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About GWS


Message from the Chair

The Department of Gender and Women’s Studies is committed to providing students with a robust learning experience, opportunities to engage with peers, and content that illuminates timely and important issues and concepts. GWS has always been creative and forward-looking; we have used the challenges and lessons of the pandemic as an opportunity to create new courses and update our curriculum.

GWS course offerings continue to expand and enrollments are growing, providing more students with quality educational opportunities to engage with critical topics including gender, sexuality, race, class, disability, transnational issues, and intersectionality. Our introductory courses are FULL of new students!  Our upper division classes attract students from ACROSS CAMPUS!  And our graduate courses include students from many disciplines and colleges!

Students on campus, and through online courses students from anywhere in the world, can interact with our award-winning faculty and graduate student TA’s. GWS classrooms, on campus and on the web, are dynamic environments of learning and the department is committed to our educational mission.

A very important part of my job as chair is to support GWS faculty and graduate students as they create new knowledge to move forward our understanding of essential topics of justice, equality, and lived experiences. This work is essential to GWS and UK being leaders in the Commonwealth and our changing world.

We are especially grateful for support from the Tomasky Leaders Fund for our undergraduate students and the Bonnie Jean Cox Graduate Research Endowment for our graduate students. And we appreciate support of alumni and colleagues. 

I look forward to continuing to work with students, faculty, alumni, staff, and administration to expand the role of GWS as a central, integral part of UK’s educational and research missions. GWS works with the entire UK family to help students grow and flourish.

Dr. Ellen Riggle, Professor and Chair


On behalf of the Department of Gender and Women’s Studies at the University of Kentucky

To our students:

Despite the presence of effective COVID-19 vaccines and public health recommendations from the CDC (such as mask wearing and avoiding large indoor gatherings), the country and Kentucky remain in the grips of a deadly pandemic. In 2021 there have been attacks on reproductive justice and freedom, voting rights, the rights of LGBT people, democracy, and the lands of indigenous peoples in the United States.  Women and gender minorities are disproportionately impacted by these events, especially women and gender minorities of color.  We recognize and bear witness to the continued dehumanization and murder of Black, Brown, and indigenous people in the United States, and across the globe. We celebrate the lives of those killed by racially motivated violence, including George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Tony McDade. 

As individuals of different racialized and gendered identities, different sexualities, nationalities, generations, class, and dis/abilities, we are experiencing many challenges in this moment and we are confronting them in a variety of ways. Whatever your work looks like right now-- we want you to know that we recognize it, we honor it, and we are committed to this work, too.
To our students, and particularly our students of color: we see you, we value you, and we recognize the heightened risks and increased burdens placed upon you.
With this in mind, and as members of a field that was born out of a movement for social justice, the faculty of GWS are committed to the following actions:
  • We will continue to develop courses that help students understand the systemic nature of injustice and the histories that have produced them.
  • We will continue to use our lectures, readings, and assignments to highlight the stories of resistance movements which have successfully challenged systems of inequality.
  • We will continue to prioritize work by Black, Indigenous, Latine/Latinx, and Asian people--especially women, trans and gender-nonconforming folks--in our syllabi.
  • We will continue to value and engage with the Global South as a space of knowledge-production and theory-making from which the Global North can learn.
  • We will continue to make connections between global iterations of racism (including but not limited to caste, colonialism, apartheid, territorial occupation) to better confront and dismantle them.
  • We will continue to advocate for hiring new faculty whose work confronts injustice in its many forms.
  • We will continue to both listen to the perspectives our students bring with them and challenge students to consider new points of view.
We hope you will find solace and inspiration in these words from the black lesbian feminist theorist and poet Audre Lorde:
“and when we speak we are afraid
our words will not be heard
nor welcomed
but when we are silent
we are still afraid
So it is better to speak
we were never meant to survive.”
-- Audre Lorde, Litany for Survival


Mission and Commitment

The Department of Gender and Women's Studies aims to serve the university and the Commonwealth through promotion of equity and commitment to excellence. 

We are committed to research and teaching about the lives, cultures, perspectives, and activities of women globally.  We believe that what are commonly referred to as "women's issues" are societal issues that affect all individuals, regardless of gender. 

While understanding women’s experiences, resources, strategies and contributions to society is central to the GWS mission, equally important is the exploration of gender as a construct that permeates human experience, thought, and history. We recognize that men’s lives are gendered and that gender relations occur simultaneously with other hierarchical social relations and inequalities of power including those based on ability, age, class, ethnicity, family composition, race, region, religion, sex, sexual orientation and the inequitable distribution of resources in and among countries and groups globally.

In the service of this mission, we are committed to the development of a multi-disciplinary, integrative, theoretically diverse curriculum at the undergraduate and graduate levels; support of critical research, teaching and public programming in Gender and Women's Studies; and fostering interdisciplinary collaboration among both faculty and students.

The Department

The Department of Gender and Women’s Studies at UK (formerly the Women’s Studies program) was initiated in 1989. Since that time, more than 200 undergraduate students have enrolled in the GWS minor program, with 21 undergraduate students completing topical majors in GWS.

In 1994, GWS began offering the Graduate Certificate Program and since its inception 170 Graduate Certificates in GWS have been awarded.

The GWS program reached department status in June 2009. Since becoming a department, 17 undergraduate students have graduated with a primary major in GWS and 8 students have graduated with GWS as a secondary major.

In Fall of 2013, GWS began its PhD program. The program continues to grow and we currently have 14 graduate students enrolled in the PhD program.

With our continued growth, we are clearly moving into a new phase. In the future, we will look back on this historical period in the evolution of Gender and Women’s Studies at UK as one of programmatic growth and scholarly innovation.

Community Outreach

GWS is an active member of the UK and greater Lexington communities through sponsorship and co-sponsorship of numerous events and activities. Over the years, faculty, staff and students in Gender and Women’s Studies have been pleased to participate in community events, e.g., with the Kentucky Women Writers ConferenceTake Back the Night, the One World Film Festival, and the Central Kentucky Council for Peace and Justice. Over the years, GWS has also participated in outreach projects with UK’s Center for Research on Violence Against Women and the Violence Intervention and Prevention (VIP) Center.

GWS has also made available an intership catalogue that includes internships, as well as, leadership tranings, seminars, and conferences that you may be interested in.  You can access the catalogue here.