The theme of this spring’s National Women’s Studies Association (NWSA) Chairs and Directors meeting was “Gender Studies Under Fire.” At this conference, leaders in the field described and analyzed targeted attempts to delegitimize gender, sexuality, and women’s studies (some highly publicized over the past year). Equally troubling, these colleagues delineated institutional systems, decisions, and actions that intentionally or unintentionally constitute a pattern of undervaluation of women’s studies, often manifesting as minimal allocation of faculty lines, student support, and staff resources to women’s studies units across institutions.
The sessions also included strategies for counteracting these patterns, mainly that the context of devaluation compels unit leaders, faculty, staff, and students to persistently (re)show institutions, administrators, and others that women’s studies is a robust and vital field and warrants institutional investment. For example, in many institutions, women’s studies fosters rigorous inter- and multidisciplinary scholarship, is at the forefront of experiential learning, is a key contributor to high quality general education courses, and importantly, attracts and supports students and faculty from underrepresented backgrounds (across ability status, gender, race, sexuality, immigration and first generation status). Nevertheless, the NWSA presenters noted that the uphill climb of making the case for investment in women’s studies is all too familiar and requires our collective persistence.
Resonant with this theme, when I asked our two former center directors who retired this year, Dr. Angel Kwolek-Folland and Dr. Judy Page, to share their reflections for this newsletter issue, they both offered inspiring accounts of the project of women’s studies as an act of persistence, resistance, and claiming power in the face of ever-present obstacles. I read these thoughtful reflections and considered the discussions at NWSA and was reminded of the recent feminist mantra, “Nevertheless, she persisted.”
This newsletter issue, like prior issues, is filled with evidence that gender, sexualities, and women’s studies is persisting and thriving at UF. This issue highlights the accomplishments of our students and faculty who are garnering national awards and honors and disseminating their scholarship to national and international audiences. It showcases our students and graduates engaging in meaningful scholarship and work that advance social justice. It highlights the engagement of affiliates and friends in lectures and programs from over fifty events focusing on gender, race, sexuality, and social justice that the center supported this year. Most importantly, it shows our collective persistence in pursuing transformative scholarship, learning, and action.
Sarah Catalanotto, MPH, CTTS was raised in an environment of activism and concern for the welfare of underserved people. Watching her father, UF faculty member Frank Catalanotto, DMD, advocate for all to have access to quality oral health care, Sarah knew that she too wanted to help others. From an early age, she was interested in health and a career in law seemed to be the best way to become an advocate. However, her career path solidified when she discovered public health and found it would best prepare her to promote and protect the health of people and communities.
After completing a Master of Public Health (MPH) degree at UF, Sarah launched her career at the Alachua County Health Department’s Tobacco Free Alachua (TFA) office. Tobacco use is the single leading cause of preventable death and disability in the U.S. and annually accounts for one in five deaths. In 2006, Florida voters supported a constitutional amendment to develop a comprehensive tobacco education and use prevention program. At TFA, Sarah learned to advocate for health improvement using policy, create effective community partnerships, and give back to her profession as a mentor and intern supervisor.
In 2011, she joined Suwannee River Area Health Education Center (AHEC) as the Tobacco Program Manager and was responsible for directing the tobacco cessation and training programs in twelve north Florida counties. AHECs were established nationwide in the early 1970’s to “improve the supply, distribution, retention and quality of primary care and other health practitioners in rural and medically underserved areas.” Sarah grew personally and professionally at Suwannee River AHEC and when the opportunity to transition to Associate Director and Executive Director arose, she embraced it.
Sarah finds purpose and fulfillment when collaborating with safety net clinics, non-profit health organizations, and UF faculty to connect rural residents to medical, dental, and mental health care. Rural communities face unique challenges because they often compete with urban areas to recruit and support primary care professionals. Rural populations are too small to support specialists (e.g., cardiologists, neurologists, orthodontists) and the numbers of primary care providers are often inadequate to meet the health care needs of all county residents.
