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The Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies Program, the Center for Research in Feminist, Queer, and Transgender Studies, and the Penn Women's Center is hosting a three-day symposium from Feb. 29 to March 2. 

Credit: Anna Vazhaeparambil

The Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies Program is hosting a symposium alongside the Center for Research in Feminist, Queer, and Transgender Studies and the Penn Women’s Center to celebrate 50 years of gender advocacy and scholarship at Penn. 

The symposium, which lasts from Feb. 29 to March 2, features a variety of faculty, scholars, and alumni across GSWS, FQT, and PWC. The panel discussions will explore multi-generational perspectives to highlight the evolving history of these programs and their impact on the University. 

“The fact that we've been around for 50 years is a really big deal and it's worthy of celebration,” Penn Women's Center Director Elisa Foster said. “It’s worthy of taking a critical look at how we are addressing issues around gender and equity right now, but it's also worthy of celebration and joy, acknowledging the amazing work that generations of people have contributed to both the Women's Center and the Women's Studies program, and FQT.”

The event features discussions on topics including “Gender and Sexuality in Medicine and Science,” “The Futures of Gender and Sexuality Studies,” “50 Years of Gender Studies & Social Justice Advocacy at Penn,” and “GSWS in a Nation without Reproductive Autonomy, Affirmative Action, or LGBTQ Rights.” 

Senior Director of the Eidos LGBTQ+ Health Initiative Jessica Halem will moderate the discussion focused on gender and sexuality studies in healthcare, including speakers from various Penn science departments. 

“Gender Studies is also science, evidence of gender and sex and sexuality in our lives,” Halem said to The Daily Pennsylvanian. “And that's what we do."

Richard L. Fisher Professor of English and Faculty Director of the Program in Asian American Studies David Eng will lead conversation about the current state of gender and sexuality studies, as well as its future trajectory at Penn and beyond. The event also features demonstrations, including the “Trans Oral History Project” and “Breathless/Living: Histories/Crises/Poetry.” 

Following the 50th anniversary celebration of the Penn Women’s Center in November of last year, the three programs seek to honor the accomplishments made for gender equity and education throughout the years. In addition to serving as a reunion for GSWS alumni, the event will allow speakers and attendees to compare and contrast their experiences across disciplines, reflecting the program’s history and developmental impact on the Penn community.  

Associate Director of the GSWS Program Gwendolyn Beetham described the program's historic fight against discrimination of academic material and curricula.  

“The field itself was really born out of that need to create something that was different within the university and really pushed the university to be more inclusive as a whole,” Beetham said.

The GSWS program now facilitates hundreds of graduates and consists of 48 core faculty and nearly 100 affiliated faculty across each school at Penn, offering courses, majors, minors, and graduate certificates related to gender and sexuality studies. 

Foster said that PWC can offer opportunities that complement students' academic pursuits.

“While GSWS and FQT are doing the research, and they're doing the work of educating our students, we're in the space of providing opportunities for them to actually realize those things that they're studying and put them into practice," Foster said. 

Foster added that the symposium will highlight how PWC's work has evolved to address the "needs of the current landscape of Gender and Women's Studies.” 

In 1973, several women of the Penn community organized a sit-in in College Hall to protest the lack of concern regarding sexual violence against women. This demand for change led to the founding of the Penn Women’s Center, which is dedicated to providing inclusive support for Penn students and advocating for gender equity. 

The FTQ Center was established in 1984 as the Alice Paul Center, after the suffragist Alice Paul who received a Ph.D. from Penn. The center was renamed in 2021 to recognize the collective nature of its research and scholarly community. 

“There isn't one department or one school at the University that doesn't benefit from understanding the role of gender in their work,” Halem said.