Four founders of the UH Hilo Women’s Studies program, from left, Sandra Wagner-Wright, Susan Brown, Sonia Juvik and Kenny Simmons. The four were honored at a recent event celebrating the 25th anniversary of the program. (photo by Claudia Hagan)

An event to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the women’s studies program at the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo was held in March. Four pioneers of the certificate program were honored at the event—retirees Sonia Juvik, Kenny Simmons and Sandra Wagner-Wright and colleague Susan Brown who is still at the university.

Each spoke at the event along with the women now at the helm of the program, taking the audience on a tour through the years of ideas, processes and people that led to the present platform, a baccalaureate in gender and women’s studies.

The herstory of Hilo’s Women’s Studies program

Simmons, a retired English professor who also served as an administrator at different times during her career at UH Hilo, arrived at the university in 1979 to teach modern literature and film. At that time there were very few women on the faculty.

But that first course she taught—Women in Modern Literature (ENG355), created around 1980—didn’t become “feminist” for several years. Simmons says her feminist criticism grew out of what she was reading to plan the course.

“This material set me on the path to being a full-on feminist literary critic and to turning Women in Modern Literature into an introduction to feminist criticism,” Simmons says.

In those early years, any courses at UH Hilo related to women’s studies such as Simmons’s were simply listed in their own departments.

But in 1988, historian Wagner-Wright arrived at UH Hilo. By then, courses including and centering on women’s contributions to research, history, arts and sciences were popping up more and more throughout disciplines, and Wagner-Wright proposed making women’s studies into a comprehensive program.

“That was the brilliance of Sandra’s idea,” says Simmons. “When she created the Women’s Studies certificate program, courses were then listed in their own discipline and also as WS. The very best part of that process was the creation of cross listed courses. So my course showed up not only in the English course listings, but also under women’s studies and my students started to come from all over the university.”

Sonia Juvik, far right, sits with students at the women’s studies celebration. (photo by Claudia Hagan)

New baccalaureate program in gender and women’s studies

Last spring, the UH System Board of Regents approved the transformation of the women’s studies certificate program into a gender and women’s studies baccalaureate program. Since fall 2015, students have the option to major or minor in the program. The first students to earn official majors and minors graduated in December 2015 and several more will graduate this May.

The current cohort of university faculty now managing and teaching in the program includes Amy Gregg, Marilyn Brown and Celia Bardwell-Jones.

Professor Juvik, a retired geographer and another founder and facilitator of the women’s studies program, spoke at the anniversary event about the seriousness the faculty have always striven for and the rigor they have had over the years in improving and managing the program.

“Today is a great day because the degree program in gender studies is an idea whose time has come,” says Juvik. “You are the ones who must nourish and nurture all of the good ideas that come forward.”

For the full story, see the UH Hilo Stories article.

A UH Hilo Stories article by Lara Hughes, a public information intern in the Office of the Chancellor, and Susan Enright, a public information specialist in the Office of the Chancellor.