Rural life has a different dynamic than life in more urban areas where amenities like entertainment and shopping are abundant. Nearly twenty percent of Americans choose to live in rural communities because it is easier to form close-knit relationships with neighbors, business leaders, and health providers. When health care is delivered by professionals who care for different members of the same family, it can be more personal and relevant.
Suwannee River AHEC was among the first seven agencies to partner with the Center for Gender, Sexualities, and Women’s Studies Research to create the service-learning capstone course, Practicum in Health Disparities. The professionals at AHEC treat practicum students like members of their team and provide active mentoring, guidance, and opportunities to apply academic learning to real world problems. One of the first assignments in the practicum is a reflection about the definition and operationalization of the word professionalism. One student wrote:
The first day I was at the site, Sarah informed me that everyone in the office eats lunch together every day with each other. I was taken aback because I am used to work environments where you have [more formal] relationships with people, not casual. It is through this reflection where I realize that there is no absolute definition of professionalism. In my practicum site, it would feel unprofessional if I chose not to eat lunch with those in the office. I have been impacted this week by the kindness and closeness my fellow coworkers have with each other. It is very obvious how much everyone enjoys working with each other and seeing each other daily. I think this makes for a more productive work environment and . . . in the future, I will remember the affirming and encouraging environment at Suwannee River AHEC.
Some Americans live with a disproportionate lack of access to quality health care. The health care safety net provided by rural clinics and supported by organizations like Suwannee River AHEC prevents them from “falling between the cracks” of the health care system. For Sarah, each practicum student represents the future and just as she was influenced by her father’s example, she mentors and inspires the next generation of leaders and health professionals so they will be ready to receive the baton she is passing.
A few years ago I gave a talk at an Italian University on the history of women’s studies in the US. I called the talk “Claiming an Education,” in a deliberate echo of and homage to Adrienne Rich’s commencement address at Douglass College in 1977. Although I did not discover this speech early on, it has had a lasting effect on me and on how I think of feminist education. Rich’s point is that we must take responsibility for our own educations and formulate our own positions through reading, thought, and study. We don’t receive an education but we claim it as our right.
I don’t have the space to relate my own history, but suffice it to say as a student in the 1970s I never had a course in women’s studies, women writers, or anything to do with feminism. I discovered on my own Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own (1929) when I was studying abroad in the UK: a light bulb went off. Woolf argued that it would have been impossible for a woman in Shakespeare’s day to have achieved what the bard achieved because her ideas and aspirations would be crushed by circumstances and by her very embodiment as a woman. But was there more to the story? Woolf, it turned out, did not know how many women had written, had accomplished much despite the fact that they did not have money or a room of their own. Nor did she know, as Alice Walker corrected in her essay “In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens” (1972), that women of color, even enslaved women, had against all odds had brought light to their world.
Fast forward to the early 1980s when I began to teach at a small college and my department chair asked me to design a course in women writers. I began to discover treasures that had been hidden from me in my own education, knowledge that I had not yet claimed for myself. A few years later I became the founding director of the women’s studies program and oversaw many changes to the curriculum. But at the same time that this college established a program in women’s studies, it still did not have a maternity or family leave policy—although there was briefly daycare on campus that my children attended. Institutional structures had not caught up with academic advances.
In 2000 I moved from my small college to UF and in 2009 I became director of the Center for Gender, Sexualities, and Women’s Studies Research, my most rewarding job at UF. Already you can see that this title reflects the institutional changes over the last 40 or so years: women’s studies and gender and sexualities (plural!), the inclusiveness suggesting a focus on a multiplicity of issues but maintaining an allegiance to the founding importance of women’s studies. Center faculty work on many theoretical issues, but are also committed to praxis, to the dictum that it is their responsibility to teach others to claim their education, and then go forward and do something to make the world a better place.
