USF’s women’s studies department deserving of praise

This year marks the 35th anniversary of the Department of Women’s Studies. I would like to extend my thanks to the University and to the individuals who keep this crucial program thriving.

There are many marginalized groups that have gone and often continue to go unrecognized as legitimate, worthy and equal constituents of the American national identity. Women are one of them.

While American law, politics and history programs have existed for centuries, the notion that women might have played a significant part in any of them was rarely considered relevant until a few decades ago. USF was one of the first universities to acknowledge the academic value of such a program. In 1973, the University started the second women’s studies department in the nation, following San Diego State College (now San Diego State University) in 1970.

It was not even 90 years ago that American women gained the constitutional authority to exert their inherent right to vote as citizens of their own country. Since then, there have been innumerable battles waged to earn other rights that never should have been debated in the first place. The right to work, property rights, control over one’s wages, access to an equal education and protection from abuse are just a few. Many issues, such as equal pay, reproductive rights and healthcare, continue to be challenged. Much has been accomplished, but much more remains to be done.

For many students, the Department of Women’s Studies is where their education in egalitarian values and theory begins. In addition to feminism and sexism, courses are devoted to examining racism, classism, ethnocentrism and heterosexism to reveal the social inequities that shape American culture and politics.

The struggles – as well as the accomplishments – of marginalized groups are often obscured or even nonexistent in textbooks and traditional history lessons. It is through programs like that of the women’s studies department that a voice is given to these people.

As the old adage goes, those who do not learn from the past are destined to repeat it. If the whole of history – with all its flaws and prejudices – is never revealed, then the same problems will continue to flourish.

When I said I was taking classes about women’s studies and feminism, someone remarked, “I can’t believe there are even classes for that.” Whether or not others see it, I know what I and many others are gaining as students in the department.

My professors and peers constantly demonstrate that history is not one-sided, but lush and multifaceted. They teach me that there is more to history than what has been written in textbooks – that there is a story for every group of people, many of which are just now having their histories recorded. They have taught me the names of the unsung heroes of American history.

These faculty members and students encourage me to re-examine history with a critical eye and ask, “How did I get here? How can I make a change?”

Through them, I have discovered new heroes.

Through them, I have discovered who I am.

Today I say “Thank you” to a University with vision enough to recognize the importance of such an influential body and to the scholars who continue striving to reveal a comprehensive historical picture.

Everyone – including non-women’s studies students – should do the same.

Renee Sessions is a senior majoring in creative writing.