Adios Women’s Studies
submitted by Yolanda Broyles-González, University of Arizona
Professor and Head, Women’s Studies Department
I write to announce my departure from the Women’s Studies Department (effective 12/31/2007) and to explain the experiences and concerns that motivate this decision.
I joined the Women’s Studies Department in fall 2004 as part of an effort and hope to build intellectual/racial/cultural diversity. More than ever, I am committed to the responsibility and dream to include underserved constituencies in my teaching, to foster intellectual diversity, and to build bridges between the university and the community. I cannot accomplish these goals and dreams to the best of my abilities if I remain in Women’s Studies.
Reflecting on my time in Women’s Studies I am pleased with some accomplishments. Together we created the Ph.D. degree and we also concluded a very positive academic program review in July 2006. Prior to going on leave, I received the Graduate & Professional Student Council’s Administrator of the Year Award and also the Faculty Member of the Year Award. That speaks to the positive appreciation for my work, which is further documented in my 2004 and 2005 Women’s Studies performance reviews.
Having recently returned from my one-year research leave, it is clear that the positive environment that enabled our accomplishments is missing. The departmental fracture in the Women’s Studies Department, arising from last year’s failed Chicana Studies faculty search, has far-reaching repercussions. Several troubling aspects of that search have minimized the Department’s effort to diversify our curriculum, while also eroding collegiality. I highlight only three symptomatic aspects:
First, the Women’s Studies Department resoundingly voted “no” to the hire of two distinguished Chicana Studies scholars. In doing so, Women’s Studies drew very narrow and exclusive intellectual boundaries, particularly with regard to what counts as an “acceptable” Chicana/Latina scholar and colleague. In my own estimation, Women’s Studies should strive to expand its inclusivity and not just replicate existing academic interests.
Second, I can well appreciate intellectual differences, but not the openly disrespectful treatment of Chicana scholars visiting our campus. That disrespect has done inestimable harm to Women’s Studies’ credibility on this campus, and it informs our own current work environment.
Third, the governance and decision-making process in the Women’s Studies Department during the search ran contrary to democratic governance. Backchannels governance, not democratic consensus-building, carried the day. Let me elaborate.
I came into the search process very late, after the Dean’s office had rejected the first short list. The Dean’s office then requested that I bring my Chicana Studies expertise into the search. We invited candidates to campus. At the Women’s Studies Department’s final discussion and decision meeting, however, it became clear that the decisions had already been made outside of the meeting. Some absentee votes were even cast in advance of the meeting and without benefit of collective discussion. Intellectual differences surfaced only briefly and were not regarded as welcome opportunities for in-depth discussion and mutual enrichment. The disregard for internal democratic process was notable; the rush to cast votes was foremost.
In a related vein, a week prior to that meeting a senior colleague invited me to lunch and explained to me that the way to secure desired outcomes at meetings was to line up the necessary votes—one on one—before meetings. With all due respect, that is not my idea of decision-making through democratic consensus building.
Presently Women’s Studies continues to prominently advertise a chronically understaffed, marginal, and virtually non-existent “Chicana/Latina Studies concentration.” Yet based on what I witnessed during last year’s search and beyond, I no longer harbor the hope of building Chicana/Latina Studies within Women’s Studies. Other factors also play a role.
During the 2005-06 academic year we revived the Women’s Studies Women of Color Taskforce, a standing committee mandated in our by-laws. Graduate students met on a regular basis for an entire year. Those meetings became an important forum where Women’s Studies students of color—as well as students from other departments—could discuss departmental and campus racism, while also considering ways to combat it. At the conclusion of that year of meetings, the students had one firm recommendation: that Women’s Studies faculty and graduate students undergo a program of anti-racism workshops beginning in fall 2006. The Women’s Studies Department never followed up on that critical recommendation. I reminded the faculty of that recommendation at our November 2007 faculty meeting, upon hearing that our current Women’s Studies Anti-Racism Task Force (the new name of our Women of Color Task Force) is pondering how to address our racisms.
When I recently returned to Women’s Studies at the end of my research leave (August 2007) the very few Chicana graduate students in our Department were gone. Only one graduated. Furthermore, there is not one historically underrepresented student of color among our current 13 graduate students. Nor do any of our current graduate students pursue Chicana/Latina Studies. In truth, my intellectual interests can best be put to productive use outside of Women’s Studies.
Various other challenges remain for the Women’s Studies Department. There are entrenched problems that no departmental chairperson can solve alone. Among those entrenched problems is the chronic lack of common ground (or mutual interest) between the two sides of the Women’s Studies house: applied researchers (Southwest Institute for Research on Women), on the one hand, and the professorial tenure track side on the other. That unhappy union needs re-assessment. Another entrenched problem in need of sustained collective attention is the Women’s Studies Department’s longstanding inability to recruit and retain historically underrepresented students of color, in a city that is predominantly Mexican American and Native American. Also, the Women’s Studies Advisory Council (WOSAC) needs more positive attention from faculty if it is to remain a strong community-based organization. Year after year, WOSAC members volunteer their precious time and monetary resources to enhance Women’s Studies. If nothing else, self-interest should logically motivate all faculty to become WOSAC members.
My departure is motivated by my desire to work in a more tolerant and diverse intellectual environment, instead of one that keeps narrowing. I can no longer represent Women’s Studies with any degree of conviction, let alone enthusiasm, to any prospective donors or students. In leave-taking I send heartfelt thanks to the hard-working community members that comprise the Women’s Plaza Executive Committee. They are the tireless leaders who have brought hundreds of thousands of dollars into Women’s Studies. I will also always cherish my years of close collaboration with the Women’s Studies Advisory Council (WOSAC) and its Executive Board, a visionary group that has always worked with indomitable spirit to raise funds for faculty and students. Also, endless thanks to the WOSAC membership who loyally pay the yearly $55 membership dues and who serve as vital linkages to community constituencies. The Women’s Studies Department staff members who work above and beyond the call of duty merit special recognition and thanks. Finally, I thank all my students and also the Women’s Studies Department for valuable lessons.
In tlanextia, in tonatiuh