Category Archives: Interdisciplinary Leadership

“If there’s a proven breeding ground for institutional actors, it’s IRWGS…”


Mark van Doren Professor of Humanities, Chair of Literature Humanities

If we are so functional in this institute that we are constantly being asked to run departments, programs and divisions, give us more faculty. We’ve proven that we’re an excellent training ground for creating not just excellent scholars, but the great administrators, which are few on the ground. You want a lot of women, and women of color administrators, so give us more faculty lines, because we show again, and again and again, that we create the conditions that allow people to succeed in their scholarship and allow them to succeed as administrators and citizens. If there’s a proven breeding ground for institutional actors, it’s IRWGS, frankly. You just do the math. Literally everybody involved in that institute runs major, major units of this university. That’s not an accident. That’s called feminism. That’s feminist practice. That’s feminist networking, not in the old boys behind the scenes sense, but actually creating open and meaningful dialogue, collaborative practices, support networks, thinking from all levels. The reason that IRWGS has survived is because the senior people are constantly bringing in junior people, and then we in turn bring in more junior people. It’s the only way it survives.

Yes, that’s a bit of a rant, but I think it’s really a true observation. I think Lee Bollinger recognizes that. I hope other people recognize it. It’s just it’s statistically and factually true.

“…I didn’t feel there was enough outreach”


Gustave M. Berne Professor of Philosophy
IRWGS Core Faculty
IRWGS Director, 2000-01

In 2002 I was struck by the fact that the Institute for Research on Women and Gender was maybe a little bit overly focused on the research part as opposed to on the teaching part. We were teaching our classes and doing a perfectly good job as far as I could tell, but I didn’t feel that there was enough outreach. I felt that the people who already knew they were feminists were willing to find us in Schermerhorn Extension, but there are all of these other people out there who had feminist tendencies or not, as the case may be, that could be encouraged to think about gender in innovative and important ways. I didn’t really have a clear sense of it then because I really was fairly new to it all, but I was struck by—once I started reaching out to people—people around campus who had not been involved in IRWGS were more inclined to be involved than some of my colleagues had predicted.

I know a really good example. We used to have this series of lectures called Feminist Interventions, which I think was a way of encouraging people to think about their research in feminism…As a teacher, what I was really taken by was that, if you actually give people a good opportunity to be feminists, to think about gender, many of them will take you up on it and really absorb those lessons in a way that I think we don’t take seriously enough.

“…I’m giving up a lot of what’s important to me to hopefully do this other kind of work…”


Dean of Social Science, Professor of Sociology and Gender Studies
IRWGS Directors, 2013-14

We really wanted to both create a space for students so we, when I was director, allowed students to use the space for student groups, for meetings, anything that they wanted to do. We also started this, as part of the Queer Futures series, a series of explicit talks around lesbian and gay issues but issues around transgender in particular. There was just so much I wanted to do and to accomplish. When I met with David [Madigan] in December, when he offered the job to me—so it’s the second conversation. I first said to him, “Is it a fulltime job? Can I do that and still direct the institute?” He like jumped back and said, “I don’t think so. I don’t think anybody’s ever asked. Let me think about it. I’d have to ask,” but that was my first impulse was to really want to continue that work, because I loved doing that work. I felt like we were doing—it just felt special and we were getting better at outreach. We were really expanding the Twitter feed and the Facebook feed and bringing students into the space and having more students at events. When I first came to the institute, we sometimes had big, well-attended events, but that was not the norm. We would have events where you just had a couple of people and some crickets. I always thought that that was such a shame. Part of it was, one of the first things I did was to really schedule out for almost a whole year, such that when Patricia [Dailey] became director this year—actually the event that was last week with Jeffrey McCune, I planned that event. I just was planning out so you could give people enough notice.

It was often the case that we were planning things a month ahead, two weeks ahead, and people just have other commitments and can’t make it. One of the things I wanted to do in part to increase the size of the community and grow the conversations, was to just to be able to give people more notice and be better about advertising and these sorts of things. Certainly one of my major reservations, if there were two or three, was no longer being central in the leadership of the institute, not only as director, but even DUS/DGS [director of undergraduate studies/director of graduate studies], nothing. After it became clear to me that no, I could not both be Dean of Social Science and director of the Institute for Research on Women, Gender and Sexuality, but moreover, I could probably not be Dean of Social Science and teach. That was a lot. I’m giving up a lot of what’s important and what feeds me, to hopefully do this other kind of work. Lots of reservations.

David, to his credit, took a lot of meetings with me and Sharon Marcus, who was the DGS at the institute for a time. After a few meetings we each had with David, we pretty much decided to negotiate the terms of our contracts together. I love this because it is such a feminist action, practice, instinct. Who would think to do that? It’s like, “Let’s negotiate our contracts together.” We had a little labor union of two. To be able to think that through with someone who also had never thought about this, it felt like a safety blanket that we could say, “Well, what about this?” and we would go back and forth thinking about that. That actually really helped with the decision, both because Sharon and I would be doing it together, starting together, but also because we had a lot of rich conversations in which we talked through what we thought we needed or might need or, “Had you thought about this?” “No, I’d never thought about that.” “You were thinking about that? Oh my goodness.”

That was one of the things that allowed me to feel comfortable in taking the position.

"…these are young people who are organizing and responding because they also know the history."


William B. Ransford Professor of English and Comparative Literature and African-American Studies

It’s fed my creativity, it’s fed my activism. It’s touched me in ways that I did not expect to be touched. Essence did a first-ever special issue on Black Lives Matter. There was no model on the cover. It was a black on black cover with Black Lives Matter, just the graphics. They asked me to write a piece, along with many other people. I had to write about this generation. Those that I teach are very privileged, but even those who weren’t privileged, those who had been written off and put in the worst schools, abandoned in their schools and their communities—talked about, because their pants sag, that this is what they’re up against. Just recently, in McKinney, Texas, we see how that officer treated those children. This is what they’re up against. But look at how they respond. I worry about them, I’m concerned with them. Those children in Ferguson were confronted by tanks. But they did that, and the rest of the country said, “Oh, maybe that’s not such a good idea.” Maybe we shouldn’t have that militarized police force. Or maybe there is a problem with mass incarceration. Or, at our own university, maybe we shouldn’t be investing in companies that invest in private prisons. It’s the students who are leading us. I’ve always believed that. As a young activist, I believed it too. It’s one thing to believe something in the abstract, theoretically, and it’s another thing to see it in action.

Q: Right. So not only talking about recovery, but regeneration.

Yes, right. And knowing the importance of history to that regeneration. So many of these young people are young people who are organizing and responding because they also know the history. They’ve studied it. They know how their world is different from the one they’ve read about, but they also have learned from what’s come before. It’s the best—it’s the way it’s supposed to work.