Past, Present, Future
As the University of Florida celebrates the 25th anniversary of the women's studies program this year, it may be hard for some to imagine the opposition the "founding mothers" of the program faced. But in the mid-1970s--just 30 years after the university opened its doors to female students--the traditionally all-male campus had trouble accepting the idea of a course of study dedicated to exploring the perspectives of women.
"There was a lot of skepticism about what women's studies was all about," says Jaquelyn Resnick, director of UF's Counseling Center. "There wasn't as much gender consciousness, and women's studies was a foreign idea." Mildred Hill-Lubin, an English professor, also remembers what a struggle it was to bring the program to campus. "Most men faculty didn't think it was important," she says. "They thought it was a fad and that it certainly did not deserve a place in the university curriculum."
But in 1977, the state senate and the university authorized the program, and an undergraduate certificate in women's studies was instituted on a probationary status. The program is the only one on campus ever to begin on probation. "One could argue that if the university was looking to truly create a new program, this was a peculiar way to go about it," says Resnick. "It was clearly a reflection, I think, of the skepticism and the limited amount of support."
The program forged ahead, led by its first director Irene Thompson, an English professor, and supported strongly by Ruth McQuown, the first female associate dean in the college.
The core course, Interdisciplinary Perspectives of Women, was approved, and courses were offered in many different departments all over campus. The program was taken off probation a few years later, and by the time Connie Shehan, a sociology professor, took over as director in the mid-1980s, it was starting to take shape. "When I came on board in 1985, the program had made a lot of progress," she says. "There were more women faculty on campus who were interested in gender studies, and nationally the discipline of women's studies was catching on."
The 1990s proved to be a time of major growth for the program. The interdisciplinary BA in women's studies was approved in 1990, and in 1992 a minor was passed. A PhD concentration was also created and three associate professors were hired. In 1994, the program was changed into a Type II center and was renamed the Center for Women's Studies and Gender Research.
This fall, the program admitted its first two students into a newly created master's program. Jana Bailey, who earned her interdisciplinary BA in women's studies from UF in 2001, decided to return to the university to be part of the new program. "I chose to come back to UF because I was familiar with the professors and staff and knew that I could get solid academic support and a rigorous, challenging education," she says.
Women's studies is now moving towards developing a PhD program. "The program has been on a path of steady growth for the past several years, adding new minors and degrees," says Angel Kwolek-Folland, director of the program since 2000. "We feel that women's studies is firmly anchored at UF, and we're extremely proud of the early work done by all of those who made the program fly."