Enhancing diversity: Women’s studies program recognized for celebrating the power of difference
In 2011, the Women’s Studies Department was awarded Kansas State University’s Outstanding Department or Unit Award for Enhancing Diversity.
The award is given by the office of the provost to recognize departments and units that have made extraordinary achievements to enhance diversity within the department, college and university.
“Through innovative programs, diverse curriculum integration and recruitment of students, faculty and staff from underrepresented groups, the women’s studies department is committed to enhancing diversity,” said April Mason, university provost and senior vice president. “The department is truly deserving of the award and has shown that it understands, celebrates and promotes diversity within the Kansas State University community.”
“Some people might say, ‘Well, of course, they have done an outstanding job in promoting diversity; after all, it’s women’s studies.’ What those sentiments overlook is the deeply nuanced understanding of diversity that the department has and the way it has brought diversity to the center of everything it does,” said Myra Gordon, associate provost for diversity. “After years of work, the result is 360 degrees of inclusive excellence. Indeed, with regard to diversity, the department of women’s studies is in 2012 what the entire university hopes to be in 2025.”
Diversity is at the core of the women’s studies program, said Michele Janette, women’s studies department head and associate professor of English.
“Our commitment to diversity infuses our curriculum, our pedagogy, our research, our hiring, our investment in students and student success, and our aspirations for the future of our world,” Janette said. “We are honored to have this work valued and recognized by the university at large.”
The women’s studies program was founded in 1978 to bring diversity to the university in several ways: to get women’s experiences, contributions and knowledge into curriculum; to support the recruitment and retention of women into the faculty; and to educate college students about women’s issues and women’s experiences.
“We have continued this mission as well as expanding our understanding that gender is a social structure that affects all of humanity, and that it is not a monolith: Women and men do not experience their lives simply as gendered beings, but through many other categories of identity as well — including race, class, sexuality and geographic location — and that these various ways of categorizing people are interrelated and are infused with issues of power,” Janette said.
The women’s studies department has a diverse student, faculty and staff body that includes underrepresented groups. All seven full-time faculty members are women and four of the seven are women of color. All faculty members are also engaged in projects that directly relate to gender, race, class and sexual diversity.
In the past the women’s studies department has sponsored the Women of Color Film Series, which has brought to campus a variety of films by and about women of color. The department has also offered a Connecting Across Topics, or CAT, community course called Gender, Race and Class in American Culture, which is collaboratively taught by Valerie Padilla Carroll, an instructor in women’s studies, and Cheryl Ragar, an assistant professor of American ethnic studies.
International diversity is also a key component in departmental activities. The department is developing study abroad opportunities in Mexico and Vietnam, and women’s studies faculty have active research collaborations with colleagues in Uganda and China.
The department will continue to enhance diversity in the coming years.
“We understand diversity as both seeking for inclusion, and also understanding the transformative power of difference: that when we take seriously the knowledges that are produced from different perspectives, we are challenged to transform ourselves, our culture and our ideas for the better,” Janette said.
Young Alumni Award
Vickie Choitz (BA Political Science and Secondary Education, Secondary Major Women’s Studies; MS Public Policy, Harvard University) was awarded the 2012 Young Alumni Award.
Choitz, a Salina native, is a senior policy analyst with the Center for Law and Social Policy in Washington, D.C. She analyzes and advocates for federal and state workforce and postsecondary education policies that help low-income, lower-skilled adults access education, postsecondary credentials and family-sustaining careers. She regularly authors publications about strategies for helping low-income individuals access education and better jobs and makes frequent presentations to groups and associations on these topics.
“Women’s studies is a discipline devoted to educating students so that they can influence the world for greater equality of opportunity, achievement and happiness,” said Department Head Michele Janette. “Vickie’s career success exemplifies the quality and commitment of our students, and the work she does exemplifies our departmental objective of putting those talents and passions to work to improve the lives of the disadvantaged in our communities.”
While at the university, Choitz received a research internship in London at the Institute for Public Policy Research, where she conducted comparative research on U.S. and U.K. welfare reforms and workforce development. She authored an official summary document on that subject for an institute book on welfare reform. She now lives in Washington, D.C., with her husband, Theodore Poppitz, also a K-State alumnus.