College of Liberal Arts & Social Sciences > Academics > Women's and Gender Studies > About > History

History, Growth and Development of the Women’s and Gender Studies Program

The Department of Women’s and Gender Studies at DePaul is a well-established academic unit. Initially established at DePaul as an interdisciplinary program, women’s and gender studies offered an undergraduate minor starting in January 1985; the undergraduate major has been available to students since September 1992. For over a decade, the program also offered a graduate level concentration through the Master of Arts in Liberal Studies and a four-course, non-degree Graduate Certificate in Women’s and Gender Studies. A substantive revision of the undergraduate curriculum was approved in the spring of 2002. At that time, the program added and Gender Studies to its title, reflecting contemporary trends in research, scholarship, and pedagogy in the field.

In Autumn 2007, Women’s and Gender Studies established a Master of Arts and a five-year BA/MA program. In January 2012, WGS shifted its designation from program to department, a transition that reflects the substantial growth of WGS since its inception in the 1980s. The women’s and gender studies curriculum is interdisciplinary in nature and grounded in a combination of core and elective women’s and gender studies courses offered by the department’s faculty, as well as elective courses offered by other departments that are approved and listed as meeting women’s and gender studies course criteria.

Over the last decade, the number of faculty involved with Women’s and Gender Studies at DePaul has increased dramatically. One indication of this growth is the increase in full-time faculty with appointments in Women’s and Gender Studies. Currently, the program has four tenured faculty members (Dr. Beth Catlett, Dr. Laila Farah, Dr. Sanjukta Mukherjee, Dr. Ann Russo), one tenure-track faculty member (Dr. Heather Montes-Ireland), one term faculty (Dr. Anne Mitchell), and two adjunct faculty who regularly teach in the department (Sonnet Gabbard and Barbara Schaffer). Membership on the department’s broad-based interdisciplinary Advisory Committee has grown from a dozen participating faculty in the 1980s to our current list of approximately 60 members from various departments, programs, and schools throughout the university. Many faculty members who serve on the Advisory Committee continue to initiate and develop courses in their own departments that are cross-listed or carry Women’s and Gender Studies credit toward the major, minor, and/or graduate degree.

The breadth and depth of course offerings in Women’s and Gender Studies have increased substantially in line with the growth in department faculty and faculty whose scholarship and teaching focuses on issues relevant to Women’s and Gender Studies. Indeed, over the past three decades, the growth of WGS at DePaul finds reflections in the growth of the interdisciplinary field of Women’s and Gender Studies across a broad spectrum of institutions in the U.S. and abroad. A strong body of interdisciplinary scholarship and concomitant undergraduate and graduate education has emerged, and the strengths of this growing body of knowledge are interdisciplinary, critical analysis and feminist pedagogy, all of which entail approaching questions and issues from multiple perspectives. The emphasis within our curriculum on social justice and the emphasis on agency, social responsibility, advocacy, and activism are central to providing a context for making the connections between theory and praxis, research and public policy, and the academy and the community. Moreover, our department is committed to theorizing the interconnectedness of systems and structures of gender, race, class, sexuality, age, ability, culture, religion, nation, etc. within broader historical, social, and global contexts. This commitment has been extended to include a greater focus on global and transnational theories, research and perspectives within our curriculum.

The growth of Women’s and Gender Studies is also evident in the increased numbers of undergraduate students who are choosing Women’s and Gender Studies as a major or minor, and of graduate students choosing to pursue an MA or the Graduate Certificate. Our records indicate that, at the undergraduate level, we have increased from approximately 10 declared majors in 1992 to approximately 65 currently declared majors and forty-six currently declared minors. Many of the students are double majors. The fields of study include Sociology, Psychology, Communication, Political Science, Philosophy, American Studies, Geography, Spanish, History, and English. Being able to combine Women’s and Gender Studies with a traditional discipline affords students a broader range of options when they graduate, in terms of preparation for graduate school and professional careers. Furthermore, since the inception of our graduate programs in 2007, we have enrolled approximately 57 MA students and 17 BA/MA students. We also continue to attract students to our Graduate Certificate Program.

The relationship between research and social activism has always been integral to the interdisciplinary field of Women’s and Gender Studies. The Women and Gender Research Initiative (WGRI) was founded in 2002 to promote community-based programs and research that inform the prevention of and intervention in gender-related oppressions. In 2011, the WGRI took a new name: The Beck Research Initiative for Women, Gender, and Community (BRI). This new name honors the vision, dedication, and generous support of Irene and Bill Beck. The mission of the BRI is to develop and support faculty- and student-led research projects that work with community members to effect social change through social policy, advocacy, and community development. The Initiative is committed to documenting, collecting, and making public the contributions of individuals whose lives reflect previously untold experiences and resilience. Over the last several years, the Beck Research Initiative has benefited from the support of the Steans Center for Community-Based Service learning, and has developed, funded, and implemented several very successful community-based projects. Projects include Take Back the Halls: Ending Violence in Relationships and Schools, Teen Girls Revision East Rogers Park, and Latina Lesbian Organizing in Chicago, among many others.

One of the central features of the department is also our commitment to offering students a unique educational experience that combines the rigorous academic scholarship of the classroom with exciting opportunities for research, advocacy, and activism within a vibrant WGS community. In addition to the community-based research opportunities offered through the Beck Research Initiative for Women, Gender and Community, the Department of Women’s and Gender Studies also launched the WGS Service Learning and Internship Program (SLIP) in 2012, which offers our undergraduate and graduate students valuable opportunities for community-based experience. The mission of the WGS Service Learning and Internship Program is to develop long-term relationships with community-based organizations to create internship opportunities for students according to their area of interest, as well as broader community connections that support our students as they transition from school into careers in social service, advocacy, activism, the arts, and other areas.

In addition to service learning and internship opportunities, the Department of Women's and Gender Studies also offers a variety of initiatives that help support a vibrant community of scholars, activists, and artists. One of the more prominent projects includes Building Communities, Ending Violence (BCEV), led by Ann Russo and a group of DePaul students, staff, faculty, and affiliated community activists and organizations, which supports the development of everyday, collective, community-based interventions into everyday oppression and violence in our communities. Through safety labs, peacemaking circles, and other transformative practices, BCEV offers a space for reflection, dialogue and skill building in order to develop collective and community-based strategies for healing, intervention, accountability, and transformation. One of its signature events is Dandelions in the Concrete, which is held each quarter and offers an evening of collective healing and transformation through storytelling, art, music, performances, poetry, and an open mic.​