History of the Department of Feminist Studies

Chair’s Remarks at The Past, Present, and Future of Feminist Studies Conference

Eileen Boris, Hull Professor

On February 9–11, 2012, some seventeen feminist scholars gathered at UCSB to discuss the trajectory of the field with our faculty and graduate students. This group was special: they were former holders of the UCSB pre-doctoral scholar award, a program began in the 1990’s, and ended when we began our PhD program four years ago. Every year two doctoral students came to UCSB from universities across the country—and even around the world—to work on their dissertations, gain further mentoring, and teach one undergraduate course. For a small women’s studies program, the ABD Scholars (as we came to call the venue) introduced the excitement of fresh perspectives, a process that our PhD students bring to our department every day.

Critically reflecting on the transformations of Feminist Studies as a discipline, the conference aimed to examine the past, present, and future of feminist studies as a field of academic inquiry. Drawing together scholars from the Pre-Doctoral Dissertation Program in Women’s Studies at UCSB with current graduate and doctoral emphasis students in the now Feminist Studies program, it provided a unique occasion to reflect on the trends in the field, examine constructions of feminist histories, and provide future directions for research, curriculum, and pedagogy. Its purpose was two-fold. First, we brought together a vibrant intellectual community of scholars who presented their own work while reflecting on the trajectories of the field. In this sense, it offered an opportunity to consider the transformations of our Ph.D. program, formulated nearly five years ago, and its focus on “Gender and Sexualities”, “Race and Nation”, and “Productive and Reproductive Labors.” Secondly, this conference provided an invaluable opportunity for current graduate students to receive comments on their emerging scholarship. As such, this conference sought to foster a scholarly community with those who came before, providing an opportunity for graduate students to workshop their own research and gain commentary from more advanced scholars. For the lineup and the sessions, go to: http://ucsbfeministstudiesconference.wordpress.com/conference-schedule/

For these remarks, I share my opening remarks at the conference as an offering for us to think about the contours of our field–as scholars but also as teachers, as feminists in the academy who seek to challenge taken for granted notions and intervene in the world through transforming knowledge and our very ways of understanding.

Greetings from Feminist Studies! women’s Studies once for some of you, Gender and Sexuality Studies now for many of you, Chicana Studies for others of you, and Africana Women’s Studies for at least one of you. Over the last twenty years, we’ve queered the color line, made Santa Barbara a wide open town, though perhaps not as wide as San Francisco, we’ve spoken the unspeakable, fantasized and desired, hiked with wheelchairs, engendered the environment, migrated transnationally, crossed borders–geographically to Hawai’i, Mexico, and Nicaragua—and expanded identity–gendered, racial, class, and sexual. We’ve also brought together disability and environmental justice studies, feminism and global biopolitics, affective economies and visions of race, death, and the maternal. We’ve fought for Chicana Power and democratic imaginaries, decolonial desires, the end of empire, and the redefinition of feminism itself.

Now we come together to critically reflect on Feminist Studies, its disciplining into a discipline, its presence on its own. We come together to salute the UCSB Pre-Doctoral Dissertation Program and mark the emergence of our PhD program with a continuing doctoral emphasis option for other graduate students. We come together not to celebrate but to interrogate, joining past, present, and future, in realization that the past and future are ghosts or premonitions within the now, haunting or shadowing what seems to be, but shifting depending on where we stand.

We are engaging in historical reflection even as we present our current work and think about the future. History itself lies in a vexed relation to the feminist studies/women’s studies/gender and sexualities project–as does naming. Some scholars might complain that there isn’t enough history in women’s studies, that graduate students dismiss history; it is a lack. In contrast, Amy L. Brandzel in Feminist Studies insists on the pitfalls that come from the privileging of history, especially the history of feminism, in a field that reifies the whitenormative citizen-subject. Even as the texts and voices, actions and experiences of varieties of others gets mixed and half stirred in, the narrative remains the same–the expansion of inclusion and the coming to citizenship, without the recognition of the power dynamics or reconfiguring the story we tell, so we are stuck in progress or decline or return rhetoric, as theorist Clare Hemmings has underscored. Brandzel challenges those of us who teach (and I’d add research) in the field “to think of feminisms’ history and futurity as not that which is waiting to be discovered, made intelligible, and definitely not rectifiable but a project that is necessarily immersed in (and therefore, reflective of the relations between) subjectivity, power relations, and knowledge production.” i As we embody our own genealogy at UCSB, as we embed past, present, and future through our praxis and presence, let us take this space and time (as fraught as time is in feminist and queer theories), and maneuver within and between utopia, materialities, imaginaries, nightmares, desires, groundedness, power, justice, pleasure, and the conditions that shape the university and the world, speaking up and proposing alternatives or perhaps just other paths in opposition to empire abroad, fascist politics at home, neoliberalism, never forgetting the spirit of rebellions here, now, in memory, and yet to be made.