I continue to ponder the challenges that we face. In 1991, Susan Faludi wrote a book called Backlash, in which she argued that the patriarchy blames women for everything that it perpetrates: poverty, women’s unhappiness, inequality. In my view, the backlash reflex has been institutionalized. We are constantly up against those who want to silence us, regulate our bodies, make us irrelevant. But this perception of a constant threat also guards against complacency and forces us to think of ourselves as constantly evolving: claiming an education is not an end but an on-going process and a way of being in the world.
By Samantha Baugus, James Everett, Andreina Fernandez, Kate Fletcher, Breanne Hooks , Elizabeth Lunior, Isabel Miceli, Pamala Proverbs
We hosted “Harvest without Violence,” a panel discussion featuring the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), in Ustler Hall on the evening of March 12. The event, a project of Dr. Manoucheka Celeste’s “Global Women of Color” graduate course, demonstrated feminist theory in practice as the class worked closely with the CIW to place the working conditions on farms on the university community’s agenda. More than 100 people attended including UF students, faculty, staff, and many members of the CIW.
The genesis of the event sprung from Dr. Celeste’s challenge to students to create an event that centered around the experiences of women of color. The class decided to highlight women who worked on farms, which led to the collaboration with the CIW. Our classmate, Andreina Fernandez, served as the liaison with CIW. Communication was instrumental in the decision-making process (selecting photos to display, titling the event, advertising, to use of space, setting up the event and refreshments) because as a class we worked to follow women of color feminist philosophies and practices that required that we worked in collaboration with and learn best practices from this group of activists.
The panel discussion was informative and powerful. The panel of four farm workers and two Spanish translators took the audience through their typical workday. They discussed the hardships and less than adequate working conditions in which they sometimes worked. For example, panelists discussed lack of access to basic needs such bathrooms, shade, water, breaks, food, and transportation. Panelists underscored the importance and impact of women led coalitions as well as the need for audience members to support Fair Food, as that adds some safeguards for workers. The panelists also demonstrated how they educated other women farmworkers about how to identify sexual harassment and how to access the resources available to them when dealing with it.
Among the lessons we learned from working with the CIW is that we must value linguistic plurality and understand the impact of using one’s language to share one’s story, in this case Spanish which was facilitated by translators. The practices of the CIW also highlighted the power of community as members supported each other and acted in coordination. The CIW ensured that meals, child care, and transportation needs of all participants were met. The CIW reminded us of the importance of considering the whole person in every aspect of their work.
We hope those in attendance left the event considering the local, interpersonal, and transnational impact of their own actions and seemingly small decision. The panelists encouraged us to ask: What is the history of the food we consume? How do our actions impact the conditions of others? And how does a global economy impact the lives of women of color workers?
The panel discussion coincided with (and supported) the 4 for Fair Food Tour led by the CIW in protest of companies that have not signed the Fair Food Agreement. The Fair Food Program is a partnership between farmers, farm workers, and retail food companies to ensure fair wages and working conditions. For more information, visit: https://ciw-online.org
Mirela Cardinal graduated with her MA in Women’s Studies in spring 2019. In March, she defended her MA project, “Queer Visibility on YouTube Videos in the Context of Brazil” with the mentorship of Dr. Tanya Saunders and Dr. Jillian Hernandez. After graduation, she will start a position as a counselor educator at Urgent, Inc, a non-profit organization in Miami dedicated to empowering young minds to transform their communities. Mirela extends her gratitude to the Center for allowing her space to grow personally and professionally as a graduate student and as a feminist activist.
Corinne Futch presented her research at the 26th Annual Lavender Linguistics Conference held in Gothenburg, Sweden. Corinne plans to finish writing her MA project paper in the summer and to graduate in August. In the fall, Corinne will continue her education at the University of Florida as she enters UF’s PhD program in Anthropology. Corinne is incredibly appreciative of Dr. Zucker, Dr. Saunders, Dr. Broad, Dr. Moradi, and Donna Tuckey for the support they provided her throughout her time at the center.
Meaghan MacPherson graduated with her MA in Women’s Studies in spring 2019. In March, she successfully defended her thesis titled “Speaking Out on Twitter: #MeToo and Hashtag Survivor Discourse.” She was also inducted into Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society. Meaghan will take a year off to work and will apply to Communication and Media Studies PhD programs in the fall.
