Nadia Brown, a Purdue University professor of political science and African American studies, was appointed as the next director of the women’s and gender studies program and will assume her new role in August 2021.
While at Purdue, Brown started the #MeTooPoliSci Collective, a group which organizes to combat sexual harassment and assault against people working in political science, and also helped grow the journal “Politics, Groups, and Identities” as its co-lead editor. The Purdue journal was started in March 2013 and publishes quarterly, with a focus on interdisciplinary identity politics. She is also working to finish her upcoming book, “Hair is not Just Hair: The Politics of Appearance for Black Women, Candidates and Elected Officials.”
When she comes to Georgetown University, Brown will also serve as a professor in the department of government and in the department of African American studies, according to Georgetown College’s May 4 news release announcing her hiring.
Brown said she is proud of her previous projects and looks forward to the opportunity to begin a new journey at Georgetown.
“I like building things and transforming things. Like the journal that I took over, “Politics, Groups and Identities.” It was a pretty small kind of mom-and-pop shop journal just in its infancy. So I’m really happy bringing it to its present presence and being the model journal of its size,” Brown said in a Zoom interview with The Hoya. “So I’m really excited about the opportunity to build a new institution, continued upon the foundation that was laid.”
Brown’s appointments in the government and African American studies departments will make her eligible for tenure, according to women’s and gender studies program coordinator Leslie Byers.
“My understanding is that the College would like to have all program directors be in tenure line positions, and since WGST isn’t a tenure granting department, the director would be chosen to also serve in another department as well as being our director,” Byers wrote in an email to The Hoya.
Women’s and gender studies is a program offered by the College, but it has not yet achieved departmental status, meaning that women’s and gender studies professors, including You-Me Park, the program’s current director, cannot apply for tenure.
Students initially demanded the university upgrade the program to a department in a 2017 letter to College Dean Chris Celenza. Their initial proposal entailed two full-time tenure-track positions, two to three additional full-time nontenure-track faculty positions and a five-year dual enrollment Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts program.
Talia Parker (COL ’20), a student program assistant for the women’s and gender studies program since 2017, said she is hopeful Brown’s appointment is a sign that the College is finally acting toward demands to make the program a department.
“I think Nadia Brown will face much of the same bureaucratic obstacles that current staff and faculty have endured the past few years, but I hope that in establishing this new director position with tenure, the Dean’s office is demonstrating its commitment to and prioritization of bolstering the resources of WGST and moving this program towards a full department,” Parker wrote in an email to The Hoya.
The women’s and gender studies program deserves the benefits and security of department status because of the positive experiences it provides to its students, according to Parker.
“The professors and staff are endlessly supportive and caring – and of course brilliant! – and the WGST Program has truly felt like my home on campus,” Parker wrote. “Students and faculty have been advocating for its departmentalization for years. We want WGST to be a department to guarantee tenure-line for our beloved faculty, more stability for adjunct professors, expanded course offerings into intersectional issues related to WGST, and greater opportunities for students.”
In March 2019, after failing to see anything more than a committee created to review their proposal, students penned another proposal demanding concrete action. Celenza’s office received a report from the committee on the 2017 proposal in summer 2018, but as of press time, he has yet to formally comment on the proposal’s status.
This spring, the Black Survivors Coalition launched the #GeorgetownDoesntCare campaign, and among its demands was that the university finally establish a women’s and gender studies department. Vice President for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and Chief Diversity Officer Rosemary Kilkenny (LAW ’87) and Vice President for Student Affairs Todd Olson commented on the activists’ demands in a universitywide email in February, prior to Brown’s hiring.
The university comment at the time neither confirmed nor denied that the College was any closer to granting women’s and gender studies departmental status.
“The College has completed final interviews with candidates to direct the WGST program,” Kilkenny and Olson wrote in February. “Academic leaders will also review current courses to ensure the most appropriate curriculum.”
Brown said that during the hiring process she talked with College leadership about a long term plan to expand the program, referencing the growth of the American Studies program as a model for how to increase its influence.
“This is something that was suggested to me by the College leadership as a potential model for bringing in faculty members so people can come in as fellows or perhaps move parts of their lines into the department getting into the program,” Brown said. “And with a sustained number of perhaps around eight faculty, you might be able to then look to see if we can hire externally and then move the program to department status.”
Brown’s academic and professional experience makes her well-qualified to take over the director position.
“I think Dr. Brown is a wonderful choice,” Byers wrote. “She will fit into the program well, and I have no reservations working with her. I know she has a lot of experience in grant writing, program planning, and ideas about academic opportunities for our students.”
When Brown arrives in fall 2021, her immediate goals will be to connect with students to help make the women’s and gender studies program more reflective of student interests and to further promote the program as an interdisciplinary field, according to Brown.
“I would love to get the opportunity to speak with students,” she said. “First, to kind of figure out a little bit of what are the things that students would really crave for this program and what are some of the initiatives that students feel strongly about and how can I be a conduit for that.”
Brown has roots in Washington, D.C., and said she is excited to return to the political hub.
“There’s no better place in the world to be an American political scientist. I’m also a graduate at Howard University,” she said. “My partner, he’s also a graduate of Howard, so, you know, it’s a homecoming of sorts for us to be back here.”