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40 years of Women’s and Gender Studies

ANGELENE ENKE, Staff Writer

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Victoria DeFrancisco, former director of the WGS Program, expects 250 people to be in attendance for the 40th anniversary celebration

The beginning of March will mark the start of  Women’s History Month, which UNI is recognizing by celebrating the 40th Anniversary of the Women’s and Gender Studies (WGS) program here on campus.

On the weekend of March 3 and 4, the WGS program will host a celebratory anniversary event alongside the Center for Multicultural Education’s (CME) First Friday event. This event, held on Friday, March 3, from 5 to 8 p.m. in the CME in the upper level of Maucker Union, will be open to anyone on campus.

The event will feature Phyllis Baker, a former UNI professor, who will share her experience of being a part of the WGS program, as well as the history of the program. Baker is currently an administrator at the University of Illinois.

Another featured guest will be Terry Pearson Stevens, who is an activist, advocate and artist educator from the Waterloo area. Stevens, a UNI alumna, will perform “Women Warriors” — a collection of art, music, poetry and dance that shares a global perspective about women who have been overlooked in their contribution to women’s rights.

Victoria DeFrancisco, professor in communication studies and former WGS director, expects around 250 people to attend this event. Many alumni will be returning for this anniversary event and will be given a tour of the campus by student ambassadors Saturday morning to see how the campus has changed, as well as visit the WGS space in Sabin Hall.

Anna Blaho, WGS programming graduate assistant, mentioned that a craft will be involved in this activity that highlights intersectionality —  a feminist framework that the program is focusing on. The craft involves decorating a pair of glasses that can be used as a prop for a photo booth with which attendees can interact.

According to Blaho, tables of student organizations, a slideshow of the program’s history and a history display will also be present at the event. The history display, which will be up for all of Women’s History month, was put together by Katherine Martin.

“I think that it’s more important than ever to remind people that women have been fighting for not just women’s rights but the rights of underrepresented populations for generations,” said Wendy Hoofnagle, interim director for the WGS program.

Hoofnagle said she believes that what they have been doing for the past 40 years is truly something to celebrate.

DeFrancisco encourages students to come and learn about the program.

“It’s really important to encourage students to be critical thinkers —  to be active and engaged citizens. And that’s a part of what we teach,” DeFrancisco said. “This program sponsors events and workshops, brings in speakers and all kinds of activities to shine a light on marginalized groups.”

The Women’s Studies program originated during the 70’s by two female faculty members in Baker Hall, which no longer exists. A closet full of books that was donated by women faculty were being “checked out” and returned by students who were interested in the program.

In 2005, Women’s Studies was changed to Women’s and Gender Studies. The program now includes a minor, an M.A. and a graduate certificate.

Sarah Runchey, a former UNI student, obtained her MBA and is often asked how the WGS program has impacted her life.

“It taught me how to think strategically,” Runchey said. “It gave me the vision to ask how and why.”

This year, a new minor called SWAG has been introduced, which stands for Sexuality, Women and Gender. This includes a sexuality course, which is now permanent, called Introduction to LGBTQ Studies, in hopes of reaching out and raising awareness.

Hoofnagle said the WGS program has one long-term goal that has not yet been fulfilled, one that they have had since the 90’s.

“We have been pushing for a women’s center on campus,” Hoofnagle said. “Having a safe place in this social-political climate for groups to go to is more critical than ever.”

Several success stories have emerged from this program. A graduate student was inspired to develop a violence prevention program on college campuses. That student gathered people together and wrote grants to the government, which served as the founding of the Center for Violence Prevention on the third floor of Sabin.

Derk Babbitt, also a former student, graduated with a Women’s and Gender Studies M.A. and has had success in the work field.

“My manager frequently reminds me that my masters elevated me above all other applicants at my initial interview,” Babbitt said. “I have now been promoted a couple of times thanks to my education.”

All throughout the month of March, the WGS program will be hosting a number of events, including a History of Queer Women, a screening of the film “Hidden Figures” and a feminist game night to celebrate Women’s History Month.

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