My courses in Women’s Studies have given me the voice and tools to go out in the world and create change to better our society.
by Dr. Wendy J. Palmquist
First I want to thank those who have nominated me, both this year and in the past. No one can receive an award like this without people who think what an individual has been doing is worthy of such an honor, and I really want to thank those who feel I have done some things that are worthy.
It’s funny to see how much times have changed. When I came here in 1981 the Women’s Center was simply an office upstairs in Memorial, and Memorial was the bookstore. In those early days I served on the Advisory Board off and on, as it moved and grew. But I want to look back even earlier…times do change.
In 1966 when I was a freshman (oh, not a first year student in those days…definitely the word freshman) at Pomona College my entering class was the first allowed to refuse an old college tradition; it still was to be done, it was just encouraged, not required. You see, all the football players would come down to the women’s dorms (they were dorms, not residence halls, in those days) with large doctor’s scales, and it was “Weigh In Day” for the new women students…weights called out, and entered “officially.” My group refused to participate, but most of the new women did it…times do change.
Men were not allowed in women’s rooms except on Sunday afternoons, with the doors open, so there were a set of little alcoves off the lobby of all the women’s dorms, no doors, that were the “date rooms.” We had specific times we had to be in the dorm before the doors were locked and we had no keys, parietal hours. If you were late it meant trouble. So it was fun explaining to my parents when I was home for Thanksgiving that the huge piles of papers I had brought with me were not a class project; no, they were a survey for the student government to demand an end to parietal hours, with the surveyed students asked to choose from a variety of potential future rule structures. I got the task of accumulating and summarizing the data…I guess they decided I might grow up to teach statistics…but I was already interested in issues of equality, because, of course, the men had no such hours, could wander the campus at 3 am with no consequences. We were successful, though it took a couple of years to win the final full battle…times do change.
As a VISTA volunteer in the black inner city of Kansas City, Missouri, after graduation, I spent my spare time involved in the “consciousness raising” era, involved with a women’s group…which means somewhere I have an FBI file, because I later found that group listed as one of the groups that “if you belong to these groups you are considered to be a subversive, and the FBI has a file on you.” Uh, it was consciousness raising, in all the now funny stereotypical manifestations you can see in old movies…we were not exactly a threat to the country…but I guess in Nixon’s days we seemed like we might be…times do change…?
After frustrating a lot of very nice gentlemen along the way, I figured out I was gay when I was in graduate school. There are many tales to be told of those days, but I will save them for another time. I want to jump forward, to right before I came here, when I was a faculty member at SUNY Brockport. My first or second year there a female faculty member from another department that I did not know stopped me one day and told me that if I was gay, I should be quite careful to never allow anyone to figure it out, that I was already a little obvious. Scary words to hear in those days, for someone with no tenure, in an all male department. A couple of years after that I was invited to a faculty party by a woman department head I casually knew, not from my department, who told me there were some people I really should meet. And yes, there was the woman who had warned me, and probably the entire gay faculty contingent. To me the most stunning moment was when I realized that the two married couples who were there may have been married to each other…but their true partners were each in the other couple. Those were the days when a gay bar would have no sign, just a security guard by the door, and if you asked if this might be the place you were looking for, the guard would take a good look at you and say, yes, this is the place you are looking for…before you could ever say the name of the place….times do change.
So when I arrived at Plymouth , I came having made some very specific commitments to myself. I would be active in the women’s rights community, a group that went through many names and gradually grew and created many of the things we now take for granted. I was the youngest faculty member at those meetings…times do change.
And I decided that the only way to be honest was to be out, oh, not flamboyantly, but still, out, from the beginning. It’s made for some, shall we say, interesting times along the way…times do change.
And from the person teaching the only women’s studies course on the campus, the youngest founding member of the Women’s Studies Council, well, I guess I’ve gotten a little older…times do change!
But know that inside here there’s still that freshman, still refusing to be “weighed in” by the football team, dammit! Again, many thanks…keep the times changing, in the right direction!