On October 23, 2012, the WMST faculty – or GSWS faculty, as they are now known – voted unanimously to change the name of the program. “We’ve been discussing this possibility for several years,” says GSWS Program Director Professor Gul Ozyegin. “It’s been a contentious issue around the country, “ she goes on, “but when a colleague of mine in New Jersey asked me for the William & Mary story, I said: ‘There is no story!’ The whole process was very smooth and easy.” Professor Ozyegin attributes the smoothness of the process to the collegial atmosphere in the program. “We were just in synch,” she says. “And when the time was right, it happened.”
The GSWS faculty first started a conversation about changing the program’s name at least six years ago, and it became more focused and intense when in summer 2011, the program began to prepare for its periodic external review. As GSWS faculty worked on the “self-study” that was submitted to the external reviewer, they began to feel that the title “Women’s Studies” – to which many of them were very attached – nonetheless no longer reflected the breadth of the program’s current offerings, nor its future direction. Departments and programs around the country were evolving in different ways, and a survey conducted in 2011 by WMST major Mira Nair of 439 programs showed a wide variety of titles, including Gender and Sexuality Studies; Feminist Studies; Feminist Studies and Queer Studies; Gender and Feminist Studies; and Gender and Women’s Studies. By 2011, only thirty-five percent of programs called themselves Women’s Studies, pure and simple.
The GSWS faculty were very aware that the conversation at William & Mary was unfolding in the context of broader changes in the feminist movement and in academic programs around the country, and this knowledge made their deliberations even more exciting and urgent. More faculty, students and staff got involved, sharing ideas, comparing experiences and making suggestions. At the program’s annual planning meeting in September 2012 – which drew a record number of attendees – there was enormous enthusiasm for the change; it was unanimously approved by the WMST Executive Committee meeting in October; and then the final vote by the Arts & Sciences faculty came on February 5, 2013. It was finally official: Women’s Studies is now Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies! The newly renamed GSWS faculty celebrated with a cake with three candles, one for the past, one for the present and one for the future. Look out for changes to the website to reflect our new name, the new course prefix GSWS, and other exciting initiatives!
So why now? Professor Ozyegin explains that in some ways, the name change was a response to student demand. “Our decision reflected not only the state of feminist education around the country, but also our realization that our curriculum had already been expanding for years as our students and our own research took us in exciting new directions,” she explains. Over ten years, the program had increased its offerings in queer theory, sexuality studies, masculinity studies, transgender and transnational feminisms, introducing new courses and making a deliberate effort to challenge many of the assumptions on which traditional “Women’s Studies” programs are based. Transgender students are now a powerful presence on the William & Mary campus, and it was important to the GWSW faculty to create an environment in which they felt at home – both socially and academically. “Many times,” Professor Ozyegin remarked, “students would tell me they loved our courses but were put off declaring a Women’s Studies major because they didn’t like the name and didn’t feel it reflected their concerns.” Comments like this, she notes, came from a variety of different student groups, and they helped her to realize that our students think more flexibly and more radically about gender than they did even ten years ago. “We want all students who are interested to find their voices in the program,” she says, “and we want everyone to feel included and to find something that interests them in our courses, our programming and our events.”
Will the program change now that it has a new, long mouthful of a name? Only in ways that strengthen that philosophy of inclusion, says Professor Ozyegin. “We want to continue doing what we do best,” she remarks, “inspiring students to ask questions, to come to their own conclusions, and to go out and change the world.” And if the new name means that the GSWS program will continue to increase the size of its graduating class, that’s something that Professor Ozyegin welcomes. “Whatever our name,” she says, “we are here to stay!”