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Celebrating 50 years of ground-breaking programming in gender, sexuality and women’s studies

February 17, 2021

It's been 50 years since Simon Fraser University offered the course Geography 404: “The Geography of Gender” in 1971, a course that made way for the first Women’s Studies program in Canada and what would become today’s vibrant, interdisciplinary department of Gender, Sexuality, and Women's Studies (GSWS) at SFU.

The course was the result of foundational work done by SFU’s Women’s Caucus in the late 1960s to develop and teach courses focusing on “women’s issues.” By the 1970s the courses garnered strong student support and faculty members Andrea Lebowitz and Maggie Benston lobbied for the establishment of an independent Women’s Studies program. 

Although the program gained approval from SFU Senate in 1975, the annals show that Lebowitz and Benston’s efforts were often met with resistance. One senator suggested that a women’s studies program was, “tantamount to allowing prisoners to create a prison education program.”  

This initial criticism did not slow down the momentum of the program over the next several decades. As the GSWS 50th Anniversary page outlines, the hard work of faculty members, students, and support from the community, nurtured its growth over the ensuing decades. They worked to establish the first endowed chair at SFU, the Ruth Wynn Woodward chair, supporting innovative social justice research in 1985. And the department gained full departmental status as Women’s Studies in 1991 with a transition to become the department of Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies in 2010, reflecting an ever more diverse range of interdisciplinary research and teaching as well as broader societal needs for nuanced critical thinking in this area.

Today’s GSWS is an interdisciplinary department committed to nurturing and promoting critical research, scholarship, engaged teaching and meaningful community service. It is a department bringing feminist, queer, and intersectional understandings to the analysis of power not only to its undergraduates and graduate students, but to the community at large.

Read more about GSWS and the events to celebrate 50 years.