News & Updates: Statements

Protecting WGS in the Time of COVID-19: An NWSA Statement and Data Collection Project

Thursday, May 14, 2020  
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May 14, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has ushered in a wave of draconian cuts to higher education: hiring freezes, faculty and staff furloughs and layoffs, benefit reductions, declarations of financial exigency and even outright department or campus closures (please help NWSA document these cuts). Various stakeholders are calling for initiatives, including greater federal investment in higher education, protections for contingent faculty and other academic workers, debt forgiveness and tuition-free college. The National Women’s Studies Association fully supports these initiatives and condemns the attempts to balance budgets on the backs of the most vulnerable academic workers, staff, and students.

It is particularly concerning to see that the first departments to be closed, faculty members to be fired, or impending cuts to come, at both public and private institutions, fall within Africana, Ethnic, Asian American, Latinx, Indigenous, and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies.

We know that in times of fiscal austerity, the first to face cuts are interdisciplinary programs and departments that represent marginalized communities. Perhaps most troubling are institutions that are using the crisis to implement cuts they have been unable to make in the past because of faculty and student opposition and organizing.

The study of gender inequity and gendered violence is more necessary now than ever. With nearly universal shelter-at-home regulations, domestic violence and child abuse are on the rise. Such policies have also created dire circumstances for transgender youth who have some of the highest rates of homelessness of any demographic. Further, the service sector, which disproportionately operates on women’s labor (health care, education, food services) has proven to be at a greater risk of infection and death. These “essential” workers continue to be treated as disposable, receiving neither living wages and adequate healthcare nor the necessary personal protective equipment.

In our own teaching and scholarship, we are seeing an uptick in the harassment of WGSS faculty on social media, such as the “zoom-bombing” of classes and meetings. Harassment of this kind stems from persistent societal sexism, misogyny, racism, homophobia, transphobia, and other systems of oppression which our teaching, research, and activist work directly addresses and challenges. Decisions that cut or shrink WGSS programs undermine our capacity to understand the interlocking forms of oppression that have exacerbated the public health and economic crises we now face.

Moreover, the proposed cuts to interdisciplinary programs will only reproduce and entrench the gender and racial hierarchies of the academy. Work-from-home orders have had a greater personal and professional negative impact on faculty who identify as women because of their disproportionate child care and household responsibilities. Although the long-term repercussions of the pandemic are not yet known, early evidence suggests that women are submitting fewer journal articles and offering more emotional support to students in need.

The National Women’s Studies Association calls on all faculty, administrators and governing boards to maintain funding to protect Women’s and Gender Studies and other interdisciplinary programs during this critical time. WGSS programs offer important scholarly and intellectual interventions and are an invaluable source of support for marginalized students and academic workers encountering gender-based violence or discrimination.

In the interests of compiling data, we are asking all WGSS faculty and administrators to contribute to a crowd-sourced google sheet on how your programs, departments, and centers have been affected by the crisis. Please contribute to this data project here.

Signed by the Executive Committee of the NWSA Governing Council with affiliations for identification purposes only:

Premilla Nadasen, President, Barnard College
Diane Harriford, Vice President, Vassar College
Karsonya Wise Whitehead, Secretary, Loyola University Maryland
Natali Valdez, Treasurer, Wellesley College