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Archive for Sunday, February 23, 1992

KU PROGRAM CELEBRATES 20TH BIRTHDAY

February 23, 1992

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Margaret Hu, Kansas University junior from Manhattan, testifies before a Kansas legislative committee against Norplant birth-control legislation and authors a task force proposal aimed at detecting gender bias in Kansas laws.

Ami Hyten, a Topeka sophomore, recommends improvements in campus-community relations to Chancellor Gene Budig as a member of the university's Gay and Lesbian Concerns Study Committee.

At the Salina Art Center, program and publications coordinator Lori Brack, a KU women's studies alumnus, links up with Purdue University poet Marianne Boruch to hone her poetry. The effort is funded by a Horizon's grant from the Salina Arts and Humanities Committee.

On the Washburn University campus in Topeka, human services department chairman Iris Heckman works from a "philosophical base" built during her years in the KU program.

She says it concerns her that most people living in poverty today are women and that violence toward women is increasing "There's a great deal of work to do."

HU AND HYTEN, current women's studies majors, and Brack and Heckman, 1978 and 1975 KU women's studies graduates, respectively, represent hundreds of current and past students using their academic expertise to pursue career and community goals.

"A belief in the unity of thought and action is central to women's studies," explained Charlene Muehlenhard, current director of the program and an associate professor of women's studies and psychology.

In the early 1970s, KU joined the first wave of U.S. educational institutions to establish women's studies programs.

This week, the program celebrates its 20th anniversary with five days of public activities ranging from lectures and panel discussions to workshops and banquets.

CELEBRATION highlights will be a return speaking engagement of feminist Robin Morgan, who last was on campus Feb. 2, 1972, and the annual celebration of ties between the program and the February Sisters.

The February Sisters were activist women who occupied a KU building Feb. 4, 1972, to vent their frustration about university dealings with women. They issued a list of demands that included creation of a department of women's studies.

Muehlenhard called the February Sisters "excellent role models" for today's students. Janet Sharistanian, first director of KU's women's studies program and a current member of the women's studies advisory board, said the February Sisters' actions precipitated the university's agenda for women's studies and other women's issues "and made them very visible to the community at large."

KU LAUNCHED its program in the fall of 1972, and since, thousands of students have taken the program's courses, many of which are cross-referenced with other departments.

Currently, about 30 are declared majors in the field; no records were available on the total number of graduates.

Nationally, a Ford Foundation study shows women's studies flourish elsewhere as well. In December 1970, 100 courses existed on U.S. college campuses. By 1980, there were 20,000 courses and 350 programs, and by 1982 the last year of the study 30,000 courses with no designation of program numbers.

Initially, Sharistanian said, the program's cross-listed courses gave it "curricular legitimacy," while core women's studies courses were developed some with much effort, others more serendipitously.

THE FIRST official major, Kristi Drach, and other early students had to petition the university to receive special women's studies majors, Sharistanian said.

In 1977, the Kansas Board of Regents granted KU permission to offer a standing women's studies major through bachelor of arts or bachelor of general studies degrees.

Today, there are three core faculty members Muehlenhard, Ann Schofield and Omofolabo Ajayi, and next fall, a fourth is to be added. All have half-time appointments in women's studies and appointments in other departments: Muehlenhard in psychology; Schofield in American studies and history; and Ajayi in theater and film. Schofield also is a former program director.

The core faculty, along with graduate teaching assistant Pat Harney, handle most of the teaching load, and the advisory board, comprised of about 25 women from various departments and schools on campus as well as non-faculty staff and students, makes program decisions collectively.

WOMEN'S STUDIES classes listed in the spring KU Timetable range from "Women Today" to "Psychology of Women" and "Women and Violence," as well as "History of American Women" and "African Women's Literature."

"A lot tends to be interdisciplinary," Muehlenhard said of the curriculum. "It's . . . the nature of women's studies."

Her "Psychology of Women" course, she noted, has a cap of 90 students "and it's always filled." It is cross-listed in the psychology department.

Many women's studies students double major, Muehlenhard said, noting a variety of other subject areas draw their interest. Many plan to enter law school or other graduate school, aiming to work in the social policy field.

Hu, for example, said she was double majoring in women's studies and Chinese, and planned to attend law school to "pursue gender law and feminist jurisprudence, and become an advocate for women's legal rights."

HYTEN ALSO is in pre-law, double majoring in women's studies and English literature, and she is active in Students against Violence against Women, which is organizing the April 16 Women Take Back the Night march.

She said she aimed to become a legal consultant to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.

GTA Harney, working on her Ph.D. in clinical psychology, said she found many of the students "interested and interesting," and noted she came to KU from Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., because KU psychology faculty had women's studies interests, and because the women's studies program indicated academic support for the field here.

Director Muehlenhard said those associated with the program "would like to have a growth plan, but it's not realistic to expect huge increases in faculty" with the current economic conditions.

THEIR WISH list, though, would include new core faculty in anthropology and biology areas that now are not represented.

She said faculty with women's studies backgrounds remain difficult to find, despite 20 years of graduates.

"It's almost a situation where we have educated ourselves through reading and our own research," she said.

Her bachelor's degree is in psychology and mathematics from the University of Cincinnati, and her Ph.D. is in clinical psychology from the University of Wisconsin.

Her own early interest in the field "was very exciting," she said. "We felt like pioneers."

Today, she added, "the idea of a major university not having a women's studies program is archaic, barbaric."

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