Art by Madelyn Turner

Art by Madelyn Turner from her Rachel Cooper Gallery show “My Body and Me”.

WGSS Program Celebrates 50th Anniversary

Alison Bailey

The WGSS Program will turn fifty in spring 2024! It’s my greatest hope that this landmark anniversary will inspire us not only to honor the passion and perseverance of the communities that brought us to this place, but also to serve as a reminder that our hard-won accomplishments require eternal vigilance and care moving forward.

Interdisciplinary programs are born of struggle. Like all WGSS programs, ISU's was an outgrowth of second-wave feminist political movements, consciousness raising groups, and experimental courses that were often taught by women faculty without pay. The first accredited Women's Studies course in the United States was taught at Cornell in 1969. The first academic program was established a year later at, what is now, San Diego State University.

ISU's story begins in 1973. On May 1, 1973 Betty Freidan and Phyllis Schaffly had their big (and somewhat heated) debate on the Equal Rights Amendment in Capen Auditorium on the ISU campus. Less than a year later, Women's Studies courses, as they were then called, were approved as part of the new interdisciplinary minor in Ethnic and Cultural Studies. The first classes appeared in spring 1974. They included History of Women in America, Human Sexuality, Racial Identification, Black American Minority Art, Afro-American Literature, Studies in Black Music, Political Roles of Blacks, Social Psychology, and Minority Peoples. By 1975 the Program offered Women in Literature, Psychology of Women, Women in French Literature, Sociology of Sex Roles, and my absolute favorite–Automotive Fundamentals.

A year and a half later, a coalition of faculty and students from ISU, Illinois Wesleyan University, Western Illinois University, and the University of Illinois gathered at the Wesleyan Memorial Center to support a proposed master's degree and doctorate in Women's Studies. Dr. Patricia Chesebro, ISU associate professor of psychology, received a $5,000 grant from the Board of Higher Education to plan the degree program. Dr. Sandra Harmon, who remains active in our community today, worked closely with Chesebro to establish a set curriculum.

Historically, the existence of all interdisciplinary programs on the ISU campus has demanded persistent resistance to budget cuts and faculty burnout. In February 1982, thirty students gathered outside President Lloyd Watkin's in response to his decision to eliminate funding for the Ethnic Studies coordinator's position. The minor survived despite further cuts and the closing of the Ethnic and Cultural Studies Center in 1983. Five years later Dean Virginia Owen charged Dr. Dorothy E. Lee with chairing a task force to revitalize the Women's Studies Program. They recommended hiring a full-time permanent director and requested funding to expand resources for The Women's Center, which was temporarily housed in the Center for Visual Arts.

Yet we have more to celebrate than to fear. We've watched our students become professors, social workers, law makers, advocates for women's health, community organizers, activists, healers, poets, and parents. We've supported one another through the pandemic and four years of terrifying political instability. We've brought some of the greatest scholars and activists to our campus. Sarah Weddington, the attorney who successfully argued Roe v. Wade spoke here in spring 1993. We started the Bloomington-Normal Clothesline Project in 1996. Dolores Huerta gave the symposium keynote and attended a social justice breakfast at the YWCA. We co-hosted the National Women's Music Festival in 2007. Janaya Khan, co-founder of Black Lives Matter, spoke to an overflow symposium crowd in 2019. The pandemic inspired us to reimagine Queering Gender, our 25th Annual Symposium to a two-week long online format.

This year we invite our alumni and community to join us for the WGSS Symposium with our keynote Dr. Lauren Guttman, who will be speaking on her forthcoming book Queer Survival: Gender, Sexuality, and the History of Childhood Sexual Abuse.

In addition to regular programming, a retrospective exhibition of the history of the WGSS Program will open at Milner Library on April 1, 2024. Under the direction of Dr. Kyle Ciani (HIS/WGSS), Rebecca Fitzsimmons (Milner), and April Anderson-Zorn (Archives), the exhibit will use artifacts to illustrate the Program's rich history, community partnerships, social justice activism, and the challenges inherent in establishing and maintaining WGSS curriculum and programs on our campus.

