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Our History

The Department of Gender & Women’s Studies has its origins in the Women’s Studies Program, which was founded in 1975. This was a period of activism and debate that extended across the University of Wisconsin System. Whereas most other women’s studies programs of the time could be described as structures designed to coordinate offerings of faculty from different departments, our program had from the start a degree of autonomy and resources that allowed us greater ability to define our own field, the content of our curriculum, and our own process for governance and decision-making.

Over the years we became a well-respected Program in the University as we grew and strengthened. In 2008, we became a department. Having begun with a small set of course offerings, the department now lists over 100 courses, many of which are cross-listed from other departments. Not counting cross-listed courses, the Department offers more than a dozen undergraduate and 1-2 exclusively graduate courses each semester, as well as a full summer program. In 1980 the Women’s Studies Certificate was offered for the first time. By 1984 we were offering a Ph.D minor in Women’s Studies. In 1986 we were authorized to enroll our first students as undergraduate majors in Women’s Studies, and the Class of 1987 was our first graduating class. The LGBT Studies Certificate was offered for the first time in 2004. In the Fall of 2006, we welcomed our first class of Gender and Women’s Studies Master’s Degree students. The Department of Gender and Women’s Studies has grown in other ways. Our 22 faculty conduct pathbreaking research, producing award-winning books and articles. We are especially strong in the study of gender and health, international feminism, disability studies, and LGBTQ+ studies.

The Center for Research on Gender and Women (originally the Women’s Studies Research Center) was founded in 1977 as the research arm of the Program and today it serves a similar function with respect to the department. It is devoted to encouraging and coordinating high-quality gender research on campus, and it hosts the Wittig program in Feminist Biology. The Department serves the larger community, participating in feminist activities with educational implications on the university, local, state, national, and even international levels.

The Department of Gender & Women’s Studies is a member of the UW System Women’s and Gender Studies Consortium.