Students and faculty met with Georgetown College Dean Chris Celenza to discuss considerations associated with expanding the women’s and gender studies program into a department March 21.
The meeting came after students delivered a letter to Celenza’s office March 1 urging Georgetown to respond to a 2017 proposal advocating for the WGST program to gain departmental status. The university has yet to publicly comment on the status of the proposal.
The opportunity to communicate directly with the deans is a huge step in the long campaign for a WGST department, according to Kory Stuer (COL ’19), a WGST major who attended the March 21 meeting.
“After over 17 months of no response from administrators, it is exciting to see that the Dean’s Office has now made addressing the disparities that WGST students face a priority,” Stuer wrote in an email to The Hoya. “I’m hopeful that the Dean’s Office is willing to make the necessary changes.”
Katarina Watson (COL ’21), a WGST major who is spearheading the current push for a WGST department, and WGST program director You-Me Park also attended the March 21 meeting with Celenza, Dean David Edelstein and Vice Dean Sue Lorensen. At the meeting, Celenza gave the students a letter, thanking them for the letter drop and laying out some ideas for next steps.
Celenza proposed that the university could hire a new WGST director who is already tenured and has experience working with a WGST department at another school. Celenza offered that this director could provide insight on the possible transition from program to department at Georgetown.
However, students are concerned about the implications of this action on current director Park, according to Watson.
“Then that also leaves the question open of what about You-Me Park, because she’s our current director,” Watson said. “But she is not tenured.”
Because Georgetown only has a WGST program, none of the WGST professors are tenured or on the tenure track, and only two of its 12 faculty members work full time. If WGST becomes a department, its faculty will be able to pursue tenure and receive pay comparable to professors in other departments. A WGST department would also open up opportunities for undergraduate research and expand class offerings.
Celenza also proposed forming an advisory board of students and faculty to continue planning a potential transition from a program to a department. He also offered students a timeline explaining what the university has been doing since the proposal was originally submitted in 2017.
In the months following the proposal’s submission, Celenza’s office created a committee of women’s and 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. The committee then submitted its recommendation to Celenza’s office in the summer of 2018.
The advisory board would be able to provide students opportunities to advocate for departmental status within institutional channels, according to Stuer.
“At this point, the emphasis for us is on working together with the deans’ office as much as possible and showing them that a department is the best way forward for WGST,” Stuer said.
Though the meeting was a welcome development, students will continue to garner support and engage in activism, Watson said.
“At this point I’m happy with any communication, but I did leave the meeting feeling kind of lackluster,” Watson said. “I don’t know the intricacies of how we form a department, but I know that we need more professors. We need more office space. We need more mentorship. We need more research, and these are things we tell them time and time again and they seem to just kind of disregard it in a way.”
The initial proposal for a WGST department, submitted October 2017, asked for two full-time tenure-track positions, two to three additional full-time, nontenure-track faculty positions and a four to five-year dual enrollment Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts program.
The College deans plan to open up communication with the student body in the near future, according to university spokesperson Matt Hill.
“The College’s leadership is continuing to meet with faculty and students to discuss the proposal and remains committed to Women and Gender Studies prospering at Georgetown,” Hill wrote in an email to The Hoya. “We look forward to providing more information in the coming months.”
Although no further meetings between the students and deans have been set yet, Watson said she hopes the dean’s office will be more transparent and responsive moving forward.
“It still doesn’t justify the complete lack of communication,” Watson said. “And that is something they addressed and something I think that’ll be a complete 180 from before because I’ve emailed Celenza, Edelstein and Lorensen now and they’ve all responded extremely promptly and have answered all my questions.”
Students pushing for a full WGST department held an interest meeting March 24. The group is currently collecting student statements about how WGST professors have helped them grow personally or academically via a Google form.
Students are focusing on spreading awareness of the campaign and engaging in continuous activism, according to Watson.
“We don’t need this to be drawn out, because we know what we need and want,” Watson said. “With this sort of thing, activism should never stop, because complacency is very dangerous in these types of situations.”
This article was updated April 1.