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About the Department of Gender and Women's Studies


The Department of Gender and Women’s Studies provides an institutional home and an intellectual community to develop and disseminate knowledge about women and gender through an analysis of texts, social and cultural practices, and social institutions, both local and global, historical and contemporary. We explore the diverse empirical realities and creative meanings of gender and the lives of women, including their representations in the arts, culture, and history in global perspective. We examine the structures of inequality and the movements for social change, especially attuned to the intersections of gender with other dimensions of difference and inequality such as race, class, sexuality, religion, disability, and national origin. Through our scholarship, teaching and outreach, we engage our communities, our state, and the world with a commitment to social justice.

We strive to support and produce first-rate and innovative scholarship. Only through research excellence can we understand the past, reveal and explain the present, and advocate for a better future. We share an investment in the centrality of feminist thought and of gender as a category of analysis. Committed to interdisciplinarity, we believe that multiple theoretical and methodological approaches can serve to illuminate shared problems in new ways and provide pathways toward their resolution.

We embrace the power of education as a way to shape the future. We see the classroom as a potent site for the production of self-knowledge, and we also demand that students look through and beyond their own perspectives to understand the lives of other people across different locations, times, sexes, genders, sexualities, races, cultures, religions, and disability statuses. We believe that education does not flow in just one direction, but rather, as we share our expertise with our students, our own perspectives and claims are transformed.

Our History

The Women's Studies Program was founded in 1975 during a period of activism and debate that extended across the University of Wisconsin System. Our Program was established with a unique structure that provided much of its strength. Whereas most other women's studies programs of the time could be described as structures designed to coordinate offerings of faculty from different departments, our program had from the start a degree of autonomy and resources that allowed us greater ability to define our own field, the content of our curriculum, and our own process for governance and decision-making.

Over the years we became a well-respected Program in the University as we grew and strengthened. In 2008, we became a Department, and changed our name from the Women's Studies Program to the Department of Gender and Women's Studies. Having begun with a small set of course offerings, the Department now lists over 100 courses, 79 of which are cross-listed from other departments. Not counting cross-listed courses, the Department offers 12-14 undergraduate and 1-2 exclusively graduate courses each semester, as well as a full summer program. In 1980 the Women's Studies Certificate was offered for the first time; by 1984 we were offering a Ph.D minor in Women's Studies. In 1986 we were authorized to enroll our first students as undergraduate majors in Women's Studies, and the Class of 1987 was our first graduating class. The LGBT Studies Certificate was offered for the first time in 2004. In the Fall of 2006, we welcomed our first class of Gender and Women's Studies Master's Degree students.

The Department of Gender and Women's Studies has grown in other ways. Our faculty are well respected and active members of the scholarly community, with many influential publications to their record.

In 1977 the Center for Research on Gender and Women (originally the Women's Studies Research Center) was founded as the arm of the Department of Gender and Women's Studies devoted to encouraging and coordinating high-quality women's studies research on campus. The Department works to be a responsible member of the larger community, participating in feminist activities with educational implications on the University, local, state, national, and even international levels.

Become Involved

The Department of Gender and Women's Studies members see ourselves not merely as a University department in the traditional sense, but as a community of students of women's studies. We value diversity within our community and reflect many different understandings of women's studies, feminism, and education. Decision-making takes place largely in communities and in Department meetings. All who are committed to women's studies education are encouraged to become involved.  For example, we have many "joint governance" faculty who do not teach directly for the department, but who are as involved in the department, including advising students and partaking in departmental decisions, as faculty members that are appointed in Gender and Women's Studies. We have affiliates that serve on an ad hoc basis on committees and who serve on MA thesis committees.  We also have friends and alums that keep us engaged in various ways with the broader university, the Madison community and in national and global conversations. We also have friends and alumni that help to fund our small, but often life-changing endeavors. Please contact the Chair of Gender and Women's Studies to find out ways you may become involved.