Center for the Study of Women, Gender and Sexuality celebrates its 25th anniversary

Two guest speakers are scheduled for March

Rice’s Center for the Study of Women, Gender and Sexuality (CSWGS) is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year.

“As we reflect on 25 years, we are proud of our growth and accomplishments,” said Susan Lurie, director of CSWGS. “We look forward to expanding our reach both within the Rice community and beyond.”

Susan Lurie, director of CSWGS.

Two guest speakers are scheduled for March as part of CSWGS’ celebration of this milestone. Jocelyn Olcott, an associate professor of history and gender, sexuality and feminist studies at Duke University, will discuss “Dissensus Feminism: The Lessons of International Women’s Year” March 1 as part of Women’s History Month. Her talk will be at 4 p.m. in Herring Hall. Bridget Burns, co-director of the Women’s Environment and Development Organization, will present at the center’s Gray/Wawro Lectures in Gender, Health and Well-Being Mar. 22. Her presentation will be at 6 p.m. in Sewall Hall 301.

Women’s studies first became an undergraduate major at Rice in 1991, and the center was established in 2006 as an outgrowth of the Program for the Study of Women, Gender and Sexuality. Today, the center brings together 47 faculty affiliates from 17 departments and three schools: Rice’s School of Humanities, School of Social Sciences and the Shepherd School of Music.

Curricular initiatives in engaged community research are a signature component of the center’s mission, which is to make a better world by promoting critical knowledge and relationships with communities that extend the understanding of the lives of women and the history and politics of sexuality and gender as a key influence on the quality of life. Indispensable to this mission is the center’s support of its faculty’s cutting-edge research, Lurie said.

An extraordinarily successful two-year postdoctoral program brings new directions in research and teaching to the CSWGS community, she said. “The postdoc program has allowed us to offer new interdisciplinary courses like gender and science,” Lurie said. “We take pride in the fact that center fellows now have tenure-track positions at institutions like Brandeis, Middlebury College, Mount Holyoke, UC Santa Barbara and Wellesley.”

CSWGS also houses the acclaimed international journal Feminist Economics. And the center is a partner in the Houston Area Rainbow Collective History (Houston ARCH), a consortium of Houston-area universities, libraries, museums and archives that promotes the preservation and dissemination of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender history in the Houston area.

Among the center’s most important initiatives are the Gray/Wawro Lectures, funded by Melanie Gray and Mark Wawro. Each lecture brings to Houston a leading scholar whose work inspires deeper understanding of the gender features underlying urgent health concerns and fosters public conversation that can prompt informed action toward a more just world.

Since its 20th anniversary, CSWGS has added several new programs, including the Rice Feminist Forum, an online space where feminists engage urgent public concerns, and the recently reorganized ProVisions Lecture Series. The invited lunchtime seminar still brings together campus and Houston communities; however, the new format’s speakers are no longer Rice faculty, but leaders of Houston-area nonprofit organizations.

“Through this series, our students can become familiar with important organizations and local thought leaders,” said Brian Riedel, associate director of CSWGS. “Houston is fortunate to have such a deep network of nonprofit organizations. We hope this new format will deepen our collaborations both on campus and beyond the hedges.”

The revised ProVisions series complements another key program through which CSWGS students collaborate with the community: the seminar and practicum in engaged research. Since its inception in 2008, the program has paired 70 undergraduate researchers with 39 local community organizations. This yearlong project — a capstone for majoring students but also open to all juniors and seniors — includes both a community and on-campus component.

“Students execute about 100 hours of research during the spring,” Riedel said. “In the classroom, students learn about feminist research methods and discuss the issues their partner organizations are facing.”

The center is also committed to supporting exceptional undergraduate and graduate students through a range of prizes and awards. For example, competitive fellowships of $7,500 are offered to graduate students who are in the dissertation writing stage. The fellowships are funded by CSWGS’s Partners of the Center donor program.

“We are a vibrant center with many moving parts,” Lurie said. “We are proud to mark this milestone event and look forward to continuing to grow in the future.”

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About Kendall Schoemann

Kendall Schoemann is a staff writer in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.