Letter from the Chair – Spring 2024

Greetings Everyone:

It’s hard to believe that we are nearly halfway through our spring semester! I’m always relieved by the snow melt, delighted by the sound of the returning cranes, and thrilled by the green sprouts reaching for the light, but I am always surprised by it all as well. Students are preparing for midterms, planning trips to warmer places, and wondering about their lives after graduation. It’s a moment when we are deep in the here-and-now even as we look forward to new beginnings. In the Department of Gender and Women’s Studies, we are doing some stock-taking even as we look forward to fresh starts.

Overall, it’s been another great year in GWS. Our courses continue to be in great demand–we have enrolled more than 3,000 students in our courses this academic year–and our major and certificate programs have together attracted more than 500 declared students. We’re delighted by these numbers, and we’re hoping to bring even more students next year. Our first cohort of PhD students has arrived, and the students, faculty, and staff are discovering the rewards and the challenges of our new graduate program.

In the fall, the department received a Mellon-funded grant to explore the theme of Home/Land: Belonging, Displacement, Migration, Settlement. As these issues dominate much of our national and international news, we felt compelled to explore them from feminist and queer studies perspectives. One of our new faculty members, Kong Pheng Pha, will use this grant to launch an oral history project with undergraduates to explore the Hmong American community in Madison and across the state. Kean O’Brien, one of our new PhD students, has put together a panel of trans artists who will explore the idea of chosen home.  We have other ideas for these funds simmering, including a possible summer course that includes two weeks in Puerto Rico! Stayed tuned!

Let me highlight the generosity of recent donors to our community. John Clarence and Clare De Cleene have recently provided funds to support scholarships for graduate and undergraduate students whose research focuses on women and LGBTQ individuals. John and Clare are especially interested in promoting work that supports the cause of women and sexual minorities in politics and government. Clare De Cleene has also donated funds to help our students learn about the political process. The Pathways to Political Engagement brown-bag series will demonstrate the varied pathways to engaged participation in public life. Emerit Professor Janet Hyde, whose efforts helped us launch our PhD program, has donated funds to help support graduate students in our new program. We are humbled and delighted by the generosity of the De Cleenes and Professor Hyde, and we pledge to be careful stewards of their funds.

Alumni like you regularly give to our department. These donations help us provide the extras that make the Gender and Women’s Studies experience feel special; mini-conferences to showcase student work, guest speakers in our classes from around the world; scholarships to defray the cost of tuition; field trips to cultural sights around the Midwest; tea, coffee, and chocolate to bring students to our reading room. Every dollar makes a difference. Please consider making a donation on the Day of the Badger, coming up on April 16-17, 2024. Watch for it your email.

In our last newsletter we asked you what you read or watched or viewed in a GWS course that has stayed with you. I wasn’t involved in Gender and Women’s Studies as an undergraduate (in my four undergraduate years, I only read work by two women authors!), but I was thrilled by feminist scholarship as a graduate student. Audre Lorde’s The Cancer Journals was a standout for me and others when it was first published in 1980, and it remains influential to our current students. It challenged what I thought I knew about health and medicine and gave me new tools to understand the politics of gender, race, and embodiment. It raised questions that still animate my research and teaching decades later. Read more about what your classmates remember here.

Finally, I’d like to introduce Dr. Kate Phelps. Kate has worked in our department as a beloved instructor since 2017. She has recently become Teaching Faculty. Under this new designation, Kate has agreed to help the department connect with our alums as our new Alumni Engagement Coordinator.  She will introduce herself later in this newsletter. When she asks you about your lives after graduation, we hope you will answer.

On Wisconsin!

Judith Houck