The Move from Office to Center, 1980-1995

Along with this, in 1984 OSU hosted the “Women’s Voices” poetry event which brought feminist students and scholars for a four-night series. Remarkably, May Sarton, Margaret Atwood, and Nikki Giovanni spoke at this event and read their cherished and beloved works to the around 1800 feminists in attendance. Furthermore, during the same year, the Center for Women’s Studies celebrated its 10th anniversary, bringing Martha Teichner, Letty Pogrebin, and the legendary Maya Angelou as guests. Such events and accolades continued to add to the credibility of OSU’s Women’s Studies Program.

Despite some pushback on the content taught in the WS Introductory courses, the pedagogical prowess of the faculty was being celebrated. Dr. Longenecker was awarded two teaching awards for Distinguished Teaching. She is praised for the dialogue and discussion-based classroom she fosters. She states that a lecture course is passive, so seeing feminist teaching styles not only recognized but praised was huge. Especially when the content and lifestyle of feminism were being rejected and underappreciated by many at the university.

This, as we spoke, led to Women’s Studies' continued multi-disciplinary approach to Women’s Studies and academia broadly. WS was intentionally multi-disciplinary, but its Center status also limited it. Hence, it relied on multi-disciplinarity to stay afloat, make connections with other Departments, and hire jointly appointed faculty members. She shares that Black Studies, History, English, and Sociology were a few Colleges that were particularly supportive of Women’s Studies. However, she emphasizes that the sciences were extremely skeptical of gender and feminist studies, so their best entryway into the sciences was through the College of Nursing, a predominantly woman student and faculty-base. Nonetheless, Women’s Studies was slowly spreading to all spaces at the University.

Despite a lingering resentment and mistrust of Women’s Studies by the Sciences, Dean Michael Riley was extremely supportive of the Center while Dr. Hartmann was the Director. She shares that “he just you know seemed to give us almost everything that we asked for…[we] thought Dean Riley was kind of like well–if we're going to have a women's studies program it's got to be really good. We want it to be as good as Michigan's was.” Even the rivalry between OSU and Michigan crosses paths with the Women’s Studies Program’s history!

In regards to diversity, Dr. Hartmann expresses that the program could have done better. She states that diversity was only really viewed as black and white. That said, Dr. Hartmann intentionally made hires to grant African American women the ability to teach Women’s Studies courses and gain greater representation on campus. She states that sexuality and lesbian perspectives were also focuses of the program, but that the Center could have done a lot more to uplift Latina women, international women, and persons with disabilities. 

However, following in Longenecker’s footsteps, the Center and Dr. Hartmann did make moves to encourage and foster diversity. In one proposal, Dr. Hartmann called for Affirmative Action hires to search for black, Hispanic, and Asian professors. Not only for them to be able to teach courses on relevant subject matters to make the program more robust and diverse, but to help change the landscape of the university itself. Being such a predominantly white institution for so long that has historically ignored and undervalued marginalized individuals, we are seeing how Women’s Studies was at the forefront of expanding and diversifying which voices and knowledges deserve to be studied. 

Another crucial contribution Dr. Hartmann and the entire Center were able to achieve in the late 80s was influencing the entire University’s General Education (GE) curriculum. She shared with me that the University was reworking the GE curriculum, along with Black Studies and some other Departments, the Center for Women’s Studies lead the advocacy for a Diversity requirement for all students. From here on out, every OSU student was destined to receive a more holistic and diverse education. This decision also was self-serving to the Women’s Studies program because the Center’s courses could fulfill this Diversity requirement. Enrollment numbers continued to rise and rise. Furthermore, OSU still has GE requirements that emphasize diverse experiences, so this is yet another example in which Women’s Studies has pushed and evolved the University as an Institution.

Furthermore, in 1990, a new course was designed to focus on difference instead of universal suffering among women. Mary Margaret Fonow spoke in a Lantern article about this new direction that pays more attention to the unique challenges minority women face, especially how race and class affect lesbian experiences. Nuanced social issues such as lesbian motherhood, sexuality, race, culture, health issues, and gender were all discussed. Women’s Studies has always asked the tough questions and paid attention to social difference, but these moves in the late 80s and early 90s  all speak to the growing emphasis placed on intersectionality.

Switching gears, in 1988 the Center was able to create and publish an innovative interdisciplinary journal, the NWSA Journal, edited by Mary Jo Wagner. To Dr. Hartmann’s knowledge, it was one of the first of its kind. The NWSA co-sponsored the periodical and OSU remained its editorial home until 1991. Such a contribution is not only important to the OSU community, but it served as a way for feminist scholarship to be published and proliferated to the rest of the globe. 

The Center also sought ways to strengthen its relationship with the larger Columbus feminist community and its needs. And so, they started a downtown lecture Luncheon series in 1989. Dr. Hartmann shared with me that these luncheons connected the program with local feminist organizations and women-owned businesses. The Center was able to fundraise and raise awareness for local projects and businesses, meanwhile, receiving funding from those interested in supporting the Women’s Studies program.

Along with this, the program tried its best to listen to its students and accommodate their wishes. However, Dr. Hartmann explained to me that the students were overwhelmingly supportive and appreciative of the program because it was already miraculous that OSU had such a decorated and prestigious Women’s Studies Program.

Once this program was able to begin, Mary Margaret Fonow greatly emphasized training for graduate teaching and research fellowships. And so, the graduate program became characterized by MA students teaching introductory courses and writing and publishing theses. In many ways, this is the strategy the modern-day Women’s Studies Graduate Program follows. The very program I will be entering this Fall as a graduate teaching assistant.

Another monumental accomplishment Dr. Hartmann was able to achieve was relocating the Center for Women’s Studies to the Oval in University Hall, the heart of the University. This move provided the Women’s Studies faculty greater comfort in a proper workspace with a beautiful view, but it also offered greater visibility to the program. Every single OSU student walks across the Oval and passes University Hall, catching wind of the Women’s Studies Program with or without seeking it out. Furthermore, this move is also a visual indicator of the University’s newfound and continued embrace of Women's Studies.

Throughout all of this, the Center slowly worked on a case for its own Departmental status. However, in many ways, the program benefited greatly from its Center status granting them strong and long-lasting relationships with various other Departments and programs. The Women’s Studies program was becoming evermore difficult to ignore or discount. So, when Dr. Hartmann passed the torch to Dr. Sally Kitch, the program’s primary interest became obtaining Department status.