Marcela Murillo successfully defended her MA project and will graduate during the summer. She will publish a paper that she wrote in one of her women’s studies seminars; the essay has been accepted as a chapter in a forthcoming book on women in comics. Marcela will be joining Santa Fe College as a professor in fall 2019. In her professional future, she will continue advocating for gender equality and women’s rights.
Karleen Schlichtmann will defend her thesis in summer 2019. Her thesis employs autoethnography of her and her mother’s experiences to discuss the broader challenges black women experience in attempting to navigate the U.S. healthcare system. At the NWSA conference in November, Karleen presented her poster titled “’Just Imagine’ A World without HIV/AIDS: Black Feminist interventions in Health Justice.” Karleen is looking forward to spending time with her family after graduation.
Jane Stanley graduated with her MA in women’s Studies in spring 2019. In April, she successfully defended her MA project “Standing Up: Women in Comedy” with a well-attended public presentation in Ustler Hall. Her project resulted in a blog and website dedicated to women in comedy.
Matt Stern graduated with his MA in Women’s Studies in spring 2019. In March, he defended his thesis on gender-based violence in the television show “Twin Peaks” under the supervision of Dr. Tace Hedrick, Dr. Maddy Coy, and Dr. Jillian Hernandez. Matt plans to take a few gap years to read, travel, and work before resuming his education in Women’s Studies or a related feminist field.
Hannah Tabor defended her MA project titled “Beyond Abortion: A Critical Analysis of Reproductive Justice and Female Genital Mutilation in Maasai Culture.” In addition, she presented her project at The Global Status of Women and Girls Summit at Christopher Newport University. Hannah has accepted a fellowship in The College of Education at the University of Florida for a PhD in Higher Education Administration. She is excited to incorporate a women’s studies focus in her research on inequalities in education.
News and updates from our continuing graduate students
Shyamala Engelhart continues her research on the intersection of gender and aging. Her MA project will focus on feminist perspectives on aging. Over the summer she will be taking a course in gerontology to enhance her understanding of the current research on aging. She is also excited to be a Teaching Assistant for Dr. Kelley and learn more about humanities perspectives on gender and sexuality
Andreina Fernandez will continue work on her MA thesis, which will center the art, poetry, film, and other forms of cultural production of queer migrant activists. This summer, she will be the Teaching Assistant for Interdisciplinary Perspectives in Women’s Studies with Dr. Hernandez. Andreina is excited to spend her summer reading, working with undergraduates, and spending time with loved ones.
Kaylee Kagiavas will continue her MA research. She plans to focus on feminist mentorship and advising of graduate students within academia, concentrating on power differentials. She is finishing her last year at UF to earn her MA degree in the spring.
Alexandria Wilson McDonald will be finishing her fieldwork in Central Eastern Europe, in which she examines the feminist framing of gender-based violence. This summer, she will also continue working on her MA article, in which she examines how women’s organizations in Central Eastern Europe are resisting the recent backlash against feminist NGOs in the region.
Logan Neser will continue the second year of the MA program next year. He will begin work on his MA thesis project this summer. His thesis project will focus on discourses surrounding transgender people, mental health, and the prison industrial complex. In November, he and fellow classmate Melissa Powers will present their work at their first NWSA conference in San Francisco.
Melissa Powers developed and taught a queer theory crash course lecture to students in Dr. Maddy Coy’s class during the spring semester. She continues to develop her thesis project, which will be in the area of queer and feminist utopian studies, particularly through the analysis of political-cultural production such as manifestos. Melissa plans to spend the summer working, reading, outlining her utopian theorizations, and spending time with her dog, Luna. She will continue developing the poster on Trans Afrofuturism that she will present with Logan Neser at NWSA in November.