As part of this effort we invite former students, faculty, staff, and community partners add their WGSS memories, stories, photos, and artifacts to the collection. If you have items you’d like to share, please contact the director at

Here's to the next fifty years and beyond!

Alison Bailey

Director, WGSS Program

A collage of various WGSS events at ISU.

In collaboration with the Jo Ann Rayfield Archives at ISU, the WGSS Program is putting out a call to alumni and all members of the ISU community for any artifacts, materials, photos, or stories related to the WGSS Program at ISU.

Three people standing with arms around each other, in caps and gowns, looking away from the camera with long brown hair and feminist pictures on the top of their caps.

Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies (WGSS) program wants to recognize and celebrate its legacy: our alumni! We are seeking members of our Redbird family who want to share their college and post-graduation experiences with the incoming WGSS classes.

Dr. Jody Herman

Dr. Jody Herman continues to work at the Williams Institute at UCLA where she is rolling out a new project looking at the needs and barriers to services for trans and nonbinary residents of Los Angeles County.

WGSS Alumni Updates

Clockwise from top left: Chloe Kasper, Shayla Dennis, Erin Frost, Annaliisa Ahlman and family, Kimathi Johnson, and Becca Maree

Annaliisa Ahlman (2008) and her wife Georgette Kelly welcomed their daughter, Elodie Rose, on February 15, 2023. Annaliisa continues to teach at Niles North High School and will start her third year as the dance director this fall.

Brooke Barnhart (2014) Is currently living in Minneapolis, MN. She and her spouse relocated from Madison, WI last year. She spent last summer working on an organic vegetable farm, which was super fun! In September she began working at the University of Minnesota coordinating admissions for their graduate program. She thinks of her time at ISU often, and says that WGSS "really helped to shape me into who I am today!""

Kate Browne (2017) is currently teaching Introduction to Women's and Gender Studies as an adjunct at Bradley University. She is also engaged in gender equity-based DEI work as a consultant. She stopped by the WGSS Symposium this year. She is happy to report that she is putting her WGSS degree to good use!

Shalya Dennis (2021) is still on the ISU campus! She started as Mennonite College of Nursing's Instructional Experience Coordinator in June. She works closely with Program Directors and Sequence Leaders to negotiate student requirements with clinical partners and manage preceptors and faculty teaching assignments, as well as class and clinical schedules.

Le'Mil Eiland (2014) defended his dissertation at the University of Pittsburgh in July. His research focuses on how Black histories are preserved and reproduced through performance cultures. My research project is an attempt to illustrate how altering historical practices and performance are critical as Black performers crafted race on their own terms and corrected inaccuracies. He is excited about returning to ISU as an assistant professor of Theater Studies. He has fond memories of presenting his paper on "The Real Housewifes of Atlanta" at the WGSS Symposium.

Erin Frost (2013) is an associate professor in the English at Eastern Carolina University where she teaches technical communication, rhetoric, and composition. Her scholarly interests center on issues of gender and feminism in technical communication, rhetorics of health and medicine, environmental rhetorics, and risk communication. She planned two conferences this year: Computers & Writing in May 2022 and the Association of Teachers of Technical Writing, in June 2023. She is going up for full professor in the fall! She has fond memories of meeting Dr. Chandra Mohanty at the WGSS Symposium!

Jenna Goldsmith (2010) was sworn in as the 2nd City of Rockford Poet Laureate. Her recent publications have been featured in Cleveland Review of Books, South Carolina Review, and Spoon River Poetry Review. Last year her poetry chapbook CRUSH won the Baltic Writing Residency Chapbook Contest.

Emily Johnston (2016) has just accepted a new position as an Assistant Teaching Professor in Writing Studies, at the University of California, Merced. She is transitioning out of her current non-tenure track position at UC San Diego and moving north to be closer to her family and partner. She takes great joy in the fact the intersectional frameworks she learned in graduate school are now part of the undergraduate curriculum.

