Program History

Key Dates:
1983: Women’s Studies Minor Approved
2003: Name changed to Women’s and Gender Studies
2011: Women’s and Gender Studies Major Approved
2013: Name changed to Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies
2015: Program became a Department

In the fall of 1982, a group of 60 faculty from across the disciplines, administrators, and librarians at Wake Forest University decided it was time to share their interest in feminist pedagogy, scholarship, and community advocacy for women and minorities. Calling themselves the Women’s Studies Committee, they held monthly meetings in Scales Fine Arts Center and wrote a proposal for an interdisciplinary minor, a proposal that was approved by the Curriculum Committee in the spring of 1983. They designed their interdisciplinary curriculum around a new core course, Humanities 121: Introduction to Women’s Studies, and new and existing courses across the disciplines.

A few years later they decided to apply for a grant from the National Endowment of the Humanities so they could establish a series of summer faculty workshops for integrating gender research and pedagogy into the undergraduate curriculum. They were denied because they had no office, no phone, and, as suggested by NEH, no program. Undaunted, this group of faculty and staff got themselves a phone, an office, a part-time assistant, and began to search for a program coordinator.

Mary DeShazer, Professor of English and Women’s Studies, was hired as the first Women’s Studies Coordinator in 1987; Linda Nielsen, Professor of Education, joined the faculty, teaching in the program and establishing internships for students in 1991. Susan Borwick, Professor of Music and one of the founding members of the program, served as director from the fall of 1996 through the fall of 2000; she was followed by Cheryl Leggon, Associate Professor of Sociology, and Interim Director, Dean Linda McKinnish Bridges. Anne Boyle, Professor of English, began her term January 1, 2003 and completed it at the end of June 2005. The name was changed to Women’s and Gender Studies Program in April 2003 to reflect not only its continuing commitment to interdisciplinary research and teaching in the field of women’s studies, but also its growing interest in masculinity and gender studies.The current director, Prof. Wanda Balzano, who had been hired in the Fall of 2004 as a Visiting Scholar, and who came from University College Dublin, Ireland, was hired permanently in July 2005. Beginning in Fall 2006, the program adopted a structure including a revolving core faculty, comprised of six faculty members, with a portion of their time dedicated to Women’s and Gender Studies for a period of three years.

In 2011, the program’s proposal to offer a major in addition to a minor was approved by the College Faculty. In 2013, the Advisory Board decided to change the name of the program to Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies in order to reflect the contemporary awareness that questions of sexual orientation and sexual identity are not adequately encompassed in the study of “gender,” as well as to reflect the program’s commitment to academic engagement of these issues. In 2015, the Board of Trustees enthusiastically approved departmental status for Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, and, in 2016, the College Faculty voted to include WGS in Division I of the undergraduate curriculum.