Continued Feminist Progress Forward as the The Department of WGSS (2010-Present)
Following Dr. Lee’s departure from office, Dr. Linda Mizejewski became Department chair in the Fall of 2002. Dr. Mizejewski was originally hired through the English department in 1991 while Women’s Studies was still a Center and became affiliated with the faculty from the beginning. She is an extremely published writer, marrying her passion for Film Studies and Women’s Studies in her research. In her own words, “I had always done feminist work as a scholar in film studies, and even before that in literary studies. I didn't do anything but feminist work that was how I identified.”
Fortunately, I was able to interview her about her time as Department chair from the years of 2002-2006. This interview was especially potent and exciting because I am humbly honored to be working with Dr. Mizejewski as my advisor for my Master's degree in WGSS.
That said, she shared with me that her time was characterized by the progress that pushed forward all of the hard work that came before her time in office. It was the first year the Ph.D. program was being offered by the Department, so that was on the forefront of the community’s mind. She shared that there was also a special interest in developing a stronger Latinx studies presence within the program. Thusly, the Department was able to hire Ruby Tapia and Catriona Esquibel.
With the new Department status, the size of the faculty was growing and growing to add inclusivity and diversity to the field. At this time, notable hires such as Dr. Wendy Smooth and Dr. Mary Thomas joined the Department. Dr. Smooth brought to the university expertise in political science, while Dr. Mary Thomas came with a geography background and a passion for dismantling the prison industrial complex. Both professors are still with OSU, ardently involved in enriching the program and contributing to interdisciplinary feminist pedagogy.
At this time, Dr. Mizejewski also shares that the Department tenured their first woman of color, Rebecca Wanzo.
With intentional efforts to diversify the faculty and course offerings, boundaries were being broken. Whether those be racial and gender boundaries typically associated with academia, but also disciplinary boundaries. The film studies, addiction studies, Latinx studies, Black women’s studies, International studies, queer studies, political science, history, disability studies… the list goes and grows more and more each semester.
Notably, various articles were published documenting the Department’s moves toward expanding the contexts and traditions of learning. In 2005, a lot of buzz went around a youth outreach course taught by the Department. Dr. Mizejewski highlighted the Peer Power outreach program that included Women’s Studies 389, a course that instructed diversity, equity, and inclusion. On top of this, feminist pedagogical theories and epistemologies were learned and then applied to high school communities where undergraduates were able to teach young students about topics and social issues related to diversity. What is especially exciting about this course was that it was brainstormed and proposed by a group of passionate Women’s Studies students taking the Intro course.
This example shows the continued interest in spreading Women’s Studies beyond the classroom, as well as the Department’s experimentation in teaching by implementing service-learning programs.
Another example of this can be seen in the Ohio State Alumni newsletter “Women’s Studies Goes Transglobal." The article explains that the Women’s Studies Department is extremely interested in transglobal women’s issues and a more international scope of sexual and reproductive justice. The program was designed to provide mentorship and leadership training for women in post-Taliban Afghanistan. This project re-centers feminism around marginalized women and women living in the global south. Especially noteworthy, the project did not frame third-world women as needing saving or being victims of foreign cultural manifestations. Rather, gender, class, and power systems were pinpointed as being imbalanced. Further, their intentions were to grant women who are already organizing and trying to enact social justice on their own terms specific skills and advice about activism and leadership.
Dr. Mizejewski served as department chair until 2006. At this time, Dr. Bystydzienski began her time as chair, serving from 2006-2015. Dr. Bystydzienski became chair during another extremely transitional period. The Department had great esteem as a blueprint for other Women’s Studies programs and was being respected and embraced by the rest of the university. However, this era in the Department is characterized by tremendous social change in terms of technology, but also in terms of what Women’s Studies looks like (or can look like!).
I was extremely fortunate to be able to interview Dr. Bystydzienski about her experiences and background for this project. She shared that, prior to coming to OSU, Dr. Bystydzienski directed the Women’s Studies Program at Iowa State University for eight years. Furthermore, as a graduate student and faculty member, she was a founding member and director of Women’s Studies at Franklin College of Indiana. On top of this, she chaired the Sociology Department at the same institution. With her accolades in mind, she expertly came into chairship at OSU, offering her expertise in administrative affairs and designing Women’s Studies programs.
