March marks Women’s History Month, which can trace its roots back to Women’s History Week, first celebrated in 1978, and the original International Women’s Day, which was first celebrated in 1908 when thousands of New York City women garment workers went on strike due to poor working conditions and low wages. Women’s History Month was designated by the US Congress in 1980—a decade after Providence College began admitting women as students, and seven years before the establishment of PC’s Women’s and Gender Studies program.
“Women’s History Month is significant because it pushes us to uncover, make visible, recognize, respect, and celebrate women’s knowledge and contributions across time and space,” says Dr. Abigail Brooks, director of the Providence College WGS program and associate professor of sociology. “In truth, learning and teaching about women’s history should not be limited to one month a year…Still, Women’s History Month pushes critical awareness, teaching, and learning about women’s contributions.”
In the Women’s and Gender Studies program at PC, students study social and natural sciences, health sciences, the humanities, and the arts. Students learn and develop skills in reading, writing, critical thinking, and constructive dialogue. “Students are introduced not only to women’s contributions and struggles, but to gender as a critical category of oppression and analysis,” says Dr. Brooks, “and to the intersections between women, gender, race, class, sexuality, and other identities, categories, communities, and lived material realities that inform and shape people’s everyday lives, contributions, and struggles.” WGS majors often have other majors and minors as well, and students can pursue careers in law, health and medicine, social work, journalism, education and higher education, academia, business, and nonprofits.
Many students believe that the College has an obligation to do better in regard to women’s equality, rights, and inclusivity on campus. Here are a few testimonies from women students:
“As a woman in math and computer science, I feel like the math faculty and other math students have been extremely supportive and have not been biased in the fact that I’m a woman. But I will say that at some points, when I tutor specifically computer science, I get people who are surprised that I’m tutoring computer science because of my gender.”
“Being a woman at PC has its challenges. There are times when I am the only one of three women sitting in my economics classes; there are also times in my political science classes when the male students feel that they can speak to me differently than their male counterparts. But in terms of male faculty being supportive of my endeavors, I can’t say enough.”
“I am really reluctant to find misogyny in people. I like to always err on the side of ignorance and not malice. In my three years here, that part of me has decreased. Very very smart men, professors on campus, have said things that are really shocking to me and people I know.”
Dr. Brooks suggests that PC should incorporate “more feminist, intersectional material, research, scholarship, and contributions into course curricula.” She also recommends that PC reassess and expand the current diversity proficiency requirement. Additionally, diversifying faculty across all departments would be beneficial. Many students agree also that PC should better provide reproductive health care, including birth control, for faculty, staff, and students, as well as affordable day-care facilities and family leave policies for faculty and staff. Increasing, expanding, and improving resources and promotional support for women’s sports should also be on the College’s agenda.
In regard to the WGS program, Dr. Brooks is hoping to help the program transition to a department. They will be submitting their proposal by the end of this semester. “A key goal for Women’s and Gender Studies is to grow our student numbers, and to continue to expand and evolve in new and exciting ways into the future. Spread the word!”