On March 15, the women’s and gender studies program commemorated its 30th anniversary with a conference celebrating gender scholarship. Panelists and audience members alike discussed the paradoxical experience of being a feminist in the age of President Donald Trump — when every day seems to bring both energized outrage and existential despair.  

Despite the positive energy generated by record-breaking women’s marches last year and the necessary conversations on sexual violence occasioned by the #MeToo movement, gender equality feels — to many — as elusive as ever. As women’s and gender studies major Annie Mason (COL ’18) noted at the conference, staying “woke” to inequality and oppression can be exhausting.

I frequently encounter such fatigue in office hours, from students coming of age at a time when women have never had more opportunities. Yet the culture has clearly not shifted as we might have hoped.

To combat the fatigue in our present moment, we must look beyond the daily frustrations and imagine the world we want to live in.  Feminist history — in truth, the history of all social movements — has always been made by visionaries imagining a better world, keeping a larger goal in mind and untouched by daily frustrations and disappointments. If we change the questions we ask, we can move beyond individual struggles or even deleterious political circumstances and reorient toward larger societal transformation.

As the Women’s and Gender Studies Conference drew to a close, I asked attendees to consider what they might accomplish if not for the details limiting their visions: What would it mean to envision not just equality, but true gender justice?

Attendees shared hope they had found in personal moments of self-revelation and acceptance; African American studies professor and panelist Rosemary Ndubuizu identified the inherited legacies of struggle as her source of hope, providing historical precedent of people bringing about then-unimaginable change. “Freedom dreams,” she reminded us, “require radical dreaming.”

With that message in mind, I offer these reflections on the women’s and gender studies program as part of this legacy of freedom-dreaming, to honor the bedrock of feminist labor and love that has supported the program for its first 30 years and encourages us to continue to think ahead.

As a field, women’s and gender studies calls for rigorous intersectional, personal and political theorizing. Alumni speak of the program as a community for feminist thought, where both professors and students alike invest in the project of collective knowledge building.

Still, social change comes slowly. While four years on the Hilltop might profoundly transform one’s consciousness and life trajectory, institutional transformation takes more time. The women’s and gender studies program has gone from being introduced as a minor in 1984 to becoming a major housed within interdisciplinary studies to a freestanding program within the College in 1994; women’s and gender studies only became its own major in 2006.

WGST students are currently petitioning the university to grant the program departmental status. Once a department, WGST would be able to offer its now-contracted professors tenure lines, promoting curricular continuity and attracting the highest caliber of gender scholars to the university. Further, departmental status would provide additional infrastructure for faculty and student research and open up the potential for graduate study.

When I think about the future, I envision a Georgetown where the lessons taught in women’s and gender studies program classrooms — particularly on topics such as consent and gender diversity — are fully incorporated into the broader campus culture, where they can shape policies and lead transformation.

The top recommendation of the Sexual Assault and Misconduct Task Force, assembled by University President John J. DeGioia in June 2016 to help Georgetown respond to the threat of on-campus sexual assault more effectively, was the development of a semesterlong first-year seminar focusing on “healthy masculinity, rape culture … identity, diversity, community [and] intersectionality.” Such a seminar is an obvious starting point for collaboration and synergy.

Indeed, this course has already been developed and is taught several times a semester as WGST 140, “Intro to Women’s and Gender Studies,” a discussion-based seminar exploring all of these key topics across global and local scales.

Popular, with a long waitlist, our program currently lacks the resources to offer more than three or four sections in any given semester. Yet we commonly receive student feedback saying this course profoundly shifts their perspectives and should be required for all Hoyas.

If the university truly wants to invest in combatting sexual assault by providing students with a vocabulary to talk about consent, gender and power, it must invest in the future of women’s and gender studies. This investment is not merely academic but is rooted in the same logic undergirding cura personalis: theory and practice united in care of the whole.

My vision is just one of many possible futures. As feminist faculty, students, administration and staff — alongside our allies — continue to proactively talk to each other across our varied spaces and communities, I look forward to hearing yours.

April Sizemore-Barber is an assistant professor of the practice in women’s and gender studies. This viewpoint is the first installation of WGSTea, a three-part miniseries reflecting on the 30th anniversary of the women’s and gender studies program.

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