Women's Studies faculty and students win awards for teaching, scholarship and activism| May 10, 2012
Women's Studies may be a small program, but it continues to draw accolades across campus for the excellence of its teachers and of its students. Two professors from Women's Studies won campus-wide teaching awards in 2012. Professor Nancy Gray (Women's Studies/English) was the recipient of the 2012 Ashley Graves, Jr. Award for Sustained Excellence in Teaching.
“A legendary teacher whose contribution to both the depth and diversity of interdisciplinary curriculum at the College is peerless,” is how one colleague described her. A brilliant teacher and a transformative educator, Professor Nancy Gray has been a driving force for Women’s Studies. Her colleagues testify that it is due to Nancy’s efforts that the Women’s Studies Program thrives as a distinct interdisciplinary intellectual enterprise. Due to her rigorous work in Women’s Studies and in English – as the Director of Women’s Studies and curriculum chair, as the designer of many new courses on gender, sexuality, representation and narrative – the curricula in both Women’s Studies and in English have expanded and they have been enriched as a result. As one colleague affirms, Nancy “…made herself indispensable, and we owe a great deal of the current health and vitality of both the English and the Women’s Studies curricula to her hard work and creativity.”
Her emphasis is on a process-driven pedagogy. Moving students from passive consumers of knowledge to independent thinkers defines her teaching philosophy. Professor Gray creates a learning environment that is personally supportive of students while addressing different learning styles through close mentoring and innovative teaching strategies. She consistently receives the highest praise from students who repeatedly cite how privileged they feel to take highly challenging and imaginative classes with such a brilliant professor. “I want to become Nancy Gray when I grow up,” is just one of the many glowing comments she has received. Such a comment not only reflects students’ respect for Professor Gray’s intellect but also – more significantly – their admiration of her total persona also embodying sophisticated wit and passion. They praise her solidarity with her students, her vision as a thinker, as well as her ability to connect with students as teacher and fellow learner. She is a true role model, inspiring and empowering students by endowing them with valuable intellectual tools, with passion, and with the imagination needed to live meaningful lives and to become responsible, compassionate, citizens of the world.
Professor Suzanne Raitt (English) was the recipient of the Arts & Sciences 2012 Jennifer and Devin Murphy Award for outstanding integration of faculty research with the teaching of undergraduate or graduate students. Time and again, Professor Raitt has pioneered genuinely innovative and exciting initiatives to incorporate undergraduate research into the curricula and helped to establish new standards for undergraduate scholarship. This semester she is introducing students in her upper-level class on Divorce and the British Victorian and Edwardian Novel to primary research on legislation and newspaper coverage of divorce laws in Britain. Students write, for example, three reports on specific divorce cases, related laws, and newspaper coverage, underscoring the contextual background of marriage and divorce in British literature and the links to be traced between literary representations and law. You can read more about the course in our newsletter.
Four students were also honored by the Women's Studies Program in 2012. The Dean's Prize for Student Scholarship on Women is awarded to the students whose work is judged most successful in advancing our knowledge of women. Katelyn Durkin (English, '12) won the undergraduate prize for her paper, “Into the Bookstore, Into the Community, Into Her Bed: Political Power, Sexual Pleasure, and The Community of Women Readers in Alison Bechdel’s Dykes to Watch Out For,” written for Professor Jennifer Putzi’s “Women and Popular (Print) Culture” course. Katelyn's essay argues for the importance of feminist bookstores and reading for lesbian communities in the 70s, 80s, and 90s by way of Alison Bechdel’s comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For. Durkin follows the cartoonist’s decision to close a fictional bookstore within the strip, thus mourning the loss of key lesbian reading community spaces. Although Bechdel’s created community includes many ethnicities, sexualities, abilities, body sizes, classes, and political beliefs, Durkin notes that their power seems to stem from the shared reading experiences of its members, and asks how the role of the community bookstore will be replaced.
Kathryn Snyder, a graduate student, won the prize for her essay “Temptress of the Stage: The Specter of the Widow in Colonial Theater and Culture,” originally written for Professor Karin Wulf. Kathryn's paper traces theater and widowhood as analogous locations of cultural anxiety in the American colonies. In a range of early modern discourses, from bloody Jacobean plays (like The Duchess of Malfi), to broadsides, gazettes, and court records, widows and theaters were seen to threaten sexual and social disorder—or promised, if properly controlled, prosperity and providence. Lucidly written and conscientiously researched, Snyder’s work shows how both figures combine to trouble imperial and nationalistic projects in America.
This year's winners of the Friends of Women's Studies Prize for Student Activism have both been extraordinary, transforming presences on campus in 20110-12. Laura Andrew (Women's Studies, '12) has been involved in more initiatives than we have room to list. You might have seen her planting an on-campus rain garden to combat polluting runoff into Lake Matoaka, or you might have encountered her during Spring 2010 Sexual Assault Awareness Week, "Say Something," which she planned and organized. She also completed an internship with Williamsburg-James City County Community Action Agency's initiative Project Discovery, which helps students who are either first generation students or living below the poverty line. Laura organized after school workshops and developed a filing system to keep track of students' progress into the future so that the success of the program would be measured. Laura also joined the campus worker solidarity movement and organized the March 10th, 2010 rally in the Crim Dell Meadow, as well as a 2012 demonstration to mourn the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. Most recently, she was the driving force behind putting together the first ever LGBTIQ Pride Festival at W&M.
Margarita (Maggie) Russolello '12 is a Literary and Cultural Studies and Africana Studies double major. Her activism has been long-term and on-going over several years now. During her summers she has volunteered on a sustainable farm in Mira Flores, Ecuador, in 2009; and in 2010 and 2011, she volunteered full-time with Grace Smith House (Poughkeepsie, New York) which enables women and their children to live free from domestic violence. She is perhaps best known for her work on campus. Margarita spends most of her time talking to housekeepers at the college, who are majority Black women. She listens to their stories and empowers them to find their voice and speak out for their rights, as workers. For the past three years, she has been involved in Tidewater Labor Support Committee, The Living Wage Campaign, now named the Worker and Student Alliance. She stepped into leadership and has been a defender of worker’s rights on campus. She has also served as regional organizer for the organization, United Students Against Sweatshops and is working with Southerners on New Ground, a home for LGBTQIA grassroots organizing around folks of color. She shines as one of our most dedicated activists.