Women are an integral part of Berea College and have been since its founding in 1855. Berea’s coeducational and interracial aspects have been distinctive features for more than a century and a half. As Berea’s Women’s and Gender Studies Program marks its 25th anniversary in 2016, we share a bit of its history and development.
In 1991, the College faculty voted to include a women’s studies minor as part of the curriculum. Its mandate was to promote gender awareness across the campus community. To this end, the Women’s and Gender Studies Program developed an extensive Women’s History Month that included Convocation speakers, special events highlighting the history of women at Berea College, dramatic performances, student art shows, poetry readings and open microphone dialogues, and the signature luncheon program, “Peanut Butter and Gender,” which features notable guest speakers.
The Women’s and Gender Studies Program typically has offered about six luncheons per semester over the past two and half decades. The guest speakers, some of whom also have been featured speakers at Convocations, include notable individuals such as Dorothy Allison (author of Bastard Out of Carolina), bell hooks (feminist author and social critic and Distinguished Professor-in-Residence at Berea College), Judy Chicago (artist and creator of the “Dinner Party”), Winona LaDuke (speaker, writer, Native American activist and candidate for vice president in 1996 and 2000 as the nominee of the Green Party), singer Holly Near, Lori Wallach (Director of Citizen Watch), Vandana Shiva (author, Indian physicist and biodiversity activist), Carol Browner ( U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator), Nikki Giovanni (poet), and more recently, Gustavo Esteva (Mexican journalist, intellectual and advisor to indigenous groups in Mexico) and Madhu Suri Prakash (philosopher of education and author of Grassroots Postmodernism).
In 2001, the Berea College faculty voted to include a full major in Women’s Studies. This allowed the Program to expand its offerings to the College community and to cross-list courses in most of the major programs on campus. Currently, the Women’s and Gender Studies program has one full-time and one half-time faculty members.
In 2014, the Women’s and Gender Studies Program inaugurated the Women in Public Service Project, a special topics course connecting Women’s and Gender Studies with the Peace and Social Justice and Political Science programs at Berea College. Students, who are required to apply for a seat, come into contact with powerful women whose lives are making a difference globally. The course equips students to pursue leadership opportunities at local and national levels of their respective countries.
During this 25th anniversary year, the Women’s and Gender Studies Program has arranged for many special events to recognize two and a half decades of developing critical consciousness about the place of gender, race and class among members of the College’s academic community. The Program:
- hosted a special banquet to celebrate International Women’s Day, with dance performances from the South Asian, African and Middle Eastern student dance groups.
- arranged for Vandana Shiva, a noted physicist, philosopher, feminist activist and director of a northern Indian seed-saving network to present the “Peggy Keon Champion of Change Lecture” on the future of feminism in the 21st Century.
- invited Peggy McIntosh, one of the first advisors to the Women’s and Gender Studies Program, to speak at an Alumni Dinner.
For more information about the Women’s and Gender Studies Program, visit: https://www.berea.edu/wgs/
For photos of program activities during the past 25 years, visit: https://www.berea.edu/wgs/photo-galleries/