About GWS

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

GWS Solidarity Statement

To our students:

The past several weeks have been devastating, challenging, and intense. We have witnessed the murder of George Floyd by a member of the Minneapolis Police Department. We have mourned the loss of a former UKY student, Breonna Taylor, who was shot to death in her own home by police in Louisville. And we have decried the relative silence around the death of Tony McDade, a trans masculine resident of Tallahassee who was killed by police. We have also watched as police violently attacked protesters in cities across the USA, and heard the president of the United States threaten to unleash the military to quell dissent.

As individuals of different racialized and gendered identities, different sexualities, nationalities, generations, and dis/abilities, we have confronted the challenges of this moment in a variety of ways. For some of us, this time has required us to think critically about how to become more effective accomplices in the fight for racial justice. Some of us are devoting our energies to producing scholarship that can help us account for systemic inequalities, and find new ways to disrupt them. Some of us are doing the hard work of grieving with our communities; some are finding ways of holding our communities accountable. Some of us are participating in protests, despite the very real threats of police violence and COVID-19. Some of us are facing the daunting task of parenting children, of helping them understand the incomprehensible. Some of us are doing the essential work of holding ourselves together during a time when a pandemic and isolation have already weakened our networks of support.

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 use our lectures, readings, and assignments to highlight the stories of resistance movements which have successfully challenged systems of inequality.
  • We will prioritize work by Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and Asian people--especially women, trans and gender-nonconforming folks--in our syllabi.
  • We will 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 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 prioritize speakers who focus on racial justice.
  • We will advocate for hiring new faculty whose work confronts injustice in its many forms.
  • We will both listen to your perspectives and challenge you 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

Message from the Chair

This year is unprecedented – the word has become almost cliché but it is accurate.  UK is open and instructors are teaching courses in ways that protect students, faculty, and TA’s while providing a robust experience and opportunities to engage with peers and materials.  GWS has always been creative and forward-looking.  The current challenges have become opportunities to continue to create and expand. 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. 

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.

We have a new faculty member joining the department – Dr. Aria Halliday.  Dr. Halliday is the recipient of the Woodrow Wilson Career Enhancement Fellowship for Junior Faculty for 2020-21. 

GWS continues to work with the entire UK family to grow and help students flourish, including support from the Tomasky Leaders Travel Fund and the Space, Place, and Southern Grace Fund for Feminist Studies for undergraduates, and the Bonnie Jean Cox Graduate Research Endowment in GWS for graduate students.

I look forward to continuing to collaborate with students, faculty, and staff, and sharing the many accomplishments of GWS with you.  We appreciate your support as we progress through the academic year.

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.






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