Women Studies

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Women Studies

The University of North Dakota Women Studies Program is pleased to announce a lecture by one of our faculty affiliates, Dheeshana Jayasundara, Assistant Professor of Social Work. She will present “The Global Reproductive Health Movement: Past to Present” at noon on Wednesday, March 9 in the East Asia Room of the Chester Fritz Library (4th floor). Elizabeth Legerski, Assistant Professor of Sociology, will serve as respondent. After the response, Dr. Jayasundara will take questions and comments from the audience. This event is free and open to the public. The first 25 attendees are welcome to a bag lunch, courtesy of UND Women Studies.

Few would be better placed to speak on the broad topic that Dr. Jayasundara has chosen. Her numerous professional and volunteer activities have taken her around the world, literally, to work sites in Texas and Africa, to conferences in Bangladesh and Hong Kong. Prof. Jayasundara has earned four degrees, a B.A. in Sociology from the University of Delhi, India; an M.A. in Criminology and Criminal Justice from the University of Missouri, St. Louis; and an M.A. and PhD in Social Work from the University of Texas at Arlington. Her scholarship is profoundly interwoven with her activism. She has worked on reproductive rights in many forms, from violence against sex workers in Sri Lanka to dating violence and child abuse in the U.S. Her work has the kind of depth unusual in a young professor. Not only does she study the relations between sex and violence, she also understands how these are nuanced by poverty, war, and cultural difference.

In addition to so much other tireless research and advocacy beginning in the 1990s, Dr. Jayasundara says, “More recently, I have been involved in a grassroots level Muslim women’s agency in Texas combating domestic violence while striving to achieve peace through outreach and interfaith dialogs and in an agency that fights for reproductive justice for minority women in the U.S. I have [also] done work in HIV/AIDS related to women.” Dr. Jayasundara was recognized in 2010 as a feminist mentor by the Council of Social Work Education and in 2009 by the Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society as “a faculty member who made the most profound impact on student academic development.”

"I can’t imagine a more exciting event for the UND Women Studies Program to sponsor," said Kathleen Dixon, Professor of English and Director of Women Studies. “Often institutions are accused of merely giving lip service to values like ‘diversity.’ Dr. Jayasundara brings to us knowledge that could be truly transformational. If we listen to her carefully, we will be better prepared to engage more deeply with those whose lives differ greatly from our own. We may even feel called to join her in activism, whether exercised at home or abroad. This lecture may issue a clarion call to those young people on our campus who wish to pursue altruistic ideals. It may also provide insight into troubles that they themselves have experienced. And of course, our faculty will greatly appreciate the breadth and depth of her interdisciplinary knowledge.”

Dr. Jayasundara’s respondent to the March 9 lecture will be Elizabeth Legerski, Assistant Professor of Sociology. Among her research interests are gender, social inequality, the family, globalization, and social and health policy. In 2009 she won the Health Care Reform White Paper Contest from the organization Sociologists for Women in Society; the paper analyzed the gender implications of health care reform in the U.S.

“Both of these professors are new to our campus this year," Prof. Dixon pointed out. "They bring their fresh perspectives to us. It's also the case that very few Americans know much at all about global reproductive rights, so the topic itself may seem new."

This event carries forward, in many ways, the theme of the Red River Women Studies Conference, “Feminism, Politics, and the Limits of Diversity.” The UND Women Studies Program launched its years’ work in October 2010 with this conference which featured two international speakers, Dr. Magda Michielsens, Professor Emerita of Women Studies from the University of Antwerp, Belgium and Dr. Margaret Ogrodnick, Associate Professor of Political Science from the University of Manitoba, Canada. Professors Michielsens and Ogrodnick offered a First World perspective on a number of conflicts that are presently occurring within feminism, including tensions between liberal feminists advocating women’s equality in the public sphere and those arguing for the rights of immigrant minorities to pursue their religious differences, even when those proscribe women’s activities in the public sphere.

UND Women Studies has also kindled more undergraduate and graduate student activism. Last Saturday, March 5th, the Program joined with the WS 480 Feminist Theory class to sponsor a showing of a documentary film entitled Cowboys in Paradise. This film puts a new twist on what is often referred to as “sex tourism.” In the case portrayed in the film, female tourists from around the world meet up with Balinese “beach boys” or “Kuta Cowboys,” moving from relatively slight amorous encounters to long-term relationships in which the women visit Bali frequently, and give the men money for consumer goods, motor scooters, cars, and even new homes. Indeed, the young men sometimes have Balinese wives and children and support them on these funds. “We posed to our audience the old question of Freud’s, ‘What do women want?’” according to Dixon. “Are they looking for the same thing men do in these ‘exotic’ sexual encounters, or is it something different? And in this global version of “boy meets girl,” who has the upper hand, the wealthier tourist women or the clever but poorer Balinese men?”

Women Studies will also undergo an internal program review at an upcoming retreat in April. Out of that may emerge a new mission statement and strategic plan, as well as support for a Graduate Certificate in Women and Gender Studies. Currently, Women Studies has an undergraduate minor and a major (offered through Interdisciplinary Studies). Also in April, Women Studies is co-sponsoring the Ten Percent Society’s “Stand Up, Speak Out” Conference. “We are striving for greater visibility on this campus and in this community,” Dixon said. “We would like to become one of those ‘hubs’ about which President Kelly has spoken, sites on campus that encourage interdisciplinary activity by students, faculty, and staff. Our affiliates hail from numerous departments and schools and colleges, so we are already well-prepared for interdisciplinary discussions. Our emphasis on ethical grounding is equally important to us.”

Other Upcoming Events from Women Studies:

Award-winning author Maxine Hong Kingston (The Woman Warrior, China Men, and others) will speak to Chinese Literature and Feminist Theory students at 2 p.m., Thurs., March 31, Merrifield 300. The event is free and open to the public.

Women Studies Retreat, led by Dr. Phyllis Baker, Director of Women and Gender Studies at the University of Northern Iowa, all day Saturday, April 16 (child care and meals provided), Hilton Garden Inn

Ten Percent Society "Stand Up, Speak Out" Conference, co-sponsored by Women Studies with keynote speaker Robyn Ochs, 8 a.m.-11 p.m. Saturday, April 30, Gamble Hall

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