History of WGS

History of Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Grand Valley State University

The study of women’s experience has a long history at Grand Valley State University. In keeping with national conversations, the first courses were offered more than forty years ago (1973) in both William James College and College of Arts and Sciences. Since then faculty involved in teaching, research, and service have steadily built the program and in 2014, the Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Department was created by Provost Gayle R. Davis, effective Jan. 1, 2015.

Looking at the several self-studies and reports that have been produced since the early 1990s permits us to reflect on what has been accomplished over the 40+ years since that first course was offered. 


1973- First courses centering on women's experience offered

1988- First minor in Women’s Studies graduated

1991- Women’s Studies Program

1997- Program change to become the Women and Gender Studies Program

2006- Major in Women and Gender Studies created

2009- Five WGS Majors participate in graduation

2013- Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer Minor developed

2015- Departmental Status

2015- First LGBTQ Minor graduates

Other key events:

2002- First hire of visiting faculty with graduate work in Women and Gender Studies

2004- Women and Gender Studies moves to College of Interdisciplinary Initiatives—now Brooks College of Interdisciplinary Studies

2004- First hire of tenure track faculty

2012- Study Abroad program in South Africa

2012- Visiting Feminist Lecturer inaugurated

Significant steps were made to implement these recommendations. In 1991, Women’s Studies became an autonomous unit, and the dean of the Division of Social Science Anthony Travis authorized a ½  -time appointment for the director as well as a ½ -time staff position to support the program. At a summer retreat in 1992, significant changes were been made to the curriculum, with a more formal structure for the WS minor. A 1993 Report called for the development of a “women’s recourse center” and established the first “Women’s Festival.” This Report also sought additional resources: increase in release time for the director and/or an assistant director; designated faculty lines for the Program, and additional support staff.

During the 1990s, the Women’s Studies Program continued to mature and in 1997, completed a Program Change Request to become Women and Gender Studies. 

A decade later, the Program became more inclusive with the shift to “Women and Gender Studies,” and since then the number of students graduating with the minor has steadily grown.

In 2002, Social Sciences Dean Erika King re-authorized the visiting position for Women and Gender Studies with the caveat that the person hired have graduate course work and teaching experience in the field. In 2004, Women and Gender Studies became one of the founding programs in what is now the Brooks College of Interdisciplinary Studies.

The WGS Program has grown significantly in Brooks College. When faculty developed the WGS Major in 2006, there were 65 students who had declared the WGS minor. We had anticipated that the number of minors would drop as students shifted to the major, but that did not happen; instead students continued to select the minor while others declared the major. Since 1988, 150 students have graduated with the WS or WGS minor and since 2009, 60 with the major. At present (2014-15), we have 42 majors and 70 minors.

Not only have the number of students increased, the curricular structure of the Program has developed to reflect epistemological and methodological changes in the field. To keep our Program at the forefront of significant changes and to reflect the maturity of Women and Gender Studies at GVSU, in January 2015, we achieved departmental status, and a new name: Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies.

Page last modified March 6, 2015