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Economic Council Holds Roundtable on Women's Studies and Services in Tennessee Higher Education

April 29, 2014

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NASHVILLE - A Roundtable discussion on the “State of Women’s Studies and Services in Tennessee” took place as part of the Tennessee Economic Council on Women’s (TECW) 2014 research on “Women & Work.”  The event was the first of its kind in Tennessee.

Directors of women’s studies programs and women’s centers from colleges and universities across the state participated in the discussion, which focused on effective collaboration and expanding the positive impact that programs have in their communities.  Dena Wise, chair of the TECW described the roundtable as “a way to both learn from our academic faculty across the state and engage them in collaborative work to benefit the women of Tennessee on a broad scale.”

Participants came from as far as East Tennessee State University (ETSU), in Johnson City, and the University of Tennessee at Martin to exchange information about academics and the implementation of programs like “Take Back the Night,” “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes,” and “The Clothesline Project”; all efforts designed to bring awareness to violence and hardships often faced by women and other populations that can be disenfranchised on campuses.

Other details discussed included the characteristics of women’s centers and women’s studies programs, which are typically considered separate entities.  Traditionally, centers provide direct services and guidance to female students and staff, while women’s studies programs are rooted in academics and research.  One interesting outcome of the event was the realization that several women’s centers in Tennessee are actually operated by academic faculty, whose daily activities combine academics and services.  “This roundtable discussion revealed that these educators bridge the gap between two camps of professionals,” said Dr. Phyllis Qualls-Brooks, Executive Director of the TECW.  “Their insight will be valuable as we work to promote collaboration statewide.”   ETSU, University of Tennessee-Knoxville (UT-K), and Middle Tennessee State University were the only institutions represented that have a standalone women’s center.

Similarly, only a few universities in the state offer a full major in women’s studies at this time, and participants said that learning from such programs may help improve graduation rates.  “Based on what we see on the campuses with related classes, some feel that students who pursue a major or minor in women’s studies are more likely to reach graduation than many of their peers,” says, Dr. Phyllis Thompson, director of the Women’s Studies Program at ETSU.  “If further study confirms this trend, we may be able to determine why, apply that knowledge to other programs, and grow women’s studies disciplines in more institutions.”

Roundtable participants expressed an excitement to build on the foundation of this first meeting, with plans developing for another event in the fall that will bring faculty together with students to discuss women’s studies and services.  In addition to participating in future events, the Economic Council plans to look closer at the success rates of women’s studies students in Tennessee.

The roundtable was held in Nashville, at the Law Offices of Bass, Berry and Sims.