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K-State Today

September 6, 2012

Enhancing diversity: Women's studies program recognized for celebrating the power of difference

Submitted by Communications and Marketing

The department of women's studies has received Kansas State University's Outstanding Department or Unit Award for Enhancing Diversity.

The award is given by the office of the provost to recognize departments and units that have made extraordinary achievements to enhance diversity within the department, college and university. As this year's recipient of the award, the women's studies department, will receive a plaque and $2,500.

"Through innovative programs, diverse curriculum integration and recruitment of students, faculty and staff from underrepresented groups, the women's studies department is committed to enhancing diversity," said April Mason, university provost and senior vice president. "The department is truly deserving of the award and has shown that it understands, celebrates and promotes diversity within the Kansas State University community."

"Some people might say, 'Well, of course, they have done an outstanding job in promoting diversity; after all, it's women's studies.' What those sentiments overlook is the deeply nuanced understanding of diversity that the department has and the way it has brought diversity to the center of everything it does," said Myra Gordon, associate provost for diversity. "After years of work, the result is 360 degrees of inclusive excellence. Indeed, with regard to diversity, the department of women's studies is in 2012 what the entire university hopes to be in 2025."

Diversity is at the core of the women's studies program, said Michele Janette, women's studies department head and associate professor of English.

"Our commitment to diversity infuses our curriculum, our pedagogy, our research, our hiring, our investment in students and student success, and our aspirations for the future of our world," Janette said. "We are honored to have this work valued and recognized by the university at large."

The women's studies program was founded in 1978 to bring diversity to the university in several ways: to get women's experiences, contributions and knowledge into curriculum; to support the recruitment and retention of women into the faculty; and to educate college students about women's issues and women's experiences.

"We have continued this mission as well as expanding our understanding that gender is a social structure that affects all of humanity, and that it is not a monolith: Women and men do not experience their lives simply as gendered beings, but through many other categories of identity as well -- including race, class, sexuality and geographic location -- and that these various ways of categorizing people are interrelated and are infused with issues of power," Janette said.

The women's studies department has a diverse student, faculty and staff body that includes underrepresented groups. All seven full-time faculty members are women and four of the seven are women of color. All faculty members are also engaged in projects that directly relate to gender, race, class and sexual diversity. Additionally, 20 percent of women's studies graduates in the last 12 months have been students of color.

The women's studies department has sponsored the Women of Color Film Series, which has brought to campus a variety of films by and about women of color. The department has also offered a Connecting Across Topics, or CAT, community course called Gender, Race and Class in American Culture, which is collaboratively taught by Valerie Padilla Carroll, an instructor in women's studies, and Cheryl Ragar, an assistant professor of American ethnic studies.

International diversity is also a key component in departmental activities. The department is developing study abroad opportunities in Mexico and Vietnam, and women's studies faculty have active research collaborations with colleagues in Uganda and China.

The department will continue to enhance diversity in the coming year. This year, it is launching its new curriculum for majors, which emphasizes issues of diversity. The department is also sponsoring and co-sponsoring events that promote diversity. Some of these events include:

  • A visit by Janice Gould, a two-spirit Native American poet, on Nov. 13 in the K-State Student Union Little Theatre.
  • A visit by Rey Chow, an Asian-American cultural critic, on March 8, 2013.
  • Speaker Stephanie Coontz, a historian of women and culture, on May 3, 2013, in the Alumni Center Ballroom.

"We understand diversity as both seeking for inclusion, and also understanding the transformative power of difference: that when we take seriously the knowledges that are produced from different perspectives, we are challenged to transform ourselves, our culture and our ideas for the better," Janette said.