She shares that, in 2006, OSU was one of the few colleges that had an already-established Women’s Studies Department. However, she shares there were still unique challenges. Early into her chairship, Dy. Bystydzienski discovered that there were conflicts between two generations of faculty, those who were more traditionally disciplinarian and those who engaged in more interdisciplinary work. In order to come to a compromise and move forwards, she established shared governance and lead the Department with different collaborative strategies.
She shares that she also established an executive committee for the Department that was comprised of faculty members, grad students, and undergraduate students to grant representation to all individuals involved in the program. Many voices and perspectives were empowered by this committee. Interestingly, a new iteration of this committee exists on campus today, called the Undergraduate Studies Committee. I was lucky enough to serve as an undergraduate representative for the Spring 2022 semester, so seeing the history of this program is especially elucidating for me.
Another change Dr. Bystydzienski implemented was a change to the curriculum. At the beginning of her time in office, she determined that there should not be two separate introductory courses (201 and 202). Since receiving Center status in the 80s, there was one Intro course with a specialization in the Humanities and another with a Social Science focus. However, to Dr. Bystydzienski, she thought this did not send a message of interdisciplinarity. So, there was some reworking to establish one singular, robust, and interdisciplinary Intro course.
Come 2010, the Department decided to change its name as a result of student concern and interest. In 2010, Dr. Bystydzienski shared that a good group of students had complained that the courses were not inclusive enough. Students wanted issues of gender, race, class, ability, and all identities to be addressed in any Women’s Studies course. So, in an effort to ensure each and every course offered by the Department was designed to be interdisciplinary and intersectional, the Department did copious amounts of research and restructuring about social issues not always included in the course curriculum. The Department listened to the OSU student community and began educating themselves on trans issues, disability studies, and sexuality. Thusly, in order to best describe the program’s commitment to expanding the intellectual breadth of the field moving forward, the Department changed from the Department of Women’s Studies to the Department of WGSS in May 2010.
Furthermore, in 2012 Dr. Bystydzienski shared with me that it was becoming more and more clear that there was a need to train the faculty and its graduate students on digital learning and instruction. At the time, the mere mention of online courses was contentious. However, to Dr. Bystydzienski, developing skills to teach in-person and online courses offered OSU grad students a competitive edge. The Department began with a trial course where the Introductory course was offered in the Summer of 2012 for the first time. The course immediately filled up and even amassed a waiting list. Ever since, the Department has tried to implement digital learning to encourage enrollment and expand the accessibility of the program. That said, OSU’s WGSS program was one of the first to begin emphasizing online learning, yet another way in which the Department changed the university as an institution.
With this information in light of the Covid-19 pandemic, such impacts on the university were certainly beneficial. Maybe even crucial considering how important virtual instruction was at OSU in 2020.
During this time, many exciting searches for faculty members were conducted. As a result, the Department was honored to gain the expertise of Dr. Shannon Winnubst, Dr. Guisela Latorre, and Dr. Jennifer Suchland. The three brought expertise in queer studies, Latinx studies, and feminist political theory, respectively. Another important hire during this time was Lynaya Elliot. She was hired in 2012 as Department Manager. She quickly became an integral presence in the Department. She was responsible for enrollment data, budget planning, and a source for communication and knowledge to any and all students interested in WS, as well as every faculty member. Not only that, but she granted me some of her wisdom for this project, so I extend to her a special hand of gratitude.
With that said, Dr. Bystydzienski expressed to me that the last few years of her time as Chair were quite difficult. The Department faced severe budget cuts, lost two to three full-time faculty members, and the Dean froze hiring efforts. Apparently, the Executive Dean was unsupportive of the program. In fact, a lot of the sitting administration was conservative and feminist studies were starting to be attacked by the university in ways unseen since the program’s initial inception. This new era in the university extended to Dr. Guisela Latorre's interim position as Department chair from 2015-2016 and even the beginning of Dr. Shannon Winnubst's time as chair in 2016.
Dr. Latorre began her time at OSU after being hired as a faculty member with specialties in Latinx studies, specifically in her case, Chicana feminism. I believe her experience as an interim director is valuable to this project because she has had the unique opportunity to serve as an interim for a year while the university searched for a full-time director. I am so grateful to have spoken with her and learned about her origins and time at OSU more.
