Celebrating 50 Years of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies

A three-day symposium will honor the past and present achievements of the Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies program; the Center for Research in Feminist, Queer, and Transgender Studies; and the Penn Women’s Center.

Monday, February 12, 2024

By Susan Ahlborn

In 1973, students, faculty, and staff conducted a multi-day sit-in in College Hall to protest a campus culture of sexual violence and gender discrimination. Protesters’ demands for institutional spaces focused on gender were answered with the formation of the Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies (GSWS) Program (originally named Women’s Studies), a new academic program offering gender and sexuality studies courses, majors, minors, and graduate certificates; and the Penn Women’s Center (PWC), a campus center dedicated to increasing safety and inclusion for women and sexual minorities. Ten years later, faculty and students demanded a campus research center devoted to scholarship on gender and sexuality studies, leading to the founding of the Center for Research in Feminist, Queer, and Transgender Studies (FQT; formerly named the Alice Paul Center), dedicated to supporting research and scholarship.

During the 2023-2024 academic year, GSWS and FQT, together with the Penn Women's Center and partners from around the university, are celebrating 50 years of transformative teaching, scholarship, and advocacy on Penn’s campus. The centerpiece of these events is a three-day GSWS/FQT/PWC 50th Anniversary Symposium, held February 29–March 2, in the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts, in the Van Pelt Library. The symposium is free and open to the public, and the location is ADA accessible.

As part of the symposium, the School of Arts & Sciences Office of Advancement and Penn Alumni Relations are sponsoring a reception on Friday, March 1, from 6:30–8 p.m. Please join us for a time of conversation and connection, along with refreshments.  

Sessions include:

Thursday, February 29

3:00 p.m. | New Directions in Gender and Sexuality Studies 

Moderator: Melissa E. Sanchez, Donald T. Regan Professor of English; Director of GSWS and FQT. Current and previous GSWS students and early career GSWS faculty discuss their work in gender and sexuality studies.

4:45 p.m | Gender and Sexuality in Medicine and Science 

Moderator: Jessica Halem, Director, Eidos LGBTQ+ Health Initiative, Penn Nursing. GSWS- and FQT-affiliated scholars discuss the place of gender and sexuality studies in the sciences and health-related fields.

Friday, March 1

10:00 a.m. | Plenary Session: The Futures of Gender and Sexuality Studies 

Moderator: David L. Eng, Richard L. Fisher Professor in English; Faculty Director of the Program in Asian American Studies
Alums of Penn’s GSWS Graduate Certificate program discuss the current state and future directions of Gender and Sexuality Studies.

11:45 a.m. | Trans Oral History Project 

Moderator: Cat Dawson, Art History, Sarah Lawrence College
Scholars and advocates working to create the Trans Oral History Project, a collaborative initiative among the FQT Center, the Kislak Center, and Philadelphia’s William Way Community Center.

2:30 p.m. | Alumni Reflections on GSWS

Introductory remarks by Sarah Banet-Weiser, Dean, Annenberg School of Communication. Moderated by Lex Gilbert, C’25, and Hannah Kohn, C’27, In conversation with current GSWS students, alumni now working in a range of fields will discuss their experiences at Penn and the influence of GSWS on their current work.

4:00 p.m. | Remembering Lynda S. Hart 

IModerated by Dagmawi Woubshet, Edmund J. and Louise W. Kahn Endowed Term Associate Professor of English. Penn alums reflect on the legacy of Lynda S. Hart, a former English faculty member who taught the first queer theory courses at Penn.

5:30 p.m. | Art, Poetry, and Performance Celebrating 50 Years

Organizer and Host: Ricardo Bracho, Abrams Artist-in-Residence, FQT Center. This session will feature creative work by current and former GSWS/FQT-affiliated students, scholars, and artists.

Saturday, March 2

10:45 a.m. | 50 Years of Gender Studies & Social Justice Advocacy at Penn

Moderated by Elisa Foster, Director, Penn Women’s Center Founders and previous directors of the GSWS Program and the PWC reflect on the success and challenges of the past five decades.

12:15 p.m. | GSWS in a Nation without Reproductive Autonomy, Affirmative Action, or LGBTQ Rights

Current and recent directors of GSWS and FQT will reflect on the challenges for GSWS amidst the dismantling of rights and protections in recent years.

The GSWS Fiftieth Anniversary Celebration has been made possible with generous support from the Office of the President, the Office of the Provost, the School of Arts & Sciences, the Annenberg School for Communication, the Trustees Council of Penn Women, the Penn Women’s Center, and Penn Alumni Relations.

Even as we commemorate GSWS and FQT’s successes and all who have made them possible, this milestone provides us with the opportunity to look to the future and contemplate the significant work yet to be done to fulfill the mission that began half a century ago. For more information on the symposium, click here.