Women’s Studies Research Center engages with campus community

April 13, 2018

Behind the Ziv Quad dormitories and across from the train station is the Women’s Studies Research Center (WSRC), housed in the Epstein Building. Professor Karen Hansen (SOC/WGS), the director of the WSRC, is in charge of the 15-year-old research center and its many events and projects.

In 1989, Hansen accepted a job at Brandeis, a decision largely influenced by the reputation of the university’s Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies (WGS) department, which had been created 11 years earlier, in 1978.

“Brandeis was one of those places that not only had a Women’s Studies program that was on the map and looked really interesting and vital but had produced a lot of very prominent feminists,” Hansen said.

The WSRC was founded in 2002— and though the WGS department had existed at Brandeis for decades at this point, there was no central building for gender research at Brandeis until Shulamit Reinharz, the chair of WGS, founded the center. Reinharz said in a video for the 10th anniversary of the center that the founders originally wanted the center “to be research, art and activism converging.”

The center holds events and lectures and organizes art events. They have 70 scholars who study gender issues and offer opportunities for students to get involved with the research these scholars do.

The WSRC shares the Epstein Building and the Kniznick Gallery with the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute (HBI), a research organization that focuses on gender from a Jewish perspective. The entrance to the WSRC leads directly into the Kniznick Gallery, where the exhibit “A Fringe of Her Own” by Tamara Paley, presented by HBI, is delicately hung on walls and laid out in glass cases provided by the Rose Art Museum. In the exhibit, Paley presents handmade Jewish ritual items traditionally used by men and reinterprets them from her own perspective.

The gallery leads into a cluster of cubicles for the scholars, where doors similar to those on bathroom stalls give them privacy while they work. The center also holds the Liberman-Miller Lecture Hall, which is the location of many events and lecture series presented by the WSRC, including dance and music performances. The dance mirror, wall-to-wall photographs and the piano stationed in the corner maintain the artistic component of the center, even when the lecture hall is occupied by lectures.

The layout of the WSRC reveals the original plan of the founders, to combine research, art and activism in one building, but the center has changed in some ways. “I think the field of feminist inquiry has evolved; theoretical understandings have broadened from just a focus on women to being about gender and race and class,” Hansen said, adding that this change “is used in the way people approach research.”

In the past, WSRC Scholars have come from backgrounds of art, photography, sociology and various other disciplines. The scholar program includes resident scholars, who remain at Brandeis on a long-term basis, visiting scholars, who are given workspace in the center for up to a year and dissertation scholars. Of the 70 active scholars at the WSRC, 15 are involved in the Student Scholar Partnership Program (SSP).

The SSP program is a paid on-campus internship during which an undergraduate student is paired with a WSRC scholar to collaborate on a project. The SSP Program is one of the ways the WSRC seeks to integrate itself into the university and undergraduate culture. When the program began, faculty were also allowed to partner with students, but they were excluded from the program for the past few years.

“Since becoming director I’ve invited faculty to be a part of that program once again because I think it is a really wonderful project,” Hansen said, “I do think it’s one of the strengths of the center.” Hansen said that her efforts to involve faculty in the program are an extension of her hope to further integrate the WSRC with the university.

Hansen’s goal is for the center to impact the culture of the university, she said. The center has attracted many scholars and feminists over its 15 years of existence and has fostered the research and art of those scholars as well as the students who assisted them. The WSRC often holds public events and lecture series and collaborates with student organizations.

“I think it really does make a difference to have not just a physical space for interdisciplinary dialogue but to have institutionalized entity that supports research that is focused on women and gender,” Hansen said.

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