by Ben Zeisloft
The University of Pennsylvania named its women’s studies center the “Center for Research in Feminist, Queer, and Transgender Studies” — removing a tribute to a prominent suffragette in the process.
According to Melissa Sanchez, an English and comparative literature professor who will lead the center, Penn decided to rename the Alice Paul Center — home to the Ivy League university’s gender studies department — in order to signal “commitment” to LGBTQ “intellectual and political movements.”
“The choice to name Alice Paul [Center] after the U.S. suffragette leader fit with that limited vision of what women’s studies was,” she explained in an interview with Penn Today. Sanchez also cited Alice Paul’s “problematic past, including her role in the exclusion of Black women from the suffrage movement in order to keep southern white women on board.”
Alice Paul was a key figure in the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which guarantees American women the right to vote.
“Few individuals have had as much impact on American history as has Alice Paul,” explains the Alice Paul Institute. “Her life symbolizes the long struggle for justice in the United States and around the world. Her vision was the ordinary notion that women and men should be equal partners in society.”
The rebranded “Center for Research in Feminist, Queer, and Transgender Studies” plans to host several events during the new academic year — including “a conversation with two-spirited composer, performer, and anthropologist Jeremy Dutcher” and “a conversation between Jennifer Nash and Jasbir Puar reflecting on the history and future of queer BIPOC feminism.”
“Our hope is that [students] will come to our events and engage with our speakers,” Sanchez told Penn Today. “We strive to make all events, all conversations, open to everyone who is interested. We want all attendees — participants as well as speakers — to presume that they have something to say. And something to learn.”
A female undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania — who wishes to remain anonymous due to fear of possible career repercussions — noted that “they’re trying to define what all women think and what social justice is, and they’re setting it back on both counts.”
“The feminist movement largely minimizes women and tells them what they can’t do,” she commented, adding that those in charge of Penn’s women’s studies department are “taking social justice in their view as a given.”
Campus Reform asked Sanchez whether the renaming of the center takes a side in the debate within feminism over the validity transgenderism within the context of women’s rights. In response, Sanchez said that she was “unable to accept the terms in which you pose it.”
“FQTC and GSWS emphatically believe that the existence of trans, nonbinary, and gender nonconforming persons is not, and never has been, up for debate,” she asserted. “To treat this existence — and the human rights and dignity that it confers — as a question with two sides is to perpetuate the violence of transphobia and transmisogyny. The FQTC/GSWS community includes persons of all genders, and we affirm the human rights and dignity of all women and persons of all genders.”
“The new name of our Center is meant to signal this feminist commitment to solidarity and inclusiveness.”
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Ben Zeisloft is a Campus Reform Student Editor and Pennsylvania Senior Campus Correspondent.
Photo “Melissa Sanchez” by University of Pennsylvania.