What's Happened to Women's Studies
Flinders University first offered a Women’s Studies topic in 1973, and a fully-fledged department was established in 1986 thanks to the work of volunteers and community. The Women’s Studies department has a proud history of excellence and inclusion with former discipline heads including feminist pioneers like Emeritus Professor Susan Sheridan and Distinguished Professor Aileen Moreton-Robinson. Both women have provided intersectional feminist perspectives to teaching and research across their distinguished careers. Susan Sheridan has been an active member of the feminist community through involvement with key journal and associations. Aileen Moreton-Robinson is a renowned Indigenous feminist, activist, academic, and author who provides progressive analysis of the complexities of race and whiteness in Australia through a much needed Indigenous feminist lens.
It is very sad to see Women’s Studies targeted as part of the academic restructure and the exit of valuable academics. Heather Brook, Yvonne Corcoran-Nantes and Barbara Baird are highly regarded in the feminist academic community and are well-known for their activist and community work. The departure of Yvonne and Heather represent a great loss of expertise and resources to Flinders University.
Heather Brook has provided cutting edge analysis of heterosexuality and marriage, is a beloved teacher and mentor, and has worked with prisoner support groups. It is not uncommon to see her at rallies to support various social issues. She has been dedicated to students at Flinders University for her entire academic career and continues to provide generous support beyond expectation and through health battles. Yvonne Corcoran-Nantes is a vital connection between Flinders University and other universities, governments, and thinkers all over the world. Her work across International Relations and Women’s Studies provides Flinders University students with a global perspective taught by someone who frequently consults on gender issues with United Nations and governments, especially in the Asian region. Barbara Baird is a renowned activist, researcher and teacher who has been at the forefront of thinking and action on abortion access, LGBT issues, and Indigenous rights for decades. She has recently been working to improve access to abortion for women in regional South Australia. The unique combination of these three academics has provided students with access to a pioneering intersectional feminist education that spans a vast array of issues.
University leadership has repeated the sentiment that they wish to support Women’s Studies to flourish despite the loss of staff. However, leadership in Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences have not responded to repeated requests for a concrete commitment that outlines what this support will entail. There are plans to add a Lecturer position to Women’s Studies who can assist with the teaching, supervision and research load. However, this addition cannot replace the combined expertise of a Senior Lecturer and Associate Professor. There will also be a Sociology academic who will split their commitments between Women’s Studies and Sociology. There has consistently been Sociology academics who have taught in the Women’s Studies major and conducted research on gender. The small number of staff in Women’s Studies has meant that students could take History, Sociology and Law topics in order to complete their major. However, as a number of staff who previously taught in the Women’s Studies major have left the university as a result of the academic restructuring, a number of topics will no longer be offered, and there is a reduction in current topic offerings.
We need Women’s Studies now more than ever to tackle issues such as violence against women and the continuing gender wage disparity. It is vital that we foster inclusive and cutting-edge feminist research if we are to tackle these problems. Flinders University has a long history of approaching gendered issues in conjunction with understanding of race, class, and sexuality, as is evident in the work of present and past staff members. We must wait to see what the next chapter looks like for Women’s Studies at Flinders University, but I hope that the next generation of feminist thinkers and activists can have access to the same rich education that I did.