Students advocated for the women’s and gender studies program to gain departmental status in a letter delivered to Georgetown College Dean Chris Celenza on March 1.
The letter, which garnered over 270 signatures, requested a response from Celenza by March 11 and comes more than a year after students presented Celenza with an initial proposal for a WGST department.
Celenza acknowledged the letter and thanked the students for their advocacy in a March 11 email to Katarina Watson (COL ’21), a WGST major who is coordinating the current campaign. More information will be provided to the activists in the next week, according to the email.
The new petition was cosponsored by H*yas for Choice, a student group that advocates for reproductive rights.
The WGST program, founded in 1987, would obtain more funding and resources as a department, allowing it to meet high student demand for its introductory level courses. Interested students struggle to take WGST classes because of the small size of the program and the limited number of classes offered, according to WGST major Avery Moje (COL ’19).
Currently, two of the program’s 12 faculty members serve full time, including program director You-Me Park, while the remaining 10 professors work part time. None of the professors in the WGST program are tenured or on the tenure track.
If granted departmental status, WGST faculty members would be able to pursue tenure, which could open opportunities for student research. The proposal seeks to provide WGST faculty members with the same compensation as professors working under other departments, according to Moje.
“Adjunct professors do not receive the same benefits or pay that full-time professors do or job security, so we would really like for all the people that are committing so much to this program to be recognized for all the work they’re doing,” Moje said.
Over 20 students presented the letter to Vice Deans David Edelstein and Elena Silva. Celenza was away from campus at the time. The students carried posters as Watson read the letter aloud to Edelstein and Silva.
The initial proposal for a WGST department was submitted October 2017. In addition to the creation of a department, the proposal asked for 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.
The student-led proposal had the support of 40 students and alumni, program faculty and the Georgetown University Student Association.
In the following months, Celenza’s office created a committee of gender studies-adjacent faculty to review the proposal.
The committee conducted interviews of faculty, students and alumni over the course of the 2018 spring semester to gauge opinions of what the administration should do going forward, according to Chad Gasman (COL ’20), a WGST major and HFC director of organizing and events. Gasman is one of the three students who met with Celenza’s office to push the proposal in 2017.
The committee then submitted its recommendation to Celenza’s office in the summer before the start of the 2018 fall semester, according to Gasman. Celenza has still yet to formally comment on the status of the original proposal.
The letter drop is a much-needed revitalization of the campaign for a WGST department, which has lasted over a year, according to Watson.
“It just continually blows my mind that they just chose not to respond,” Watson said. “Clearly if we don’t push a lot, then nothing is gonna come back to us.”
If Celenza addresses the proposal’s demands, students hope to work with administration to set up a timeline and ensure all requests are met, according to Watson. If the programs’ needs are not met, students will continue their activism and take further action to push for departmental status.
“If the response isn’t great or if we don’t get a response at all, I’m only a sophomore and I really think that this is something that I’m really gonna dig into and put a lot of my effort into,” Watson said. “I don’t foresee another way in which professors can get job security and the program can grow.”
Students have created a Facebook page titled “GU Students for a Full WGST Department” to provide updates and spread awareness for the campaign. The page has amassed 381 followers as of press time.
The additional funding and resources the program would receive if granted departmental status would allow for even greater growth, according to Moje.
“The program has existed for 30 years and has greatly impacted the lives of so many students who’ve come through this university,” Moje said. “I think the sustainability of a program, such as the WGST program, without the full funding of a department shows how influential it is and how much more influential it could be if it had the full backing of the university.”