In the fall semester of 1970, San Diego State University founded the first Women’s Studies program in the United States. Eleven years later, UTEP instituted a program of its own. The founding of Women’s Studies marks a proud moment in the history of the institution and has allowed for students of this university to comprehend the issues that face women, both in the past and present. Additionally, a more precise education on women’s issues promotes a more understanding future among the sexes.
Although the program was officially formed in 1981, Dr. Mimi Gladstein had been teaching Women’s Studies courses at UTEP since the early 1970’s. Dr. Gladstein’s efforts to “create campus wide interest” on the subject of sexuality and to institute a permanent program faced some difficulties. According to Dr. Gladstein, the main issue faced was to “make evident to the community that the courses were intensely academic” and that they were not “touchy-feely” as was often believed.
Her efforts become even more respectable when one learns of the difficulties faced at this institution in the past. For instance, Dr. Gladstein herself, when inquiring about employment at UTEP in the 1960’s was told by the chair of the English Department that “we don’t hire housewives.” Dr. Gladstein’s tenacity shines through when realizing that upon the retirement of the aforementioned chair, Dr. Gladstein took his place as head of the Department of English.There was not a full-time director of Women’s Studies until Dr. Brenda Risch accepted the interim position in 2006. In 2007 the position was upgraded to a more permanent status, and Dr. Risch is now the first tenure tracked assistant professor of Women’s Studies at UTEP.
Prior to her accepting the position, the directors of the program also maintained positions in their primary fields.
Women, including Dr. Kathleen Staudt, Dr. Lois Marchino, and Dr. Gladstein among others, rotated into the directorship while maintaining their responsibilities to their respective departments.
The admirable perseverance of these women should be an inspiration to anyone who is interested in women’s rights and history, which is presented in the courses. The program has progressed from humble beginning to a wide variety of courses, now numbering thirty-three. Courses now offered include topics ranging from gender in popular culture to the revolutionary women of China. These advances, and the tireless efforts of all those involved in the program are a testament to the viability and importance of the program for future generations.
Sources: Dr. Mimi Gladstein, Dr. Brenda Risch, UTEP Library Spceial Collections Dept., The Politics of Women’s Studies: Testimony from the 30 Founding Mothers
Matthew Liden is a student in the history master's program at UTEP.