On March 1 — the first day of Women’s History Month — over 270 Georgetown University students signed and delivered a petition to College Dean Christopher Celenza’s office, calling attention to university inaction in forming a full women’s and gender studies department.
Demands for a WGST department began in October 2017, after students submitted a proposal calling for the transition from a program to a department. Despite mounting pressure from students to establish a department, Georgetown has failed to respond. The university only promised to hire a new program director and form an advisory board after the letter drop last month. However, this response neglects to acknowledge our original demands, and does not address our main goal — departmental status.
Not only do we demand a department, we deserve one. Georgetown’s lack of response and transparency in light of the proposal for more than 16 months prior to this letter drop was unacceptable.
We demand urgency where there is inaction, university support where there is none. We deserve to have the same level of academic support as any other Georgetown student. We should not be disadvantaged simply because of our major.
The university must acknowledge the negative effects of their delayed — and inadequate — response on both students and professors. The program is graduating seniors that have always hoped to enjoy the benefits of departmental status, but will never have the chance to become better students because of the university. We lack mentorship, research opportunities and other resources that would ultimately enrich our academic experience.
In addition, our professors lack job security, office space and support from the university, significantly diminishing their capacity to conduct meaningful research and advise students. Professor You-Me Park, who serves as program director, advises every single major and minor, in addition to teaching courses and managing the administration of the program. She is accompanied by only one other full-time professor and nine adjunct faculty.
By making the program a department, the university could finally create better working conditions for our WGST professors. With a full department, professors would be able to offer more than the mere 11 classes the program has now and also engage with new and intersectional topics that encompass the many aspects of WGST. In turn, students who are interested in WGST would no longer have to fight for limited classes, but instead, would develop a more enriching and holistic academic experience.
In response to the petition and our demands, the dean’s office promised March 21 to begin searching for a new potential program director and form an advisory board to begin discussing what we need and how the director could implement those needs. This program director would have tenure and come from an outside institution. However, because the WGST program lacks departmental status, this director would be shared with another department and be unable to fully dedicate themselves to WGST.
Moreover, though an advisory board is currently being formed, a faculty committee had already been formed in November 2017 that recommended the formation of a WGST department. Therefore, forming another advisory board only adds delay to an urgent demand.
The university’s response fails to address what students really need: a department. While a new director and an advisory board can be concrete steps toward creating the department we deserve, they are insufficient and secondary to the demands we repeatedly emphasize.
Furthermore, the university’s plan to hire an external director would mean that Park, who has spent 15 years building this program, would be replaced and denied tenure. It is unacceptable that the person who has done so much for and given so much to this program would be discarded and treated like this.
As a pre-med WGST major, biology minor and aspiring OB-GYN, I have experienced the importance of WGST’s interdisciplinary nature firsthand. I left the biology department to become a WGST major, and have never experienced as much intellectual engagement or felt more like myself within an academic community. Park, especially, has provided me with constant care and mentorship, and makes my Georgetown experience far better than I could have ever imagined.
Despite lack of university support, the WGST program has continued to serve students and address the most pressing topics of today. We are a program of strength and resilience. We are represented by intelligent and caring faculty, majors and minors.
I implore students to pay attention to our campaign and our program. Stay updated on our next steps through our social media platforms and register for our fall classes. Talk about the campaign, learn about the campaign, support the campaign. We are just getting started.
Katarina Watson is a sophomore in the College. She is also the coordinator of the current campaign for a Women’s and Gender Studies Department.