Chloe Kasper (201)  C elebrated her one-year work anniversary as Business Communications Specialist at Ace Hardware in Oak Brook, Illinois. Since graduation, Chloe has gained a variety of communications experience within agency, nonprofit and corporate communications settings while living in the Chicagoland area and continues to use what she learned during her WGSS minor studies to inform her professional communications perspective and practices. She also recently got engaged and will married in early 2024. Congratulations Chloe!

Becca Maree (2017) is the Adult Services Supervisor at the Bourbonnais Public Library. Through the Kankakee Area LGBTQ+ Network she has helped kickstart the Literary Spectrum Book Club, the area's first-ever queer community book club! If you are in the area, they meet the first Tuesday of every month at Rubber Rose Books and Print.

Kimathi Johnson (2021)  spent the last year at West Wind Education Policy, working with teachers and students in schools to educate them about the importance of equity and belonging in public schools. He recently started a new job at the University of Iowa Center for Advancement supporting the college of nursing and public health and as one of the leads on the DEI training sub-committee.  He has his eyes on graduate school...

Liz Sawyer (2000) Just returned from her first trip down to Mexico. She still lives in Arizona where she continues to work as a licensed massage therapist. She recently morphed her business into a mostly mobile practice and works primarily with elders, people with chronic pain issues, and caregivers. She absolutely loves it!

Sarah Eckstine sits in front of several art pieces that she has worked on.

Meet the April 2023 GradBird Scholar Sarah Eckstine.

Old Main Bell

Queer Coalition will celebrate Transgender Day of Visibility on Thursday, March 31, with a sashay through Uptown Normal.

People stand together for a photo.

Established by a group of Illinois State University faculty and staff as a support system for the LGBTQIA2S+ community, Queer Coalition (QC) stands as an emblem of inclusion and unity on the University's campus.

Dr. Jacklyn Weier, WGSS Assistant Director, smiles in front of a bookshelf.

Dr. Jacklyn Weier joined the Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies program as assistant director and advisor in December 2022.

Dr. Melissa Johnson, Dr. Alison Bailey, and Dr. Cassie Herbert at the University Professor award luncheon.

Dr. Alison Bailey was recently named University Professor by Illinois State University's Office of the Provost.

Dr. Kate Manne

The WGSS Program held its first face-to-face student research symposium since 2019 in April.

Hannah Pelphrey gives a speech to participants of the Take Back the Night March in front of the fountain by Stevenson Hall.

Illinois State's Feminist Led Activist Movement to Empower (FLAME) was reignited during the Fall of 2022.

A person holding a pink

At 7 p.m. Wednesday, February 22, FLAME will host a speaker from Planned Parenthood's Community Engagement and Education team in Stevenson 101. ISU students, faculty/staff, and the general public are welcome.

Dr. Kass Fleisher

On Tuesday, April 4, family, friends, and community gathered in the Bone Student Center to celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. Kass Fleisher.

Three performers on stage under red lighting

Students from Illinois State University's School of Theatre and Dance will stage three performances of "Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again" as part of the 26th Annual WGSS Symposium.

Dr. Jenna Goldsmith, ISU alum, is crowned poet laureate of Rockford, Il. She is wearing a maroon velvet blazer and a crown of leaves.

On January 23, 2023, Dr. Jenna Goldsmith, our former Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies assistant director and alum was crowned the new poet laureate of Rockford.

Vietnamese woman in Vietnamese market behind a fence; colorful chairs, jars, and baskets full of grains sit on a low table in front

Jade Nguyen, Vietnamese photographer and MFA photography student, presents photographic works exhibit “14,000 km” in Rachel Cooper Gallery, Room 237.

A primarily blue and black abstract oil painting that features a vague blonde woman in a chair looking up.

Madelyn Turner's poetically colorful representations of trauma and gendered embodiment will be on exhibit as part of the Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies program's art series.

microphone and a crowd in the background

The Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies program is collaborating with Queer Talks to bring the WGSS Spring 2023 Speaker Series.

Dr. Ericka Wills; woman with shoulder length brown hair and brown eyes, wearing a green top

From Central Illinois cornfields to southwestern copper mines and the Warrior Met Coal strike in Alabama, Dr. Ericka Wills' life journey weaves together current labor struggles and women's roles in those efforts.

