Women’s Studies celebrates anniversary

May 6 marked the celebration of the 25th anniversary of UW-Eau Claire’s women’s studies department. Prior to Wednesday, students with majors and minors in the area were preparing a “multi-faceted” history presentation, showcasing their interviews with eight women who have contributed to women’s studies in the Chippewa Valley, said Katherine Rhoades, interim coordinator of the women’s studies program and professor and dean emeriti of the College of Education and Human Sciences.

“I really think it’s turned out beautifully,” Rhoades said in regards to the students’ efforts for the presentation. “We’re under the radar for the most part,” adding that she hopes the unveiling will bring more interest and understanding to the department.

That is also the hope of Donald Christian, dean of the college of arts and sciences.

“I am amazed at the array of areas and differences (within the discipline),” he said.

Women’s studies is small in terms of majors and minors. With 25 students majoring and 29 with a minor, it is difficult financially to have strictly women’s studies faculty, Rhoades said. But, as a result, the department is one of the few on campus that offers faculty and staff in all areas, such as art, biology, communication, economics, history and psychology. Christian described it as “a program that brings all perspectives and disciplinary interests together.”

Sophomore women’s studies major Catherine Emmanuelle describes the discipline as a way to examine one’s self-narrative and discuss limitations, myths and obstacles.

“Women’s studies helped me heal through my own past wounds and move forward in life,” she said. “And it made me question how I could help others be self-sufficient, self-sustainable.”

Both Emmanuelle and Rhoades stress that women’s studies is not exclusive to women.

“People misapprehend that women’s studies is about female liberation,” Rhoades said. “We really discuss how power and privilege have affected many aspects of identity, and all the ways society has created a hierarchy based on race, class, gender and ethnicity.”

Classes discuss global perspectives regarding universal issues of violence, religion, gendered politics and personal aesthetics for all people, Emmanuelle said.

“Women’s studies is a way to educate and aid a person about injustices of all people through discussion . to open access for all people, help people realize this is a systemic issue, not personal failure, and provide a chance to rebuild their lives and themselves,” Emmanuelle said.

Rhoades added that, despite women’s studies’ size, Eau Claire has been incredibly supportive of its development.

“At this university, we’ve been fortunate to receive academic and fiscal support,” she said. “Eau Claire has thoroughly embraced the mission and vision of our program.”