March 28, 1996
Vol. 15, No. 14

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    New Gender Studies Center will begin program in fall

    A new Center for Gender Studies, a campus-wide research and teaching resource for faculty, students and staff, has been established at the University and will begin operating in autumn quarter.

    The center is "an umbrella covering people from many departments, with many different gender-related interests," said Leora Auslander, Associate Professor in History and newly appointed Director of the center. "We hope to reach out beyond the Humanities and Social Sciences divisions to the schools of law, medicine, social service administration and public policy, as well as to the Biological and Physical Sciences divisions, the Lab Schools and the libraries."

    The establishment of the center was negotiated by Auslander and a core group of fellow faculty members: Lauren Berlant, Professor in English Language & Literature; Jacqueline Bhabha, Lecturer in the Law School; Norma Field, Professor in East Asian Languages & Civilizations; Susan Gal, Professor in Anthropology; and Elizabeth Helsinger, Professor in English Language & Literature. The group worked with Provost Geoffrey Stone; Philip Gossett, Dean of the Humanities Division; Richard Saller, Dean of the Social Sciences Division; and John Boyer, Dean of the College.

    "The administration is very supportive," Auslander said. "Since I came here eight years ago, more and more faculty members have been hired who work in women's studies and in gay and lesbian studies. Also, more people have been willing to identify with gender studies. It's now seen not as a passing fad, but as serious academic work."

    The unusual focus on gender studies rather than the narrower women's studies reflects the desire among the center's founders to study gender as a system, rather than as simply a reflection of female or male experience. The broader focus includes studies in sexuality, as well.

    "The center will foster interdisciplinary research and teaching on feminism, the social construction of women and men, the powerful metaphors of masculinity, femininity and sexuality, and gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered studies," according to Auslander.

    "I have projects that I want to work on, but my projects aren't the focus of the center," she said. "My hope is that research can be done by different groups on different subjects, even if the projects stem from different ideologies. I am deeply committed to this center serving as a bridge between faculty members, between students, between departments."

    Auslander said she doesn't foresee a conflict between those who are interested in gender studies for academic reasons and those who are interested for political or social ones. "There's no such thing as neutral research, no such thing as neutral teaching. Neither one should be ideological, but there isn't a way to detach the production of knowledge from the production of power," she said.

    She added, "There may be tension surrounding an expectation that this will also be a women's center -- that is, a place women can go for information, resources and counseling. The University is certainly in need of that kind of place, and I would lobby for it, but that is not our mandate. Our focus is on research and teaching."

    Nearly 40 faculty members have expressed interest in the center, and more than 20 faculty members are working on committees that are deciding the details of the center's programs.

    Auslander said that one committee will consider whether the center should grant degrees and, if so, which degrees will be granted. Another committee is creating a curriculum. "What's settled for the fall is the two-quarter undergraduate course that will be taught on questions in gender studies and the graduate teaching practicum in gender and pedagogy," she said.

    There is also tremendous student interest. Nearly 100 students showed up at a February meeting about the new center, she said.

    Future plans include searching for funding to start an endowment and to finance lectures, workshops and conferences. The University is funding the center for three years, with the expectation that the center will secure its own funding after that time.

    Additionally, Auslander hopes that the center will find a permanent location. "Ideally, we'd find a house with enough space for offices, seminar rooms, a kitchen and hangout space," she said.

    In the meantime, questions and ideas are welcome. "The Center for Gender Studies is self-selecting," Auslander said. "We hope that anyone in the community with an interest in gender studies will seek us out."