Women’s studies keeps office space
Published: Wednesday, February 19, 2014
Updated: Wednesday, February 19, 2014 22:02
After students associated with the ETSU Women’s Studies Program circulated a petition, the university’s administration decided that the program would not be relocated to accommodate planned changes in the communication department.
“The FMLA, Feminist Majority Leadership, did a petition to seek out support and to pull in all of the people who love this program and value this program — parents, students, colleagues, faculty [and] administrators,” said Phyllis Thompson, director of the ETSU Women’s Studies Program.
“The FMLA put the change.org petition up to seek out support and say, ‘Hey, stand up for women’s studies and show how important … having a room of our own on this university’s campus is.”
When the communication department informed the women’s studies program in fall 2013 that it was considering requesting the program’s office space in the Campus Center Building for use when a portion of the current communication department moves out of Warf-Pickel Hall, the program’s students responded by making the issue publicly known in the form of a petition.
“The petition was a student initiative, and that was positive and productive,” Thompson said. “That’s what we teach our students to do: to identify when we have a struggle and to reach out in positive, productive ways for support.”
Thompson said that the students and the faculty who supported the program did not do anything that was unproductive or that could be characterized as bad behavior.
“I felt like all of the action that was taken was positive and productive and about building, about building relationships, not about tearing them down, about building bridges, not about destroying bridges.”
Over the life of the petition, FMLA obtained 783 signatures from supporters of the women’s studies program.
“Our voices change lives, and for our students to draw on that, to use that and to create a positive and informative petition, to use what they’ve learned to have a positive influence on this university I think is positive and productive,” Thompson said.
“Our students were doing what they’ve been taught. They were using those skills, and I think using them in a productive way.”
Communication department Chair Amber Kinser said that the issue of relocation is a common one at any university.
“The college is faced with a complex logistical problem that it is trying to solve and the university has limited financial and space resources for addressing it; this is neither new nor exclusive to particular programs,” Kinser said.
“Units [departments, offices and programs] on campus are moved around every year to accommodate shifting needs, and they often are, reasonably, displeased about having to uproot.”
Prior to accepting the position of communication department chair, Kinser directed the women’s studies program for a number of years.
“I believe in women’s studies and would not want to be on a campus that didn’t have a program devoted to issues of social power and equity like our women’s studies program is,” Kinser said.
“I devoted 10 years to strengthening that program; I have always been, and remain, supportive of women’s studies at ETSU.”
Though the communication department will not be utilizing the office space occupied by women’s studies, a portion of the department will still be moving to the Campus Center Building.
“Every effort is being and will be made to have the least negative impact possible for any people or programs who may be affected by current relocation plans,” Kinser said. “And although sometimes discussions about space and location get misrepresented and motives misattributed, the university has acted appropriately here. I believe that the matter has been and is being handled, by university administration, in a professional and mindful way, and with due attention to program impact.”
Thompson said that she stands behind FMLA and accredits the actions of students affiliated with the women’s studies program with allowing it to keep its office space.
“I teach my students voice,” Thompson said. “I teach them thoughtful and intentional voice. I don’t teach them to just go wildly screaming into the night. I teach them how to recognize what is right about their world, what is wrong about their world, what they’re satisfied with, what they’re not satisfied with, where they can make changes and have influence and articulate that.
“I teach them that what they should be afraid of is not their voice, is not the words that come out of their mouth, but being silent, keeping it all inside and letting it fester.”