Nik Wiles plans to defend their non-thesis project, a memoir-style book on gender neutral parenting, in fall 2019. As Nik faces personal experiences within their own life that complicate the content of the book, and beg for further reflection about the nature of the overarching topic, Nik will spend their summer not only editing, writing last-minute content additions, and preparing for publication, but also, considering bringing difficult, controversial discussions that surround gender neutral parenting more to the forefront of the book. After graduation, Nik will continue to teach at Santa Fe College and pursue further publications (including outside projects).
Anita Anantharam was selected to participate in the National Women’s Studies Association Women of Color Leadership project. She was also inducted into the Huy D. Huynh Hall of Fame. Through this honor, UF Asian Pacific Islander American Affairs recognizes outstanding leaders who have devoted themselves to representing and advancing the Asian Pacific Islander Desi American (APIDA) community at UF and beyond. Among her other activities, Dr. Anantharam served as a mentor in the UF Multicultural and Diversity Affairs Minority Mentoring Program and as a moderator in this year’s Women’s Entrepreneurship Symposium.
Kendal Broad is honored to continue working with graduate students as Graduate Coordinator for the Center and looks forward to a new incoming cohort in the Fall. This year, in addition to presenting with colleagues at the National Women’s Studies Association meeting, Dr. Broad presented a paper, “The Question of Hearing Gay Anti-Racist Critique While Doing Sociology” at the American Sociological Association Pre-Conference, Race & Empire: Resistance in an Uncertain Time. As well, Dr. Broad was an invited panelist with Dr. David Johnson and Dr. Nicholas Clarkson at the 10th annual Harvey Milk Festival event, “Reflections on LGBTQ+ History and Advocacy.” Additionally, Dr. Broad taught two new graduate seminars – LGBTQ+ Movements and Activisms and Sociology of Sexualities and Gender while continuing analysis and writing with and about a group of gay men and how they articulate and remember their intersectional gay anti-racism.
Manoucheka Celeste celebrated the release of her book, Race, Gender and Citizenship in African Diaspora: Travelling Blackness, in paperback. The book won the 2018 National Communication Association Diamond Anniversary Book Award. Dr. Celeste also serves as convener for Intersections on Global Blackness and Latinx Identity, an initiative of the Center for the Humanities and the Public Sphere funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. This group organized a lecture series that began in spring 2019 and will continue through fall 2019. Dr. Celeste received the Humanities Scholarship Enhancement Fund to work on her new book project “The Wailing Black Woman: Interrupting Narratives of Life, Death, and Citizenship in Media and the Public Sphere.” She presented a part of this project at Gonzaga University in the fall. She looks forward to focusing on this project in the year ahead.
Maddy Coy’s new course, “Sexual Ethics,” was offered for the first time in fall 2018 and she again taught “Violence Against Women” in spring 2019. This year, Dr. Coy is Co-PI on a National Science Foundation grant for an international conference on Faculty Sexual Misconduct that will take place in July. She co-authored a conference paper on the same topic that won the “Top Paper Award” from the Association for Education in Journalism Commission on the Status of Women. In addition, Dr. Coy gave two keynote talks in Dublin, Ireland, co-authored a paper in the Archives of Sexual Behavior with colleagues in Canada and Australia, and has a forthcoming book chapter on sexual exploitation of young people as patriarchal violence. Dr. Coy was appointed to the Advisory Council of the Alachua County Victim Services and Rape Crisis Center. With Dr. Zucker, she was awarded a grant from the Society for the Psychological Study of Social issues for a project analyzing rape attrition rates in Alachua County. Dr. Coy was honored to again be the opening speaker at UF Strive’s “Take Back the Night” this year.
Laura Guyer was promoted from Senior Lecturer to Master Lecturer and her dedication to the Center and College was recognized with the 2019 CLAS Faculty Achievement Award for distinguished achievement. Dr. Guyer continues to develop an extensive professional network to accommodate the enrollment of 55-60 students each semester in Practicum in Health Disparities. She was appointed to the Alachua County Community Health Needs Assessment (CHNA) Steering Committee to ensure that the interests of hard-to-reach populations were included in the 2019 CHNA and was invited to present her innovative approach to undergraduate pre-medical education at the American Medical Student Association (AMSA) Annual Conference and Exposition. Dr. Guyer is currently collaborating with the City of Gainesville’s Office of the City Manager, Strategic Initiatives and UF College of Medicine on the 2019 Alachua County Community Health and Social Services Resource Guide.