Beginning our interview, she shared with me that her experiences growing up in Chile shaped her feminism, as she became aware of systems of power and patriarchal oppression during a time of dictatorship. So, her desires for feminism and academic passions brought her to teaching and researching Chicana feminism at the University of California Santa Barbara. For this expertise, she was hired to OSU to provide her perspectives and experiences to enrich the learning community within the Department.
During her time as chair, she shared with me some small struggles with bureaucracy and not always enjoying the administrative labors involved with the position. However, the silver lining of her experience, as she states, was her contribution to the Office for the Department of Women’s Studies.
In 2015, Dr. Latorre was able to invite a Chilean graffiti artist to create an iconic mural in front of the Department’s doors. Such a display not only livens up the hall it sits in, but it is symbolic of feminist art, imagination, and possibility. Whenever I think of the Department’s offices, I think of that mural and its vibrant colors, so learning about its history was an unexpected product of my interview with Dr. Latorre.
Also, while Dr. Latorre was serving as interim chair the Department made a Youtube video to celebrate its 40th anniversary. Within it, there are stories from Lisa Lopez, the first person to graduate from OSU with a Women's Studies degree in 1976. It is a lovely video that briefly retells some of OSU feminist history, meanwhile reminding viewers that memory is resistance. You can view the "40th Anniversary Video: WGSS Past & Present" here: https://youtu.be/b-xj4z1vDe8
In 2016, Dr. Shannon Winnubst became the Department chair of the Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program. I have been fortunate to speak with Dr. Winnubst for this project as well.
From our interview, I learned that she received her Ph.D. in Philosophy from Notre Dame, an extremely conservative university that did not allow much space for feminism. She also began teaching and working in Philosophy at a small liberal arts college, while self-specializing in queer studies and gender studies with her research. She shared with me that she created a provocative course titled Feminist Positions that sparked some controversy at her college. Dr. Winnubst also shared that she had the good fortune of knowing and being good friends with the iconic and revolutionary black feminist scholar bell hooks, who actually encouraged her to pursue Women's Studies.
So, in 2008 she applied and was hired to work at OSU upon seeing a job search for an instructor with a queer studies specialty. Apparently, in 2016 the new Department chair was supposed to be Dr. Judy Wu, however, she took another job offer. As she says, the position sort of fell in her lap, as was the case for Dr. Valerie Lee and Dr. Guisela Latorre. Despite this, Dr. Winnubst got right to work and made various ambitious decisions to progress the program into new directions and heights!
Being chair, Dr. Winnubst wanted to encourage "consistent and intentional intellectual exchange" among the faculty, so she began these monthly research brown bags meetings. As a result, there were opportunities for informal discussions, guest speakers, and shared knowledge about faculty research activities. Such an initiative strengthened faculty relationships and encouraged collaboration.
Dr. Winnubst also shared that she wanted to intentionally intensify and maintain the focus the Department had on black feminism, women of color feminisms, and transnational feminism. She shared that being Department chair during Donald Trump's Presidential term heightened just how important focusing on the social issues facing marginalized women. Furthermore, she also shared that chairing a WGSS program during the height of Black Lives Matter protesting also shone a light on the importance of uplifting and intentionally centering black women.
Furthermore, having a liberal arts college background that only housed undergraduate students, Dr. Winnubst explains that she made a concerted effort to uplift and focus on the undergraduate experience at OSU. Part of this journey has included re-invigorating Triota, the WGSS Honor Society. This process has been headed by Jackson Stotlar, the Department's Outreach and Curricula Senior Specialist. He is another essential presence within the Department and has been since 2015. Another one of Dr. Winnubst's steps in focusing on undergrads was reworking the undergraduate curriculum, which in her words was a Herculean task.
Not only was this duty difficult because it was complicated, but Dr. Winnubst also shared that the university had an extremely unsupportive Dean and uninterested President. She shares that it felt like Donald Trump was local with conservativism stifling and attacking feminism on campus by its administrators. There were budget cuts, hiring freezes, and suspicious attacks against the program. Morale was low at times, but the Department remained resilient.
A great exemplification of the Department of WGSS's resilience in the face of conservative opposition can be illustrated by the Lantern article "WGSS Told to Take Down Banners." This article was written in 2016 and details the pushback the university administration had for two banners the WGSS faculty hung up outside their office windows in University Hall. One banner read "Black Lives Matter" and the other "Reproductive Justice Now." However, the Department kept them up and many students respected the program's decision to stand up for its feminist values.