campus news

Conference celebrates 50 years of women’s studies at UB

UB Women's Studies 1977 Course Catalog, cover (detail).

UB Women's Studies 1977 Course Catalog, cover (detail) courtesy of the University at Buffalo Archives.


Published October 25, 2022

Discussion in the Humanitites Institute, part of the College of Arts and Sciences Photographer: Douglas Levere.
“We have maintained a presence and have trained generations of students in feminist and gender theory. The whole educational experience at UB is richer because of that work. ”
Gwynn Thomas, associate professor and chair
Department of Global Gender and Sexuality Studies

The Department of Global Gender and Sexuality Studies will recognize the 50th anniversary of women’s studies at UB with a two-day conference titled “Visionaries and Troublemakers: Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at 50” on Oct. 28 and 29.

The first day of programming begins with registration at 9 a.m. in 509 O’Brian Hall, North Campus. Day two gets underway at 9:30 a.m. in Hayes Hall on the South Campus. The conference is free and open to the public, with both in-person and remote options for attendees. Registration information along with the conference’s schedule and speakers is available online.

The event will reflect on women’s studies at UB while also examining how five decades of teaching and research in that discipline by faculty and students has been part of the broader struggles to promote the rights of women and sexual minorities, according to Gwynn Thomas, associate professor and chair of the global gender and sexuality studies department.

“We’re celebrating the founding of the Women’s Studies College at UB and how that led to the discipline of women and gender studies, but we’re also looking at that as a means of thinking about what the next 50 years might look like,” says Thomas, who is also the conference organizer.

Thomas says women’s studies at the university came out of the activism of the 1960s.

By 1971, the university had started assembling its Women’s Studies College, which UB formally recognized the following year. Those early years brought new voices, perspectives and experiences into the academy in order to ask new questions and, in turn, discover and develop better responses that enriched those communities and the university environment.

“What was happening at UB with women’s studies at the start was one of the many radical experiments in higher education that tried to democratize the university,” says Thomas. “The experiences of women and underrepresented communities were all absent from academia up to that point.

“It wasn’t just an absence in terms of faculty members that reflected those communities, but also an absence of knowledge being produced and taught about those communities.”

Women’s studies has been a dedicated voice at UB that, since its beginning, has addressed the lived experiences of women in society and as producers of knowledge. The discipline has existed in various units, starting with the Women’s Studies College and later as part of a restructuring, along with other university colleges, into the Department of Women’s Studies in 1997 before taking shape as today’s Global Gender and Sexuality Studies, which offers a bachelor of arts, a master of arts and a PhD in global gender studies.

“Our survival is among our many achievements,” says Thomas. “We have maintained a presence and have trained generations of students in feminist and gender theory. The whole educational experience at UB is richer because of that work.”

But Thomas stresses the conference is a public event and is not formatted exclusively for students and researchers.

“We’re going to have a whole series of interesting questions that touch on the many challenges that we’re facing today,” she says. “How do we create knowledge; how do we make sure knowledge is inclusive in ways that respect the experiences of diverse communities? And we’ll talk about the connections between academics and activism. How do we bring our best knowledge and our best abilities forward to think critically and build the frameworks to address the problems we’re facing today?”

Women’s studies is a discipline that engages directly with some of the most pressing problems facing society today.

“From overturning Roe v. Wade, to assaults on the rights of women and sexual minorities, to fear of critical race theory, which is really an attack on public education, women’s studies as a discipline has been a central part of the discussion of these issues and there is a lot to be learned, for everyone, from the conversations we have planned over the two days of the conference,” Thomas says.

Thomas says the discipline of women’s studies will continue its commitment to producing a better world through activism and scholarship within the discipline.

“We accomplished a lot of in 50 years, but 50 years from now I hope we’re in a better place,” she says. “We’re all excited about the ability to celebrate this anniversary and we invite everyone in the community to come to the conference and participate in our discussions.”