Chair's Remarks at the 20th Anniversary Celebration of Women's Studies at UCSB

On February 29, 2008, faculty, staff, administrators, students, and friends of the department gathered to celebrate 20 years of Women's Studies on the UC Santa Barbara campus.  Eileen Boris, Hull Professor and Chair of the Women’s Studies Program, spoke about the history of the program and the vision for the future.

“The UCSB Women’s Studies Program . . . is committed to the principle of incorporating racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity in both research and teaching on the experience of women,” so Sarah Fenstermaker (Sociology), Patricia Cline Cohen (History), Ursula Mahlendorf (Germanic, Oriental and Slavic Studies), and Barbara Voorhies (Anthropology) pledged in proposing the establishment of the program in February 1987.  Commitment to multiculturalism and internationalism, the terms used two decades ago to denote intersectional and transnational/global perspectives, distinguished their proposal and would place UCSB in the vanguard of Women’s Studies as a field. A year later, after hundreds of faculty petitioned in support and with the administrative know-how of Mahlendorf, then an Associate Dean of Humanities, the Women’s Studies Program became a reality. Among faculty making up with initial steering committee were also Beth Schneider (Sociology), Ines Talamantez (Religious Studies), Julie Carlson (English), and Charlotte Stough (Philosophy)—for whom was named the graduate student best paper award.

In the intervening years, many distinguished faculty have guided the program. We salute former chairs that still contribute to the vitality of feminist and gender analysis at UCSB: Fenstermaker, Cohen, Beth Schneider, Sharon Farmer (History), Shirley Goek-lin Lim (English), Jacqueline Bobo (Women’s Studies), and Leila Rupp (Women’s Studies). They advanced the founding vision through courses and events that took account of gender, race, class, sexualities, and nationalities. Goek-lin Lim organized in April 1999 an International Conference, “Women Transforming the Public.” Bobo put together “Thirty Years of Ethnic Studies Research: A Dialogue Among UC Ethnic Studies Faculty,” in December of that year, following by the “Black Women Filmmakers Series” in Winter 2000. Our LGGTQ minor gained approval in 2004, with a first graduating class of three that year. Today we have nearly 100 majors. From borrowed FTE, we’ve grown to ten faculty members, aided by a dedicated staff of three amazing women and peer advisors. Students for Women’s Studies again is flourishing.

The generous endowment of the Hull Chair in Women and Social Justice, which I have the privilege of holding, has distinguished the UCSB program, as has our continued combination of activism with scholarship. We are proud of our collaborations with the Women’s Center, the Resource Center on Sexual and Gender Diversity, the Multicultural Center, Black Studies, Asian American Studies, and Chican@ Studies. In 2008, we are on the verge of a name change—and anticipate approval of a Ph.D. degree, which former chair Rupp did so much to develop. With the expansion of the program to include LGBTQ studies, growing interest in gender, expansion of women of color feminisms and transnational perspectives, dedication to reproductive justice and the ending of all forms of violence, and renewed attention to class, we choose “feminist studies” as the name that could encompass a critical stance untethered to any normative body. We invite discussion on the evolving meaning of feminism itself.

What a difference twenty years makes! Those who were outsiders now hold important university positions. As we mark our anniversary in 2008, we honor those whose vision built for the future, looking back as we move forward to reshape Women’s Studies for the 21st Century. We invite you to work with us for the next twenty years—and participate in the celebrations of this one.