• Enter search term(s):


Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.



Recent Posts

To Portland State University Women’s Studies Governing Board re Proposed Name Change

Date: January 24, 2010

January 23, 2010

PSU Women’s Studies Governing Board members,

I am writing you as a former student, instructor, and frequent guest lecturer of Women’s Studies Program at Portland State University regarding the public discussion I attended this past Thursday about the potential change of the Department name.

At the public meeting last Thursday, it became clear from early on that there were two main concerns/interests that the group was trying to balance: first, there was a strong sense among some outspoken participants that the word “women” should remain, in order to honour the Department’s legacy and to resist erasure of women in the rest of academia; second, there was an even stronger feeling among others that the name should be expanded to include gender and sexuality, in order to more fully represent the content of the program as well as to appeal to a broader audience. Both groups quickly acknowledged each other’s arguments, which made the conjuncture, Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies, a popular alternative.

And then, several women of colour brought up a concern that highly abstract terms like “gender and sexuality studies” alienate members of their families and communities, making it more difficult to recruit and retain women of colour within our program. I felt that their concerns were very relevant and valid, but I did not hear any other people acknowledge them or to offer compromises to address them. I requested a five-minute caucus time for the women of colour in the group because I felt that the “public” in this public meeting ignored and dismissed the real concerns of women of colour who spoke up, and I wanted to hear them better and to strategies how women of colour can have real impact in the process.

The voting took place immediately after the caucus time, and “Women’s, Gender and Sexualities Studies” was the most popular name, as I had expected. It received many more votes than the second choice, which was to retain “Women’s Studies.” I do understand that there is a need to change the name if only to reflect the presence of sexualities studies curriculum, and suspect that many people expect the Governing Board to go along with the popular will. But given the fact that the split between WGS and “Women’s Studies” went almost along the racial line, with most people in the white majority preferring WGS and most women of colour preferring “Women’s Studies,” I caution against the use of simple majority rule.

At the same time, I do not expect the Governing Board to throw out the most popular choice entirely, along with two years of internal discussions, simply because most women of colour voted against the change. I suggest that the Governing Board adopt the new name: Department of Women’s Studies and Gender & Sexuality Studies. This is longer than even the longest proposal that was on the table this past Thursday, but it is the natural compromise between the two top picks from the community, and has the advantages of both: it is inclusive of scholarly explorations into gender and sexuality issues outside of the traditional “women’s studies” framework, while at the same time allowing people to continue to refer to the program casually as “Department of Women’s Studies” as a shorthand.

To be honest, I did not walk into the meeting thinking that I would be sympathetic to the argument for status quo. I am very excited about the expansion of the program into areas of gender, sexuality, and queer theory, and I would have picked something more along the line of WGS if I were to decide it by myself. But after hearing voices of other women of colour, and seeing how the process failed to include and address their concerns, I felt that it was more important for me to stand in solidarity with them than to promote the name that I personally like most. I urge members of the Governing Board to take their/our concerns seriously, and come up with a solution that satisfies their/our needs, possibly but not necessarily along the line of my suggestion.


Emi Koyama