About GWS

Message from the Chair

I am pleased to be writing my first Chair’s Message!  As I begin my 30th year as a professor at UK, I look forward to working with students (current and alumni), faculty (in the department and from around the university), and staff and administration to expand the role of GWS as a central, integral part of UK’s educational and research missions.  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.  Students at UK, 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.

One of my most important jobs 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.  For example, the Comparative Perspectives on #MeToo Conference this past spring brought scholars from around the world to share their research and dialogue with students and faculty on the UK campus.  The upcoming Kentucky Gender & Women’s Studies Conference, organized by GWS PhD students, will bring presenters from several other states to talk about their research and host critical discussions. These programs contribute to the active and contemporary scholarly environment at UK.

While we look back with appreciation for those who have contributed to where we are as a department today (including Professor Joan Callahan, who passed away on June 6; see former Chair Patty Copper’s tribute), we also look forward to the new additions and next generation who will continue to build the department (including new GWS professor Frances Henderson and post-doctoral fellow Abby Folberg).  GWS will also continue to work with the entire UK family to grow and help students flourish (see the stories about the Tomasky Leaders Program and the new Sarah Caton Scholarship).

As I begin my tenure as Chair, I look forward to meeting and collaborating with students, faculty, and staff, and sharing the many accomplishments of GWS with you.

Ellen Riggle
Chair, Gender & Women's Studies


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.




For questions or inquiries about  the Gender & Women's Studies Department, please email us at gws@uky.edu


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