There was once a time when the University of Georgia didn’t have a women’s studies program.
In fact, women weren’t allowed at UGA until 1918, 70 years before the women’s studies department was created in 1988.
2018 marks the 30th anniversary of the revitalization of the Institute for Women’s Studies at UGA.
Patricia del Rey, former women’s studies professor at UGA and current professor at Emory University, founded the Institute for Women’s Studies in 1988. She saw needed change in the way universities taught in the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s and lobbied for a department that taught about women academically.
“Without women’s studies, there would be a lot of women who are overlooked, who are told they should only do feminine jobs, whatever that means."
- Kristyl Tift, graduate women's studies certificate student
Del Rey came to UGA to teach a PhD program in the College of Education during a “time of rebellion,” in 1978, as she called it.
The 1970s was home to the women’s rights movement. At this time, UGA had a certificate in women’s studies, but the course was often without an advisor, leaving students to teach themselves, del Rey said.
Prior to coming to UGA, del Rey worked at Queens College in New York, where she witnessed sit ins and tried to kickstart a women’s studies program.
“I got the sense that … there’s going to be change,” del Rey said.
Del Rey went to the Queens College dean at the time and proposed a literature course on books written by women.
In response to this proposition, del Rey quoted the dean as saying the idea was “impossible” and that “no one would take a course with women in the title.”
In 1977, del Rey came to UGA and contacted the coordinator of the women’s studies certificate program at the time, Maija Blaubergs.
Upon seeing a need for a leader in this movement, she went to the dean of UGA at the time, who echoed the claims made by the dean in New York.
“I said, ‘Oh, I’ve heard that before,’” del Rey said.
Despite initial pushback, del Rey made a breakthrough in revitalizing a women’s studies program.
Del Rey became chair of a committee that helped boost the program and worked with the provost for a budget. She then adhered to the university’s procedures of creating programs that were approved by college and university curriculum committees.
“The single story is never accurate, so let’s get everybody’s ideas,” said del Rey about when she was founding the program. “We were providing a unique academic program.”
Qingru Xu, who is from China, is a former student of del Rey’s graduate introduction to women’s studies course.
“I received very little gender equality education before I came to UGA [and the U.S.],” Xu said. “It’s a new world for me. It’s really opened my eyes.”
Del Rey has had students tell her her courses have had a great impact on them.
Del Rey's former student Kristyl Tift was a graduate women’s studies certificate student and a graduate assistant at UGA.
“Women historically have been a marginalized group and an oppressed group,” Tift said. “Without women’s studies, there would be a lot of women who are overlooked, who are told they should only do feminine jobs, whatever that means. There would be a lot of disempowered women and a lot of uninformed men.”
Tift has used her graduate certificate “to communicate key principles of feminist arts-activism” in her research and theatre or film teachings, she said.
“A lot of the knowledge that I learned about women of color activists, feminist theory and research methods helps me to persuasively present and support my claims about women of color arts-activists in theatre and film,” Tift said.
Although the revitalization of the department occurred in the ‘70s, it wasn’t until 2000 that the A.B. degree in women’s studies was approved. May of 2002 was the first time students graduated with that degree.
“Since 2002, 120 students have graduated with an A.B. degree in women’s studies, over 200 students have completed the minor and graduate certificate and over 6,000 students have taken women’s studies courses at the University of Georgia,” the website for women’s studies read.
In 2016, the department dedicated the Patricia Del Rey Seminar Room to del Rey to honor her as the founding director.