursday, April 25.
Students enrolled in women’s and gender studies coursesincluding the introductory course, men and masculinities, and sexual minoritiesworked to create engaging and informative projects which range from posters to exhibits to video public service announcements. First held in April 2012, the fair is held biannually at the end of each fall and spring semester.
Brian R. Jara, senior lecturer in women’s and gender studies, explains that the event offers something for everyone.
“The fair is a chance to help educate WVU and the surrounding community about the many ways in which women’s and gender studies affects all of our daily lives,” Jara said. “When you see the wide range of topics you cannot deny that women’s and gender studies, and feminism in particular, are timely, relevant and vitally important.”
“I think the best argument our field can make is that feminism is still relevant in 2013 and that feminism and studying gender in this way is relevant to everyone’s life,” he said. “There is still somewhat of an uphill battle, because there are still those stereotypes.
“But whether you are in high school, at the University, in town or about to retire, there is at least one topic somewhere at the fair where you can see how relevant it is to your own life or family.”
Each semester, students in women’s and gender studies courses are encouraged to harness their creativity to put their own unique spin on project outcomes. Last semester, students began a social movement by creating a tumbler, called My Campus Needs Pride, to advocate for LGBTQ families and their allies on the West Virginia University campus. This semester’s students have capitalized on the technological trend by initiating their own project via tumbler and other social media platforms.
Sexual violence is no laughing matter. The national media reports stories of rape, assault, and abuse daily, while women and children continue to be the largest group of victims around the globe. Horrifying tales of gang rape, emotional abuse, stalking scroll across the evening news while parents tell cautionary tales to their children.
But do students at West Virginia University have something to worry about?
According to Sam Wilmoth, Graduate Assistant at WELLWVU working with the Green Dot initiative, the answer is yes. The statistics at WVU are nothing outstanding. Information available through the WELLWVU website reveal that the number of reported incidents of sexual assaults on campus decreased 50 percent between 2008 and 2011.
But those statistics only reflect only what violence has been reported. Many incidents go unreported. “That doesn’t change the fact that WVU has a huge problem with sexual assault. The only thing that isn’t outstanding about the issues is that every college campus has a huge problem.”
Regardless of your location, or your school, sexual assault and violence is a cruel reality. Wilmoth believes we have to stop accepting the status quo and do something about it.
Unlike so many of his colleagues imploring students to put their cell phones and electronic devices away during class, Brian Jara, Senior Lecturer with the Center for Women’s and Gender Studies, encourages his students to do just the opposite.
Students enrolled in the women’s and gender studies capstone course, WGST 484/694, are being asked to utilize social media and technology to engage in course material like never before.
Traditional courses require students to complete readings and come to class prepared to have active, in-depth discussion. Jara’s capstone students are asked to tweet about it.
“They read and tweet before class. It requires a lot of critical thinking,” Jara explains. Students are forced to determine what they want to say, and how to say it in less than 140 characters.
All posts include the hashtag #wgst484, allowing students the opportunity to see what everyone else is saying, and have an active, online discussion about it.
That is just the beginning, according to Jara. In addition to having discussions with one another, students are encouraged to tweet famous feminists and activists, and engage in discussions about the films and documentaries they view in class.
“The students are always excited to realize they can speak to the people we are learning about, and learning from, in class. It adds a dose of reality to what we are talking about.”
In March, six students and faculty from the Center for Women’s & Gender Studies will traveled to Charleston, W.Va. to participate in the many events associated with Women’s Day at the Legislature, organized by the West Virginia Women’s Commission.
The two-day event was comprised of numerous informational sessions, with topics including finances, what the Affordable Care Act means for women, substance abuse and more. The annual conference is intended to encourage participation, leadership and advocacy of women by offering the opportunity to attend committee activities, floor sessions and visit with legislators.
An integral part of the student’s visit was a press conference to celebrate the launch of the 2013 Status of Women and Girls in West Virginia report.
The report, published every 10 years by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research for each of the 50 states aims to highlight women’s progress and the obstacles they continue to face, and to encourage policy and programmatic changes that can improve women’s opportunities.
This year’s report was the product of research and analysis from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, West Virginia Women’s Commission, WVU Center for Women’s Gender Studies and agencies from across the state with an interest in women’s policy issues.
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