Women’s Studies to become Kennedy Center program, seek approval for major

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Editor’s note: A proposal for a women’s studies major is in the works as of April 18, 2018 and will be submitted to the University Curriculum Council in September 2018 for approval. There a currently 104 students enrolled in the women’s studies minor. 

BYU’s Global Women’s Studies program is looking forward to a bright future as it prepares to become a Kennedy Center program and seek approval to become a major.

The program houses the women’s studies minor, which celebrated its 25th anniversary last year. Since then, it has been approved to move from being jointly housed under the College of Humanities and the College of Family, Home and Social Sciences to being housed in the Kennedy Center.

The change to the Kennedy Center comes in the wake of the program’s name changing from Women’s Studies to Global Women’s Studies.

Renata Forste, the first Women’s Studies program coordinator, recently became the director of the Kennedy Center. Hegstrom said when that happened, Forste proposed the program become part of the Kennedy Center so BYU could become known for working on issues that affect men, women and children internationally.

Forste, a sociology professor and BYU’s associate international vice president, said the Global Women’s Studies program fits in well with the other Kennedy Center programs because it is interdisciplinary.

Humanities and media librarian Elizabeth Smart taught the Introduction to Global Women’s Studies course for the second time this fall. She said the program’s transition to the Kennedy Center makes great sense.

“I think the BYU student population is perfectly suited to the study of global women’s studies because of their many international and diverse experiences,” Smart said.

Hegstrom said while the program will officially become part of the Kennedy Center this month, she predicts the physical move to the Kennedy Center will occur in February or March after some remodeling. The program will gain more office space, she said.

Those involved with the program are also working on a proposal for a women’s studies major. The proposal has to work its way through the University Curriculum Council and the Board of Trustees to be approved.

“It’s a long process, so there are no guarantees,” Hegstrom said, though she added she remains hopeful.

The second wave of the women’s movement swept the country in the 1960s and ’70s, dealing with issues like pay equity, workplace equality and reproductive rights.

Universities then began to create women’s studies programs. The first of these was the Women’s Studies program at San Diego State University, created in 1970.

According to BYU Women’s Studies librarian Connie Lamb, Dallin H. Oaks, who was president of BYU at the time, began focusing on these issues. He formed the Women’s Advisory Committee with Marilyn Arnold, an English professor. The committee suggested the creation of a research institute.

This timeline details key women’s studies events from the creation of the Women’s Research Institute to the 25th anniversary of the Women’s Studies minor. (Connie Lamb)

The Women’s Research Institute was created, directed first by Ida Smith.

Lamb said Smith mainly focused on gathering women’s studies materials and raising awareness about the program. The next director, Mary Stovall Richards, focused on research on women not only in the church, but also in other areas.

The Women’s Studies minor was established in 1991 under the next director, Marie Cornwall, allowing students to become involved. Bonnie Ballif-Spanvill, who served as the next director, began leading the institute in research of its own instead of just encouraging faculty to do research.

In 2009, BYU closed the Women’s Research Institute and created the Women’s Studies program. According to Lamb, this caused some heartache, though the minor and other Women’s Research Institute activities have continued. Now the Women’s Studies Program does not conduct its own research, but it does still give research grants.

Valerie Hegstrom, the program’s current coordinator, said she became involved in women’s studies as she began looking for lost women writers in her area of focus: 16th and 17th century literature and theater. Over 25 years, she has identified 24 forgotten female writers from this time period, though her professors in graduate school told her there were none.

Like the case of Hegstrom’s lost women writers, Forste said that when she teaches the introductory women’s studies course, she points out the role that women have played in everything.

“It’s not that there aren’t women doing amazing things; it’s just that we don’t always know about it,” Forste said.

Sociology major and Women’s Studies Honor Society co-president Jorden Jackson is one of 81 current Globel Women’s Studies minors. Jackson said her dream is to become a sociologist activist focused on gender.

“There hasn’t been anything else that I could see myself doing for the rest of my life,” Jackson said.

Jackson said that while serving a mission in the Philippines, she witnessed both moments of sexism and triumphs of equality. She said coming back to the U.S. was eye-opening to her because she was able to see more clearly the inequality at home and the progress still to be made.

“Women’s studies has helped me empirically pinpoint why certain things in the world don’t feel right,” Jackson said.

For the faculty and students involved in Global Women’s Studies, there is only more room to grow and progress.

“I think it will just continue to get bigger,” Forste said. “And I think adding the major will just provide more opportunities for students to be involved.”

Editor’s Note: Interested in the Global Women’s Studies program? Read about 5 women’s studies classes you should take before graduating from BYU here.

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