Dr. Katharine Landers (ENG) and Dr. John Lawless (PHI/AAS).

Please join me in welcoming Dr. John Lawless and Dr. Katharine Landers to our WGSS affiliated faculty.

New undergraduate assistant, Hannah Pelphrey, sits at a table.

This August, Hannah Pelphrey will join the WGSS Program as our new undergraduate assistant

WGSS 2023 Symposium award winners: Paula G. Taylor (Dorothy E. Lee Scholarship), Nadia Smith (Luellen Laurenti Scholarship), Brooke Lindell (Student Achievement Scholarship), and Megan Mahoney (Anne M. Semlak Memorial Scholarship).

Four WGSS students received awards for their involvement in the program at the 26th annual Student Research Symposium.

ISU faculty, staff, students, and community members seated at a talk by Dr. Armen Álvarez.

During the Spring 2023 semester, Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies organized four invited lectures as part of the WGSS speaker series.

Faculty Publications

Dr. Dawn Beichner (CJS)

  • Dr. Dawn Beichner provided an invited statement in conjunction with the United Nations Office of Drugs Crime Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Thematic Discussions on the Implementation of Kyoto Declaration related to Pillar II: Advancing the Criminal Justice System. The statement, based on her research, was titled "Reducing Women's Reoffending Through Rehabilitation and Reintegration." She also chaired a panel on "Feminist Approaches to Justice: Reintegration and Representation of Justice System-Impacted Rural Women" that included scholarship and activism from Colombia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, India, Uganda, and the United States. Lastly, she presented "Rural Women Returning Home from U.S. Prisons and Jails.”

Dr. Saskia Beranek (ART)

  • Dr. Saskia Beranek co-organized and hosted a conference panel entitled "Grappling with Imperialism and Colonialism in the Early Modern Classroom" at the annual Renaissance Society of America meeting in San Juan, Puerto Rico. She also gave a talk entitled "Making the Self: Gendered Portrait Display In/As Dutch Elite Palace Spaces in the Seventeenth Century" at the Portraiture and the Construction of Identity, a symposium at the University of Bonn, Germany. She held a live webinar entitled "Rachel Ruysch’s Fruit and Insects with Dr. Saskia Beranek" exploring 18th-century Dutch painter Rachel Ruysch's still life works. She also wrote a chapter in Challenging Women’s Agency and Activism in Early Modernity.

Dr. Caitlin Mercier (PSY)

  • Dr. Caitlin Mercier received a New Faculty Initiative Grant for her qualitative research examining the impact of gendered racism and colorism on Black women's mental health. She also received a grant from the Afro-Vegan Society for scholarly activism examining the experiences of Black vegans and vegetarians. She co-authored a forthcoming book on reproductive justice entitled The Us in Uterus: A Collaborative Autoethnography of Psychologists Advocating for Reproductive Justice. Dr. Mercier's was accepted as a Journal of Clinical Psychology (JCP) Editorial Fellow.

Dr. Derek Sparby (ENG)

Dr. Gavin Weiser (EAF)

Dr. Jason Whitesel (SOC)

WGSS’s Feline Family

From left to right (owns): Selene (Dr. Jacklyn Weier), Nico and Bruno (Xan Daggett), Andy, Winston, and Duckie (Jamie Anderson), and Salem (Dr. Alison Bailey)

In our office we all have members of our family with four legs and fur (except for Duckie who only has 3 legs). Jacklyn somewhat recently adopted Selene (2), Pisces. Likes: catching bugs and eating wheatgrass. Dislikes: loud noises and security deposits. Xan’s cats Nico (1) and Bruno (5) love wrestling, bird watching out the patio windows, playing with mouse toys, and stealing their moms’ food whenever possible. Jamie has 3 cats, the blonde one is Andy (10), the black and white cow cat is Winston (the horrible, 5), and the silver tabby is our tripod, Duckie (4). They were all rescues and generally do not hang out in one place together. Lastly, meet Salem, Dr. Bailey's adopted feral cat, who shows up weekly to poach her catnip plants.

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