PSS Winter '13


Designed by Janet Braun-Reinitz ’73, “When Women Pursue Justice” is a 72 foot
long mural in Brooklyn. The piece, dedicated to Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm,
features women who, according to Braun-Reinitz, “really stuck their necks out to do
something they believe in.” The mural was painted in 2005 by Braun-Reinitz along
with 11 other principal artists, five Brooklyn-area high school students and more
than 30 community volunteers.

40 Years: Women’s Studies

Women’s Studies affects what we can know about worlds – human and nonhuman – and how to dwell here together. Core to any liberal arts inquiry, it was the early 1970s when then-William Smith Dean Christine A. Young (Speer) and Provost Robert Skotheim turned a critical eye on the Hobart and William Smith curriculum and the lack of courses dedicated to the study of women and, equally noticeable, the absence of foundational works by women on matters of emancipation, citizenship and democracy. In a 1971 article titled “The Woman Student Reconsidered,” Young wrote that the Colleges had “…fallen short of the original aims of our early guiding spirits…. Clearly we must broaden the range of careers for women, if not eliminate what is suitable for a man and what is suitable for a woman.”

Although the Colleges have a rich history rooted in the women’s rights movement – founder William Smith was inspired to establish William Smith College by his friendships with a number of local suffragists, and although some Women’s Studies courses had been offered at the Colleges since the early 1960s, the HWS curriculum of 1971 was relatively scant of women’s topics. This was especially troubling given the increasing William Smith enrollment and a growing global dialogue about the role of women in society. In an era that was being shaped by the rise of the feminist movement, the passage of Title IX, the first publication of many major women’s journals, and the battle of Roe v. Wade, it was time for the Colleges to join the conversation.

“It is of the greatest intellectual and practical importance to women – and men as well – that they be educated concerning the history, sociology and psychology of women,” wrote Skotheim in 1972’s Quarterly. It is, he said “…inexcusable not to face it.”

By the fall of 1972, a committee of students and faculty had been selected to envision what would become one of the first Women’s Studies departments in the country. The delegation worked through questions of content, scope and format, creating an initial curriculum. The following spring, the Colleges had their first declared Women’s Studies major.

“For a small, liberal arts college, it is truly amazing to have been at the forefront,” says Betty Bayer, professor and chair of the Women’s Studies Department. “The Colleges are seen very much as a leader in this area.”

The ensuing growth of the department could not have been anticipated by its architects 40 years ago. “Then, Women’s Studies was envisioned by a student-faculty committee as a kind of stopgap measure, a temporary arrangement to allow the wider curriculum and academic disciplines to catch up, if you will,” explains Bayer. “Now, Women’s Studies boasts two new tenure-track hires – Jessica Hayes-Conroy and Michelle Baron. Today, more than 50 faculty members from across the Colleges teach courses cross-listed with Women’s Studies.”

In addition to its popularity on campus, today’s HWS Women’s Studies Department is among the strongest in the country, resting upon a solid foundation of theory while expanding to encompass the contemporary concerns of feminist scholars.

Courses such as Feminist Theory have remained at the heart of the academic program, but the interdisciplinary major has now grown to include rich and diverse offerings such as Gender and Islam and the Politics of Health. While taking courses on the histories of women, students are also delving into concepts of identity, politics, economics, art and healthcare, among many others. Women’s Studies courses allow students to gain clarity about critical concepts of equity, justice, democracy and freedom.

“Women’s studies and feminism transformed higher education, not just by offering courses but by digging into the epistemological practices of how knowledge is produced and warranted and also by developing interdisciplinary teaching and scholarship,” says Bayer.

Hayes-Conroy, who arrived at HWS in 2011, has found an environment that nurtures research and promotes possibility. “It is an honor to be part of such a long and accomplished history, and to be able to contribute to the ongoing development of our women’s studies program,” she says. “It is also exciting to be one of two new hires in women’s studies, and to take a lead role in expanding the program into new areas of study. Thus far at HWS, I have been thrilled to bring my expertise in food studies and health geography into the Women’s Studies classroom, and to engage both Women’s Studies and health professions students in conversations about the connections between nutrition, feminism, and bodily health. My research trajectory – which has always been interdisciplinary – undoubtedly benefits from my location in a Women’s Studies program, as I continually develop and refine my theoretical and methodological commitments in dialogue with Women’s Studies colleagues and students.”

Joining Hayes-Conroy as a new tenuretrack faculty member, Baron sees the 40th anniversary as a period of reinvigoration and inspiration. “This is an exciting time to be entering Women’s Studies,” explains Baron, a performance studies scholar and teacher. “We have a lot to be grateful for – the faculty, staff, and student pioneers who made the program possible and kept it vibrant – and a lot to look forward to. This is a wonderful time for reflection as well as for envisioning our future. I’m thrilled to be a part of these ongoing conversations, and to help forge new paths for feminist research.” Baron has added new courses in transnational feminism and Chicana arts and feminism, with plans to build her course offerings in feminist and queer performance studies.

Channeling the exuberant energy of the Colleges at the advent of Women’s Studies, this year the department created a communitywide 40th anniversary celebration. Former women of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee offered a public lecture on campus, and “Double Vision,” an art exhibit comprised of pieces by women and for women, was housed in the Davis Gallery – a callback to “Eye of Woman,” a show put on in the first year of the Women’s Studies Department. The Theatre Department featured the work of a woman playwright, and this spring the Dance Department will format its popular Faculty Dance Concert to reflect the anniversary – with 40 small installments reflecting on the struggles and triumphs of women.

“The ways in which the HWS community engages with commemorating this milestone speaks to the institution’s commitment to not only the discipline of Women’s Studies, but gender equity more broadly,” explains Baron. “I am especially excited by the ways that many different departments on campus have helped us to celebrate by engaging with the arts, from the Theater Department’s production of The Heidi Chronicles – for which I facilitated a postshow roundtable on feminism, history, and the arts – to the art exhibit, and many more.”

“With our 40th celebration, we are seeking to wake up that part of campus again and really tap into the passion,” explains Bayer. “Women’s Studies is not just a history: it is how we transform.”

Janet Braun-Reinitz ’73 is a life-long activist. As Hobart and William Smith’s first Women’s Studies student, she worked with the late Professor of History Bob Huff to design her own women’s studies major to match her interests and ideals – and she graduated just one semester before students could officially declare the major. “I am very proud to be the first women’s studies major,” she says. “It was an idea whose time had come, and there were plenty of faculty members who were sympathetic to my cause. All across campus, they were already teaching courses on women’s history, women writers and women artists. We were so close to Seneca Falls – we knew that part of the story, but there was so much to learn.” Forty years later, Braun-Reinitz is part of a collective of politically-minded mural artists, and teaches mural painting in New York City schools.


Preparing Students to Lead Lives of Consequence.