Jillian Hernandez co-authored the article “Queer of Color Spacemaking in and Beyond the Academic Industrial Complex,” which appeared in the Fall 2019 issue of the Journal of Critical Ethnic Studies. In April 2019, she shared new research at the invitation of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, and presented the talk “The Revolution Will Be Pink: Art, Protest, and the Power of Femme of Color Aesthetics.” Dr. Hernandez won a 2019 UF Humanities Enhancement Grant, and presented at the 2018 National Women’s Studies Association Conference. She is currently preparing her book manuscript Aesthetics of Excess: The Art and Politics of Black and Latina Embodiment, for production with Duke University Press.
Bonnie Moradi and her co-authors published several articles on women of color’s experiences of workplace discrimination and mental health and on affirmative approaches to integrating gender and sexuality as axes of power in psychotherapy. She presented with Center colleagues at the 2018 National Women’s Studies Association conference and was invited to present on diversity, inclusion, equity, and justice to the North Central Florida Chapter of Society for Neuroscience Annual Conference and to UF Advancement.
Connie Shehan was awarded a Colonel Allen R. and Margaret G. Crow Term Professorship in 2018-19. She is currently writing about reproductive rights, with a paper entitled “Reproductive Control and Women’s Status in Central and Eastern Europe, 1950 to 1985: The “Facts’ behind Dystopian Fiction.” She is also examining the role of male partners’ role in pregnancy termination decisions. Dr. Shehan continues as Editor of the Journal of Family Issues. She introduced a new graduate seminar in Women’s Studies entitled “Jobs, Gender, and (In)Justice” during the Spring 2019 semester. Dr. Shehan is proud of her mentees who graduated recently, Dr. Annie Neimand and Dr. Morgan Sanchez who completed their PhD in Sociology, and Hannah Tabor and Marcella Murillo, who completed their MA degrees in Women’s Studies.
Trysh Travis continues to serve as the Faculty Liaison to the UF Quest Curriculum and in spring 2019 she taught a new first-year Quest humanities course entitled “What is a Man?” During the summer of 2018, she participated in the University of Kentucky’s Summer Seminar for Schoolteachers on “Addiction in American History.” She continues to write on drug use/abuse and recovery, and this year published “The Cool Chick in Recovery: Understanding Brené Brown” (Raritan: A Quarterly Review, winter 2019) and “Towards a Feminist History of the Drug-Using Woman– and Her Recovery” (Feminist Studies, spring 2019). This summer she received UF’s National Humanities Center Fellowship and an SMU DeGolyer Library Travel Grant to support a new project on Confederate monuments in Dallas, Texas, her hometown.
Alyssa Zucker continued her research and teaching on the health correlates and consequences of experiencing sexism and related oppressions. This year, she published research articles in the journals Violence Against Women and Social Science & Medicine, and presented at the annual meetings of the National Women’s Studies Association and the Association for Women in Psychology (AWP). She was delighted to receive (along with Dr. Maddy Coy) a Local- and State-Level Policy grant from the Society for the Psychological Study of Social issues (SPSSI) to fund a project titled Tracking Attrition in Rape Prosecution in Alachua County, FL. Finally, Dr. Zucker was elected to Fellow status in SPSSI, and received a UF Term Professorship (2018-2021) and the AWP Florence Denmark Award for outstanding feminist mentoring.
An exciting development in the Center this year was that we established the Women’s Studies Major Ambassador program. Women’s Studies Major ambassadors are selected based on their excellent academic and professional record. They gain valuable professional development experience by working with Center faculty and staff to advance the academic mission of the Center and representing the major to students, faculty, and the community. The ambassadors meet these objectives by serving as peer advisors, publicizing information about the major, promoting Center programs, and serving as hosts at Center functions. They can also propose their own creative initiatives. Our inaugural cohort of Women’s Studies Major Ambassadors, Priya Gurjar, Ashley Marceus, and Skylar McIlvanie, proved invaluable this year in recruiting new Women’s Studies majors and spreading the word about Center programming.
