Saying Goodbye to the GWS MA Program

Graphs describing the enrollments in the MA Program, and a timelineThis spring 2024 our very last cohort of four MA students will graduate! Since 2007 we have welcomed between two and five MA students each year. As they move through the program and exercise their scholarly voices, we then watch them graduate and take their degrees to the next chapters of their lives, to new academic programs or to their many varied jobs.

Our MA program allowed us to work with and mentor students who came to us for different reasons; those who came straight from undergraduate and wanted to stay in academia a while longer, students that maybe just weren’t ready to be done taking GWS seminars, and students who had maybe just found us and wanted to use the MA program as a bridge to the next step of their careers, academic or otherwise.

As we close out this chapter of the MA program, we continue to build our new PhD program. We welcomed our first cohort of PhD students in Fall 2023, and we have accepted seven bright and wonderful students to begin in Fall 2024. In the PhD program, we get to work with students for a longer period, have a larger group of graduate students in the department, and can prepare our PhD students for the growing and competitive field of Gender and Women’s Studies.

And while we feel the keen excitement of watching our PhD program grow, we feel the bittersweetness of bidding farewell to our final cohort of MA students.

Congratulations to our terrific last MA cohort – and congratulations to us all for building and sustaining a terrific MA program over these last 17 years.

Let’s put a spotlight on three of our past MA students:


Stephanie Rythilati

Stephanie started her MA in GWS in the program’s second year (2008), the same year that the Women’s Studies program changed status to department and got its new name, Gender and Women’s Studies. Stephanie is a history undergraduate major from UW-Madison. After graduating in 2006 she spent 2 years managing a credit union in Madison, before she decided to go graduate school.

Stephanie continued to focus on history in her MA. Her MA thesis on the history of our very own Women’s Studies Program and feminist organizing in Madison in the 1970s has circulated among students and teachers in GWS ever since.

Stephanie remembers the early MA program as truly interdisciplinary. Since the program was so small and only admitted a few students a year, most of the seminars she took were in other departments with PhD and MA students from across campus. Some of these students are her lifelong friends today. In GWS, Stephanie took seminars with Ellen Samuels, Julie D’Acci, and Judy Houck.

After finishing the MA Stephanie went on to do a PhD in History at Duke University. Today, she is an active and engaged member of our department in the position as Director of the Women’s and Gender Studies Consortium.


Tiffany Lee

Tiffany started her MA in 2013. Ellen Samuels was her advisor on a project about Black queer contemporary poets as voices for change in comparative perspective with Black poets of the past.

Tiffany went to college at the University of Pittsburgh. She describes her first years as rocky, but a few years in, when she started taking GWS classes, she found a clear direction and started thriving in academia. After college she joined AmeriCorps for a year.

Graduate school was not on Tiffany’s radar, and today she is certain that she would not have embarked on a PhD. But she happened to come across a description of our MA program and thought “oh, so this is a possibility.” The MA completely changed the direction of her life, she says. It opened a world of possibilities. After graduating with our GWS MA degree, Tiffany stayed at UW-Madison to do an MA in the Department of African American Studies. Today Tiffany works as a crossroads coordinator in Student Affairs at UW.



Esaí Ortiz Rivera

Esaí arrived from Puerto Rico and began the program in 2019. Their advisor was James McMaster, and they wrote about anticolonial performance in Puerto Rico—specifically employing queer theory in an analysis of Macha Colon’s song Jayá.

In the middle of Esaí’s second semester, the Covid-19 pandemic hit, and their time at UW-Madison played out quite differently than expected. Nevertheless, Esaí looks back on the MA program as a time when they grew in ways they never imagined, as both an academic and a human being. The degree has since opened many doors for them to continue studying. The most valuable lesson they took from the MA is that they don’t have to conform to disciplinary pursuits or discourses. Instead, they can pave their own path through academia by centering their own desires and passions.

After finishing the MA, Esaí returned to Puerto Rico to do a PhD in Clinical Psychology.