70th Anniversary, Special Projects

The rise of women’s studies at CSULB

Long Beach State students in the 1960s didn’t have the option of pursuing women’s, gender and sexuality studies. 

This was during a time where racism, sexism and homophobia were especially prevalent, and unofficial events like “Hate Women’s Week” at CSULB were able to exist.

All of this made it especially difficult for the women who fought for the creation of what was initially known as the women’s studies program. 

We made the absence of women in the curriculum an issue that others had to reckon with,” said Sherna Berger Gluck, a former women’s studies faculty member in 1977.

The formation of women’s studies began in 1968 with the course “The Sociology of Women,” taught by Audrey Fuss, according to “An Early History of Women’s Studies at California State University, Long Beach: 1968-1976” by Juliane Bartolotto. 

More courses taught from a feminist standpoint were added later on. Typically these courses were under different programs or titled “special topics” since women’s studies was housed under what was known as special programs. 

The process of adding and keeping these courses was stressful. It took constant gathering, planning and fighting with the university, according to Bartolotto.

“Those people were exhausted all the time trying to deal with a hostile administration,” Betty Brooks, a part-time women’s physical education and studies faculty member in 1973, said in an interview with Bartolotto.

In the early 1970s, Fuss and a returning student, Mary Krueger, circulated a proposal for a women’s studies program at CSULB and what it should entail. 

In 1972 after multiple women met with administrators, the Center for Women’s Studies, now the Women’s & Gender Equity Center, was formed. 

The center provided a centralized meeting place for the developing program. This is where they created the first course under the department of women’s studies: “The Seminar on the Status of Women.”

By 1975, a minor in women’s studies was approved by the university, and in 1978 women’s studies became institutionalized in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences. 

At the time, the program was largely neglected by the administration. 

“I think the university mostly kind of wished we would go away, that we would sort of disappear quietly, that this fad would be over,” said Debby Rosenfelt, former English professor who helped in the development of feminism literature classes in 1971 during an interview with Bartolotto. 

The lack of support left the women’s studies program susceptible to backlash.

At the start of the ‘80s, many part-time lecturers in the program were fired for not having “traditional academic credentials.” This occurred in an attempt to appease a group of Christians who became relentless in demanding that the program curriculum be changed to something more socially acceptable, Gluck said. 

According to the Daily Forty-Niner, in May of 1985, 16 people filed a lawsuit against the women’s studies program. The American Civil Liberties Union got involved in defense of the program and those who were fired. The suit lasted for nine years.

“It decimated what had been a tight collective of faculty that included many of us who were community activists,” Gluck said.

The curriculum for the program didn’t change after the lawsuit, but the people who were hired did, Gluck said. New hires had traditional academic credentials and degrees, and primary activists were no longer hired. 

Although the program underwent scrutiny and had to rebuild the confidence it once had, the WGSS program is like a family now.

“Working in a feminist environment means that we work to listen to one another, look after one another, and think with one another,” said Abraham Weil, assistant professor in the WGSS department. “That is my favorite part.”

Because people care to have a better understanding of sociopolitical systems, WGSS is more secure at CSULB, according to Department Chair Jennifer Reed.

“We have a very supportive administration,” Reed said. “Our dean’s office is very supportive, all the way up to our president.”

The department continues to grow. Approximately five to 10 classes have been added since 2008, according to Lori Baralt, associate professor for WGSS. 

“It’s basically an open space for you to talk about social issues, anything feminism, which I love,” said fourth-year WGSS minor Alyssa Casiano. “Not a lot of places you go or classes you have talk about this kind of stuff.” 

Gluck attributes the state of WGSS now to the women who fought for years to build the program. 

“Our program and the generation of activists we educated had a lasting impact on the consciousness and history of the US and laid the groundwork for what we see today,” Gluck said.

One Comment

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    So interesting. I had no idea they struggled so hard to get WGSS. Way to go women!

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