Gabrielle Magid graduated with the BA in Women’s Studies and minors in business administration and nonprofit organizational leadership in 2015. She is the Founder and Executive Director of Stronger Than Stigma, Inc. in Jacksonville, FL.
As with most big decisions in my life, I didn’t plan it out and execute it gracefully. I stumbled upon women’s studies completely by accident, threw myself on its mercy my junior year and have been a big believer ever since. “Sociology of Gender” started out as a General Education Diversity credit in the spring of my freshman year, but quickly became the class where sparks flew. I remember thinking that Dr. Broad was passionate, intelligent, funny, and caring—everything I wanted to be when I grew up. It took me two years to stop fighting the internal force that wanted me to major in “something practical,” and instead to embrace the challenge and satisfaction I felt in women’s studies.
At the same time, I was exposed to the concept of social entrepreneurship–using business for social good. UF did not offer it as a major, so it would be up to me to forge an educational path that would give me the foundation I needed to pursue this work. So, I declared my major and started a business all in the same semester.
I had become aware of a problem on our campus–my peers were scared, ashamed, and embarrassed to reach out for help when it came to taking care of their mental health. This problem was not limited to the Gator Nation. I founded Stronger Than Stigma® in 2013 to bridge that gap between the student body and the mental health resources available for free on our campus, determined to change the culture around asking for help: it’s a sign of strength, not a weakness.
I graduated in 2015 with a degree in women’s studies and a double-minor in business administration, and nonprofit organizational leadership. The day after graduation, I received a letter from the IRS granting Stronger Than Stigma 501(c)3 status.
I learned that to be an advocate for something, you have to be passionate about it. You could feel that passion in every professor and in every class under the women’s studies umbrella. It is that same passion that guides me in my work today. I am proud of the progress made over the last five years–the UF chapter of Stronger Than Stigma is thriving in its fifth year of operation under student leadership. Broadening the scope beyond the UF campus, Stronger Than Stigma has established headquarters in Jacksonville, where I organize events and travel to speak to audiences in Florida and beyond, sharing what I feel are innovative ways to spark a discussion around mental health. Last spring, I even had the opportunity to speak at TEDxFSCJ and my talk “The Stigma is Real” is available for view on YouTube.
Stronger Than Stigma strives to give a voice to those who struggle in silence, demonstrating the influence of the discipline of women’s studies, which sheds light on the untold stories and the unsung heroes—filling in gaps and telling the whole truth. So, too, does Stronger Than Stigma.
Molly Green graduated with the MA in Women’s Studies in 2014. She is currently a doctoral candidate in the Department of Anthropology at UNC Chapel Hill. Her engaged research on climate change, agricultural technologies, and food sovereignty is informed by feminist and decolonizing theory
I first—reluctantly—began to claim the identity of feminist during my undergraduate years, but certainly did not identify strongly with this label or really immerse myself in feminist theory until I began the Women’s Studies MA program at UF in 2011. I somewhat fell into the program because it would afford me a funded opportunity to work with Dr. Florence Babb, who was an anthropologist and a faculty member in Women’s Studies at that time. While my parents and some old advisors were less than pleased at my pursuit of women’s studies, I feel fortunate that my path led me here because this program radically shifted my worldview, my career priorities, and the ways that I approach research, pedagogy, and relationships.
I recently finished 14 months of research in Colombia for my doctoral project on the ways that “climate smart” agricultural technologies are being leveraged by farmers in Cauca, Colombia in unexpected ways to create futures in which food sovereignty and dignity are centered and gender norms and roles are covertly challenged. Women in particular are the ones that are cleverly manipulating these technologies to achieve their visions for the future. My training at UF prepared me to track the often invisible ways that women enact agency and to begin looking toward collaborative and activist approaches to conducting research; these approaches were integral to the completion of my doctoral research.
