On Dec. 6, Professor of French Language and Director of Gender Studies Amy Reid hosted a book giveaway in anticipation of the planned demolition of Palmer C, Palmer E and B Dorm later this month. Though B Dorm was taken offline in the summer and does not currently house students, multiple faculty members and programs are still located in Palmers C and E, meaning they will have to relocate. The Gender Studies office is currently in Palmer C 215, a shared space with the International and Area Studies (IAS) office. According to Reid, there will be space allocated for IAS, but not for Gender Studies, since the Board of Trustees (BOT) voted to begin the process of terminating the program at its Aug. 10 meeting. Reid hosted the giveaway to “rehome the books to as many students as possible,” according to the event’s announcement.
“Over the years, the Gender Studies Program has received a lot of donations of books, from faculty and community members, students. We’ve had them here so that people could access them,” Reid explained in an interview with this Catalyst reporter. “At this moment, Gender Studies has lost its budget, the program has been slated for abolishment. So, we’re losing our office and we need a place for the books. It would be better to have them sent to students who are going to read them than to have them stuck in a storage closet somewhere.”
Reid pointed out that Gender Studies has been a target for the new BOT, with board members such as Christopher Rufo making their disdain for the discipline apparent.
“I can’t conjecture on solid ground about the ‘whys’ of it,” Reid said. “But if you look specifically at things that have been written or said by one of the more outrageous activists on the BOT, they are very clear that they see Gender Studies as an aberration that they want to stamp out…
“I really don’t know what these people are afraid of, but they’re lashing out at Gender Studies and women and queer people. I don’t know the source of their animus, but I certainly hope saner minds are going to prevail.”
In the face of an entity intent on making the discussion of certain concepts impossible on campus, Reid described the unique ways that New College has historically motivated students to take charge of their own education.
“New College has always been about creating a structure that allows students to explore the ideas that matter to them. To identify the questions that they want to figure out and to try and find some of the answers, however provisional,” Reid stated. “I encourage our students to keep on being fearless and fierce in their commitment to figuring out the questions and the answers they need. Some of those are going to revolve around gender, because it’s a central issue in human life. None of us should want to go through life with blinders on, or gags on our mouths. I’ll encourage our students to just keep on doing what they want to do.”
Additionally, Reid spoke about the positives that have come from helping build up the Gender Studies Program and maintain it over the course of the last two decades.
“I came here and I knew I was going to be able to grow and learn with students. Building this program was really a collaborative effort. [Former Professor of English and Gender Studies] Miriam Wallace and I arrived here the same year and we were able to jump into a structure that senior faculty had put into place, and start to run with it,” Reid shared. “From the very beginning, there were students who were activists and engaged… It was just lovely to be in a learning community. For me, what I like best about New College is what I like best about the feminist ethos of Women’s and Gender Studies, which is about a collective project of learning and challenging received ideas, together.”
In addition to speaking with Reid, the Catalyst reached out to former Associate Professor of Biology Elizabeth Leininger, who is a current Associate Professor of Neuroscience at St. Mary’s College of Maryland. Leininger offered positive statements regarding her experience as a contributing professor to the Gender Studies Program.
“As a member of the Gender Studies Steering Committee for two of my six years at New College, I felt welcomed into an interdisciplinary group of students and faculty,” Leininger wrote in an email interview. “All were interested in how gender shapes our lives, but through using different disciplinary perspectives and lenses.”
Leininger described the environment cultivated by the program and its members. “My teaching in the program brought a new science course offering into the Gender Studies program, ‘Sex, Gender, Mind and Brain.’ I loved how that course attracted an interdisciplinary audience,” Leininger wrote. “I had science students who were curious about how scientists have studied sex and gender, and the impacts of science in the world around them. I also had humanities and social sciences students who were interested in gender, and whose sharp critical thinking skills made them great consumers of the science in that course.
“One special thing about a liberal arts education is the cross-talk and discourse happening between fields of study, in the effort to understand our world. The course I taught helped students do just that.”
Leininger’s statements coupled with Reid’s interview help paint a picture of all the good the Gender Studies Program has provided, telling stories of constructive student and faculty engagement from a wide range of disciplines. This illustrates how the program was a benefit to all, not just those specifically interested in a Gender Studies degree, highlighting the interdisciplinary applications the field encompasses.
Reid wrapped up her interview by expressing her appreciation and admiration for New College students’ pursuit of knowledge. “I love the fact that I could say ‘come and get books,’ and I knew a bunch of students would show up,” Reid concluded. “There were students I knew and students I didn’t know, and there were students who got their teachers to let them sneak out of class for a break in the middle to come over and get books. I love it.”