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At the table

At the table

Sarina Tacovic March 27, 2023

During the last 45 years, the UD women's studies program, now known as the Women's and Gender Studies program, and the UD Women's Center have drawn on the University's Marianist roots to give women more of a place at the table.

As the program celebrated its 45th anniversary and the center its 20th during this March's Women's History Month, University of Dayton Magazine sat down with UD Women's and Gender Studies Program Director Jamie Small, UD Women's Center Interim Director Leah Ward and center Assistant Director Catherine Forrest to discuss where the program and center have been and where they're headed.

DayMag: What does this anniversary mean?

Small: “We are proud to have our legacy last through different iterations over 45 years, but we also know that we have incredible amounts of work to do. Where do we want to be? What’s the vision? And that’s what I ask my students: what world do you want to live in? And what do you think is a fair and just way to organize the world? That’s a hallmark of our program: we don’t have answers, but frameworks to help us create a more equitable future together.”

Ward: “It’s an accomplishment to be here 20 years, and in that reflection, we’re looking at honoring the past, creating and reshaping our relevance, and evolving for the future. It’s a really exciting time to get creative to meet the needs of our community based on what we're hearing from people about the work we are and are not yet doing. We want to address what is redundant on campus and how we build our capacity to stay relevant so that in 20 more years the center is still here.”

DayMag: What does the future look like?

Small: “We want to engage more students. Our work is in everything from pop culture to science to democracy, so we intentionally target all students for our intro class, WGS 250, because we believe the feminist lens builds an informed citizenry, aligning with our country’s democratic vision and our vision of Marianist Charism. We also have new internship opportunities coming up, including one with UD’s Human Rights Center’s work on preventing domestic violent extremism, which is called the Gendered Injustices and Violent Extremism (GIVE) Program.”

Ward: “We want to continue making our space user friendly, meet the needs on campus and continue to try things on. That kind of permission to try, particularly around identity development, is really important because everyone's going to see themselves move through spaces so differently that it's not best to write hard and fast, but be flexible. I also envision our name looking different because it can be a barrier to entry and doesn't encompass the work we’re doing and want to do.”

DayMag: How are students engaged?

Small: “Some of the hallmarks of our program are our internships, experiential learning and advocacy opportunities in and outside of the classroom, and our graduates use that to go on and do incredible professional work in university affairs roles in Title IX offices, global public health, law, social services and international development, for example. We have some exciting programming right now, too. In the senior capstone class, we’re reading Viral Justice: How We Grow the World We Want by Ruja Benjamin and hosting discussions with other students, faculty, staff and the Women’s Center.”

Ward: We have a calendar of all the things that happen on campus for Women’s History Month, which are mostly put on by student organizations and campus partners. I think this year we've had the most student organizations promoted, which is a really big deal for a student body to see themselves doing the work, particularly after PATH credits have ended and they aren’t externally incentivized to participate.”

Forrest: “We also co-advise student organizations with UD’s Multi-Ethnic Engagement Center, including Womanists Empower and Las Mujeristas, which highlight the experiences of women of color. It's been fantastic to invest in those students and help them figure out what particular advocacy tools they already have within their academic journeys and personal vocations, and how they can take that to build leadership skills, team building, program design, events planning, all the skill building experiences employers are looking for.”

Women's impact at UD