In the classroom, my pedagogical practices are informed by my commitment to feminist theories and praxis that challenge “business-as-usual” approaches by addressing power inequalities and through a commitment to valuing diversity of experiences, perspectives, and social positionalities. I use various pedagogical strategies that encourage students to engage critically with course materials, to carry lessons learned in the classroom into their own lives, and to learn to listen, speak, and collaborate across differences. This approach is directly informed by my own experiences as a student at UF and the ways that different teachers and colleagues challenged me to examine my own positionalities and privilege and to question academia as a whole. My overall goals are to give students the tools to critically reflect on how power and oppression shape the world and their own lives and to work toward mutual understanding across differences.
Feminist theory and praxis have been important to both my personal and professional development and have shaped the commitments that are central to my research and teaching. My gender and women’s studies education in the Center was integral to shaping these commitments and I am grateful to my colleagues and professors at UF for the personal and professional growth that they nurtured while I was in Gainesville.
Moments of change encourage us to reflect, and I’m grateful for this space in which to look back on my experience of our shared women’s studies project. As an historian, looking back is what I do, so this is a sweet spot.
I taught my first class in the fall of 1980. Those students are now in their 60s. They made careers and families. One died too young. Most are lost to me. But in many ways, they were the same students we have now in our Women’s Studies classrooms: seeking, aware, grateful and surprised to find courses that address directly their most pressing questions: Where do I come from and where am I going? How can I make life better for myself and others? I think I helped some of them grow, and I know some of them changed me.
The times we live in seem so turbulent, as though so much that is good is eroding. Our students are frustrated, sometimes angry. This is where history and reflection are useful, not as a balm but as a goad. I found that my students often imagine history as a line of steady upward progress—we are going to the high of Point Z somewhere in the perfect future, having started at the low of Point A in some dark state of un-civilization. This is understandable, given how popular culture structures our historical narrative. But I tell students that history is more like the ridgeline of the Sierra Nevada mountains (my California roots showing): peaks and valleys all the way. And we, if we choose to engage in the work of change, are Sisyphus.
Fortunately for our ability to hope, the history of women is full of examples of creativity, resilience, and leadership. As illustration there is Catalina de Erauso, La Mona Alférez (the Lieutenant Nun), whose autobiography details the exploits of a 16th century Basque woman in New Spain. At a time when well-bred women were mothers or nuns, Erauso adopted the dress and personality of a man and adventured her way across two continents. Or closer to home, Melverina Elverina Peppercorn and Rosetta/Lyons Wakeman, who joined the Confederate and Union armies, respectively, by dressing as men to fight in the American Civil War. They are emblematic of many women (and girls—Melverina was 16) prior to the advent of identity tracking who dealt with the limitations of woman’s sphere by joining men’s—for reasons patriotic, monetary, or just for the sheer excitement of living in the wider world.
It would not do to oversimplify the past, and for every successful Catalina there were women and men who were burdened by legal and economic cultures that ground them down. But there are several lessons here. First, when I began graduate school it was still possible to read everything that had been written on the history of women; that is now impossible. People like Catalina, Melverina, and Rosetta were unknown. The work of reconstructing the lives of women in the past has been monumental and is ongoing. It is work that responds to its times, asking and answering current questions as a corrective to and expansion of what we understand about our present. Second, although it may not be what students want to hear, it is clear we cannot be complacent, we cannot assume that we are permanently on top of the peak or permanently in Death Valley. The Greeks were right about Sisyphus—struggling uphill is the human condition. What we need are tools to push our rock effectively. To that end, and finally, it is up to each of us to choose what work we will do that keeps the stones moving up the mountain. So long as we have the peak in our sights and keep our face to the light, we can make a difference.
To all of my colleagues in Women’s Studies and History, and to the approximately 4,000 students I worked with since 1980, thank you for your individual struggles up the mountain, for all the work you do to make us whole.