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Scenes from Women's Studies

About Gender and Women's Studies

Above: Students from GWS 400: Critical Issues and Feminist Scholarship attended the "Crossing Borders: Immigration and Gender" conference at Radcliffe in Boston in April 2013.


History of Gender and Women's Studies

Faculty at the University of Rhode Island began teaching courses focusing on the lives, experiences, and culture of women in the early 1970s. Our first course, "Women and Society," was taught during the spring 1972 semester. Enrollment was to be limited to 50 students, but 200 arrived at the first class meeting. All were invited to join the course. Professors Judith Anderson and Sharon Strom coordinated the course and 20 faculty members served as teachers, visiting lecturers, or panelists.

By 1978, a variety of departments had developed offerings and core courses in Gender and Women's Studies were approved. The first major graduated in 1979, and the degree was formally approved by the Board of Governors in 1980. Since these beginnings, the program expanded rapidly; today, there are a total of 65 courses which have been approved for majors and minors from Gender and Women's Studies, 16 departments, and five colleges. The core staff of the program includes a director; a full-time, tenure-track faculty member who holds the Carlson Endowed Chair in Gender and Women's Studies; a graduate assistant; and a part-time time office manager. An additional 18 faculty members from 11 departments hold joint appointments in Gender and Women's Studies under terms defined in the University Manual and approved by their departments, deans, and the Provost. This appointment commits them to teach one core GWS course every three years in addition to other program responsibilities. Twenty-seven other faculty from 11 departments affiliate with the program and offer courses in their own disciplines approved for GWS majors or minors, or engage in research related to Gender and Women's Studies. Five faculty hold adjunct appointments and offer courses in their areas of expertise. Four faculty hold emerita/us status. We have approximately 30 majors and a number of declared minors.

Gender and Women's Studies has received a number of gifts which have strengthened our program and benefited our students. In 1980, a colleague and benefactor established the Fredrika Wild Schweers Memorial Lecture in Women's Health. This endowment supports a lecture every April on some aspect of women's health. In 1984, the same benefactor established the "Mother" Jones scholarship for needy majors and minors. This fund was later increased by the benefactor's mother, who left money in her will to expand the work that her daughter had begun. In 1994, we became the beneficiary of a one million dollar endowment set up by Eleanor Carlson in 1988 to insure that our program would continue and expand. This endowment provided $750,000 for an endowed chair in Gender and Women's Studies; $225,000 for scholarships for single mothers with dependent children; $15,000 for an endowed lecture; and $10,000 for library purchases. Additional moneys were left in her will, some for the chair and some for scholarships for majors. The Program established a new award, the Eleanor M. Carlson Trust Scholarship, which is given annually to one or two GWS students for academic excellence, community or campus service, and financial need.

The Program made a commitment to broaden the curriculum to include the physical and natural sciences by selecting a faculty member with a Ph.D. in Genetics to occupy the Carlson Endowed Chair. We view this as an essential step as we move into the 21st century to educate the second generation of Gender and Women's Studies graduates. The URI Gender and Women's Studies Program was one of ten programs selected nationally to participate in the Women's Studies, Science and Engineering Curriculum Project, funded by the National Science Foundation through the Association of American Colleges and Universities. The goal of the project is to make science more attractive to women by expanding the content of science curricula in higher education. The project aims to build connections between science, engineering and women's studies by incorporating the new scholarship in gender studies into undergraduate science, engineering and math courses. In addition, Gender and Women's Studies courses will begin to include more science content. The project aims to graduate more women with science and engineering degrees and more scientific literate women with Gender and Women's Studies degrees.

Every semester the program averages about 570 students enrolled in courses with a WMS designation (and, about 700 students are enrolled in cross-listed courses offered by other departments).

We sponsor two endowed lectures each year, the Carlson lecture in the Fall semester, and the Fredrika Wild Schweers lecture on Women and Health in the Spring. In addition, we sponsor the Dana Shugar Colloquium that invites new faculty at URI to talk about their areas of interest.

Current Projects

Gender and Women's Studies' new Letters Gen Ed course has been approved! Register for GWS 325 International Women's Issues for next semester!

GWS has successfully brought two key GWS courses face-to-face instead of online: GWS 310 (Race, Class, and Sexuality in Women's Lives) and GWS 315 (Intro to Feminist Theories and Methodologies). These courses will alternate semesters for being taught face-to-face in Providence and Kingston.

We are working to extend our outreach and significance as we collaborate with other URI Departments to make GWS courses be at the cutting edge of contemporary scholarship and issues:

  • African and African-American Studies
  • Economics
  • English
  • Film Studies
  • Honors
  • History
  • Music
  • Writing

We are also extending our reach  to collaborate with URI minors in:

  • Leadership
  • Peace and Non-violence
  • Sustainability

Note especially the cross-listing of these classes:

  • GWS 351/FLM 351: Women and Documentary
  • GWS 386/ECN 386: The Economics of Race, Class, and Gender
  • GWS 387/HIS 387: Latin American History at the Movies
  • GWS 490/AAF 498: Gender, Africa, and Sustainable Development
  • GWS 490/MUS 470/MUS 570: Women, Pedagogy, and Musicianship
  • GWS 490H: Women Writing Their Lives

Note also the option to take a newly designed Women and the Natural Sciences GEN ED class (GWS 220) in Kingston.


Faculty from Gender and Women's Studies (GWS) recently came together in a retreat sponsored by a mini-grant from the Office of Student Learning, Outcomes Assessment, and Accreditation and the Davis Foundation. Jody Lisberger, GWS Director, delivered a presentation entitled, "Building on Assessment: Teaching Analysis," which started from the assessment work of the Gender and Women's Studies department over the past three years and focused on how to teach the critical thinking skills students need developed at the 100-level to prepare them for the 300-level. Jody emphasized the importance of teaching specific writing and thinking skills to help students learn, for example, the difference between summary and analysis, and to teach them how to interpret quotations and data in a way that leads them to key ideas and valuable analysis. Jody has seen how the results of the Gender and Women's Studies assessments have contributed to an improvement in teaching ability, strategies, and consistency in the program, which she feels has contributed to the four-fold increase in the number of GWS majors from 2009-2012. The quality of teaching and the constructive use of the assessment results have garnered this program a strong reputation across campus. The presentation included a review of the overarching department goals, survey results on what skills students take away (and don't yet take away) from GWS, expectations of students achievement defined in rubrics for discussion, reading, and writing at various course-levels, and specific exercises and models for teaching critical thinking and analysis skills. GWS maintains a clear and focused commitment to assessment and continuous improvement of their program.