Reflections on Women’s & Gender Studies
Dr. Andrea Fabrizio:
My interest in Women’s and Gender Studies began when I was a freshman in college reading “A Room of One’s Own” by Virginia Woolf. I still remember the eagerness that I felt when I read the words, “It would have been impossible, completely, and entirely, for any woman to have written the plays of Shakespeare in the age of Shakespeare.” This was the moment in my life as a student where I became aware of the impact social conditions and beliefs can have on an individual’s potential and creativity. As I went through college, I continued to be interested in these sixteenth and seventeenth century women who would have been unable to be the next Shakespeare because of the limitations placed on them by their society. As a graduate student, I began to study the ways in which religion and prophecy afforded women an intellectual, political, and powerful voice, in a time when they were supposed to be silent, and I have recently completed my dissertation on early modern women prophets in England. I am part of the Women’s & Gender Studies initiative at Hostos to continue to make students aware of the variety of voices and forces that shape and enrich our literature, our history, and our society.
Prof. Sandy Figueroa:
“What are you studying in college?” — Gioia
“Home Economics” — Angie
“I don’t understand; what does that mean?” — Gioia
“I am studying how to be a woman” — Angie
The dialogue comes, by way of paraphrase and exact quotes, from Wild is the Wind, a 1957 movie starring Anna Magnani as Gioia. The final quotation really struck me: since I was conscious of movies at the age of ten, I have been looking for the most part at men’s images of women in film, theater, and in literature-classical or contemporary. Those images, of course, have been of white American women. Quite obviously, African American women did not go to college to study to become a woman. African American women were struggling with Sojourner Truth to get white American society to recognize their value as human beings and so, they had to study a profession “for the survival of their race.”
I have been interested in women’s and gender studies since I was in the Novitiate of the Sisters of Charity of Mt. St. Vincent in the Bronx back in 1965. We did not know that we were feminists nor were we called feminists, a word that developed in the early 1970’s; however, the fact that we were training to look at the marginalized and the poor and respond to their needs in our uniquely feminine way was sufficient for all of us in our religious congregations to see ourselves as feminists; obviously contrary to the hierarchical structure of the Roman Catholic Church.
Women’s & Gender Studies at Hostos Community College affords me an opportunity to examine my life and life choices for the past 62 years and to listen to our younger sisters and to create an opportunity for us to work together to define ourselves within our own cultures and age groups and across cultures and age groups.
I welcome the opportunity to work with sister colleagues to develop a strong women’s studies program at Hostos Community College in which we can study, dialogue, and take action in our personal lives and in our professional lives.
Dr. Jerilyn Fisher:
Women’s and Gender Studies runs through my veins; it is my life’s work. As an undergraduate at SUNY Binghamton, I developed my own B.A. in this field through a curricular mechanism which allowed students to create “innovational” majors. In the early seventies, there were only three courses in Women’s Studies at my university, requiring me to go as far as Oregon and Washington, D.C. to finish my degree. By 1974, I had earned the first B.A. in Women’s Studies at Binghamton. This “first” remains an achievement of which I’m most proud.
I took up masters and doctoral studies in D.C., culminating in a dissertation about Black and Chicana fiction by women in the 1970’s. I studied Their Eyes Were Watching God as a backdrop and catalyst to contemporary work by Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, Toni Cade Bambara, and Gayle Jones. I searched for journals in the Southwest that had published short fiction and plays by Estela Portillo Trambley and Guadalupe Valdes. To this day, I teach Portillo Trambley’s “The Paris Gown” and Valdes’ “Recuerdo” as well as books by Hurston and Morrison, stories by Bambara–each of which nourished my early feminist literary consciousness.
I have taught a wide range of Women’s and Gender Studies classes here at Hostos and at the University of Maryland, the College of New Rochelle, and Bloomfield College in New Jersey. One unusual course that I developed and taught at The College of New Rochelle is “Witches and Saints”. Women’s fiction, from interdisciplinary perspectives, has been the focus of the articles and books I’ve published, starting with excerpts from my dissertation (1978).
Reflecting personally, I can quicky put my finger on just why I came to throw my heart into this particular work. In the 1940’s, my beloved grandfather discouraged my mother from attending Hunter College and studying journalism. When he withdrew his support, she tried to continue without it by going to night school and holding a daytime secretarial job. But within a year, she caved to her family’s expectations for a daughter of her time, giving up her studies to accept that coveted marriage proposal, which was just what her parents had hoped would happen. My mother never realized her educational goal. She still speaks about that long ago time with regret and longing. How different her life would have been had she remained at Hunter College!
I’ve come to believe that in some strange way, my work affords me the chance to live out my mother’s stifled dream to work at what she loved. By teaching students about women’s voices, our history of struggle and achievement—and about men who join that struggle–I aim to encourage both women and men to ensure that, unlike my mother, more and more daughters invest in their development as thinkers and do-ers within their families, the academy, their careers and also within the larger, public sphere where everyday actions on behalf of women’s rights can surely make a difference for generations to come.
Dr. Inmaculada Lara-Bonilla, Humanities Department
Dr. Julie Trachman:
Natural Science Department
My grandfather told my mother that women did not need a college education. She went to college for awhile, paying her own way. Eventually she earned a degree in interior design and occasionally worked “free-lance.” Unlike my mother, I was expected to go to college and even to have a full-fledged career, but I was certainly not expected to become a scientist – a profession overwhelmingly male-dominated. (My brother, not I, was handed a microscope and chemistry set.)
With exposure to the science subjects in school, I gravitated towards a career in medical research although I was one of only a few females in my science classes, taught mostly by male professors. Participating in a National Science Foundation-sponsored program during high school and then attending Cornell University where there were other female students seriously interested in the sciences deepened my resolve to become a scientist. I attained my Ph.D. in microbiology from N.Y.U. at a time when biology, in general, was more welcoming to females entering academia than other sciences. Historically, more women make their scientific mark in the biological sciences as compared to other STEM disciplines (i.e. science, technology, engineering, mathematics). I drew inspiration from biologists like Barbara McClintock (a Nobel laureate) and Rebecca Lancefield (a former president of the American Society for Microbiology) who had worked against societal norms to attain their successes. However, I was aware that many more women disappear as victims of the “leaky pipeline” phenomenon, experiencing the vicissitudes and perils of this career choice.
I have come to the academic field of women’s studies as a scientist who persisted and succeeded in reaching the other end of the “leaky pipeline.” My life path has been shaped by the experiences of women who came before me, forging careers on similar paths to the one I’ve chosen to travel.
As a member of the Hostos Women’s & Gender Studies initiative, I wish to encourage our female students to seriously think about entering the STEM professions if they feel they have the interest and ability. I hope to serve as an advisor and a role model to those students.