March is Women’s History Month
The 1960s was a rousing time for women. It saw the introduction of the first contraceptive pill, the passage of the Equal Pay Act, as well as the passage of the Civil Rights Act. But, despite the progress made during the 1960s, there still wasn’t equal opportunity across the spectrum, particularly for women at higher education institutions.
Across the country, women began calling on colleges and universities to provide expanded programs and courses that would help prepare them for workforce participation and careers, rather than a lifestyle of homemaking and childrearing.
The University of South Florida (USF) was one of the first universities in the country to answer that call.
Growing in popularity were courses that were already offered through departments in English, history, anthropology, and behavioral science, but these courses primarily focused on the image of women in literature and the contemporary woman and her role in Western society, rather than offering education on modern issues related to women’s identity, social change, and human sexual behavior, according to Dr. Diane Price Herndl, professor and chair of the Department of Women’s and Gender Studies at the USF College of Arts and Sciences.
In 1972, USF established the women’s studies program, which at the time was a non-degree undergraduate program that offered 11 courses, all taught by women. Dr. Juanita Williams, an assistant professor of social sciences, spearheaded the effort to establish the program, which she also led as the director.
The history-making program was only the second of its kind in the country.
“1972 was the year that Title IX—a law that prohibits sexual discrimination in education—was passed, as well as the Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution,” Price Herndl said. “USF was a young university, able to be innovative and forward-thinking, not being tied to traditional ways of how things had been done for generations.”
“It seems fitting that we would be one of the first universities to establish a program that expands our ways of thinking, offers critical perspectives on knowledge, and promotes inclusive excellence.”
Over the course of the last 50 years, the program has grown into its own department and now boasts ten faculty members on two campuses, who teach 3,000 students each year. As of 2023, the department offers an undergraduate degree, two minors, a graduate degree, and a graduate certificate.
To celebrate the progress and growth of the program, the Department of Women’s and Gender Studies hosted a series of events, including:
- Pride Belongs to the People photo exhibition
- Reproductive Justice is for Everyone! art exhibition
- World Day of Social Justice art exhibition
- Book Launch for The Power and Freedom of Black Feminist and Womanist Pedagogy: Still Woke
- Living Feminisms Conference
- Past, Present, and Future Survival: An Anti-Racist Writing Workshop
- Muslim Alums, Living Our Feminist Lives
The celebration culminated with a 50th anniversary reception event on March 3, 2023. The event brought together current and former faculty, alumni, community members, students, and friends of the program to hear about the history of women’s studies at USF, share stories, reminisce, and celebrate where the department is heading in the next 50 years.
Price Herndl acknowledges the progress that has been made and its importance to the advances in inclusivity that are critical to the university’s goals.
“Our trajectory has been toward more and more inclusiveness as time has gone on,” she said. “We not only were one of the first Women’s Studies programs but one of the first to offer a course on Black women in America.”
She also shared that since its creation, the department has expanded to include multiple perspectives on gender and sexuality, noting that the Women’s and Gender Studies department was the first at USF to offer a course in Disability Studies.
“We have been, and continue to be, central to USF’s strategic focus on social justice and educating students to be critical thinkers and active citizens in a diverse world.”