Continued Feminist Progress Forward as the The Department of WGSS (2010-Present)

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.

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.

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.

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.