37 Advocating For Those With Less Power | Peg O’Connor

My service to the College takes myriad forms. In the most traditional form of service, I have directed the Women’s Studies Program for seven years. During that time, we have maintained a very vibrant program and instituted a major. At the next regular meeting of the Women’s Studies Program, we will be voting on a proposal to change the name of the program to “Gender and Women’s Studies” in order to better reflect the changing field of the inter-discipline.

Directing an interdisciplinary program is in many ways similar to chairing a department, though in some ways more complicated by the fact that I must work and partner with multiple programs and departments. Our program reaches across the College; we have at least thirty faculty members who are affiliated with the program, a curriculum with courses from at least eight departments, and sponsored events throughout the academic year. I regard the sprawling nature of the program as a virtue; it reveals the ways that many offices and departments across campus are stakeholders in this program. It provides us with both an enormous stability and potential to evolve, as I believe we have done.

I have been a faculty leader on behalf of the interests and concerns of interdisciplinary programs and their faculty. One significant change I helped to effect was clarifying the role of interdisciplinary programs in the formal review processes of faculty. I worked with the dean’s office and past chairs of the personnel committee to institute changes in the ways that programs can participate in the reviews of faculty associated with their programs. This has become more important as the number of joint appointments increases at the College and as more faculty participate in interdisciplinary programs.

This fall semester, I have served on the search committee for a Director of Multicultural Programs. This is a very important position within the College. Even though this office is formally located within the Office of the Dean of Students, it plays a critical co-curricular role. In serving on that committee, I sought a candidate who had a broad understanding of diversity, oppression, community, and economic and social justice who would be able to create strong programs that benefit the entire student population, and not just a segment. One of the major challenges in this–and it is the same challenge I face with students when teaching Racism and Sexism—is to get majority students to see that diversity is about them or that they are part of the diversity. I need and want a Director of Multicultural Programs who is working on complementary tracks. This director will play an enormously important role in educating students in the ways that diversity is an integral feature of world. My commitment to making the campus more diverse also entails my regularly serving on faculty searches as the diversity representative, whose job is to recruit under-represented candidates and ensure that the process is transparent and fair. Diversity initiatives are one way that we can affirm excellence, justice, faith, service, community, and faith.

I also see as my responsibility as a tenured member of the faculty advocating on behalf of and in concert with those who possess less institutional power than I. One very concrete form this has taken is my work on behalf of women students on campus who are concerned about sexual assault and the policies and protocols for addressing assaults. I have also worked with various offices in Student Life, bringing a speaker from the nationally recognized organization Men Can Stop Rape to work with administrators, coaches, faculty, and staff to help transform our campus into one where sexual assault and violence against women are not tolerated.

I understand service to the College to also include service and leadership within our profession, since our work in the greater academic world reflects back to Gustavus. For three years I served on the Committee on the Status of Gays, Lesbians, Bisexuals, and Transgendered Persons that is one of the standing national committees of the American Philosophical Association. During my time on that committee, I was part of an examination of the absolute paucity of articles in philosophical journals that addressed gay issues. Our study was prompted by several faculty who had received hostile and homophobic comments on their submitted work. At my suggestion, this committee has also recently begun to address the tension between academic freedom and religiously affiliated colleges. In the present political context, this is becoming an even more pressing issue and perhaps places an especial burden on gays and lesbians.

I also serve on the steering committee of the Feminist Ethics and Social Theory (FEAST) association, having been elected in 2004 to a three year term. FEAST is the leading organization in feminist ethics, and includes the most highly regarded contemporary feminist philosophers. It has been an honor to serve on this committee.