Feminist scholarship was born out of necessity. Before it, education meant studying men and cultivating their potential. For more than 40 years, Women’s and Gender Studies has ensured that the experiences, perspectives, and contributions of women are a part of academia. Not only has Women’s Studies survived and thrived as a unique discipline, it has transformed other fields by challenging campuses to understand and use a gender lens, just as they would use a lens of race, class, or ability—both in approaching intellectual pursuits and making an inclusive campus. Although the world has been influenced hugely by feminism—and feminist ideas are often embedded in courses not labeled as such—there has never been more need for the type of inquiry Women’s and Gender Studies pioneered. Students raised in a standardized-testing environment are increasingly dependent on answers being “right” and “wrong”—and less interested in the process of learning. Feminist Studies is the rare department that prioritizes sustained inquiry. In feminist academia, students are encouraged to challenge, think, debate, and to bring their unique selves into the decision-making process. The take we most often hear about Women’s and Gender Studies from students is that they had heard it was an easy course. Two classes in they realize it’s going to be their most challenging and transformative class. More often than not, it sets them on a thrilling new course for their lives. What could be a better endorsement for its continued relevance and value than that?
Women’s Studies at NMSU is an interdisciplinary program focusing on the study of women, gender, sexuality, race, and other categories of identity in national and global contexts. This is done from a variety of academic disciplines and approaches. Core faculty in the Program specialize in Journalism and Government, US Comparative and Multi-Ethnic Studies, Postcolonial and Diasporic Studies, Studies in Contemporary Literatures and Visual Cultures, and Gender, Queer, and Sexuality Studies. Classes are offered in topics such as Women and Public Policy, Transnational Feminisms, Alternative Genders and Sexualities, and Gender and Horror. Our Program equips students with foundational approaches in feminist thought as well as providing a progressive curriculum. Affiliated faculty across campus contributes to our set of courses helping to make Women’s Studies at New Mexico State University an exciting program of study.
Women’s Studies classes are taken by people of all ages, races, classes, sexualities, genders, and cultures. They teach analytic and critical thinking about the social construction of gender in relation to such factors as race, ethnicity, class, sexuality, disability, and age. Feminist pedagogy is innovative and decentralized, encouraging students to take responsibility for their own learning, and to think critically and creatively in dialogue with others. In Women’s Studies classes, students re-examine traditional ideas about gender roles and identities; learn about women’s experiences and contributions across cultures, communities, and historical periods; develop the significant analytical skills demanded by feminist theory and methodology; and prepare for a wide variety of job fields. After graduating from our program with majors, minors, or graduate minors our students enter any number of professions or choose to pursue further educational opportunities. In fact, many of our students are double-majors combining Women’s Studies with another field of study.
To that end, we seek to provide a rigorous and rewarding major and minor in Women’s Studies, to encourage and support quality scholarship by and about women, gender, sexuality, race, and categories of identity, to sponsor university based events relevant to women, to develop community partnerships, and to work with other academic units at NMSU to facilitate students in their learning. Underlying these endeavors is a fundamental commitment to equality, diversity, and social justice.
A Brief History
Women’s Studies at NMSU emerged through conversations among women scholars on campus in the late 1980s. Many of these scholars had begun their academic careers during among the women’s liberation movements in the 1970s. Their lived experience in the academy and their identification with movements for change during the 60′s and 70′s informed these early conversations.
After attending a national Women’s Studies conference in 1988, Dr. Joan Jensen returned to NMSU determined to work with others to form a Women’s Studies Program here. She organized an ad hoc committee to create the proposal to form the Women’s Studies Program. On February 3, 1989 the committee presented their proposal to then Dean Thomas Gale. The proposal was accepted and approved later that month and Dr. Jensen became the first Women’s Studies Program Director.
The Women’s Studies Program was home first to a minor and eventually an interdisciplinary supplementary major. A committee of faculty from across several disciplines created the proposal for a Bachelor of Arts degree in Women’s Studies in 2004. The first majors in Women’s Studies were welcomed in 2005.
Under the leadership of Dr. Lisa Bond-Maupin, Director of the Women’s Studies Program until fall 2010, Mary Benanti became the first regular faculty member in Women’s Studies at NMSU in 2007. She was joined in 2009 by the first tenure track faculty members in Women’s Studies, Dr. Manal Hamzeh and Dr. M. Catherine Jonet. In 2010, Dr. James Maupin took the reins of leadership with Prof. Mary Benanti serving as Women’s Studies Liaison. In 2012, Dr. Laura Anh Williams was hired in January and became the next Director in August of the same year. She became a tenure track faculty member in Spring 2014 and continues as Director.
Women’s Studies is the founding program within the newly created Interdisciplinary Studies Department at New Mexico State University. Dr. James Maupin serves as the department’s first chair.
*This history is based primarily on the paper, “Gaining a Voice: The Formation of the Women’s Studies Program at New Mexico State University” by Maria Woodard (2008) with additions as our story changes.*
Women’s Studies Program
New Mexico State University
Las Cruces, NM 88003-8001