Ng Sees Women's Studies Addressing Science and the World

Vivien Ng

Vivien Ng, new chair of the Department of Women's Studies, intends to look at the big picture; that is, to integrate a global perspective on gender issues into department courses.

Ng majored in chemistry at Ohio University but decided to pursue a graduate degree in East Asian history because of a lecture on Chinese history given by late Harvard sinologist John King Fairbank. She earned a master's degree in East Asian history and a Ph.D. in Chinese history, both from the University of Hawaii.

Prior to joining the University faculty this fall, she was an associate professor of history and women's studies at the University of Oklahoma, Norman. Ng has been president of the National Women's Studies Association, is a member of the board of directors of the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies at the City University of New York, and was project director of a regional conference on women and work in preparation for the 4th U.N. Conference on Women. Her Ph.D. thesis was on madness in imperial China.

At the University of Oklahoma, in addition to a Chinese history survey course and Introduction to Women's Studies, she taught special-topic seminars, including "Family in China and Japan," "Chinese Revolutions," and "Women in Modern China." She was in charge of the effort to design a freshman-level, two semester course called "World Cultures and Traditions."

"When I came to the University at Albany for an interview, I was asked to assess the state of women's studies nationally and how I envisioned women's studies to be in the 21st Century," says Ng. "I said at the time that there were two national trends: one was the trend to add a global perspective to women's studies research and teaching; another was to include a consideration of the sciences. This happened to be part of my own vision for women's studies and, happily for me, of the department here as well."

A step toward this global scope was realized when the Ford Foundation awarded $105,560 to the Center for Latino, Latin-American and Caribbean Studies (CELAC) for the project Internationalizing Women's Studies: Cross-cultural Perspectives on Gender Research and Teaching. In this project CELAC is collaborating with the Institute for Research on Women and the Center for the Arts & Humanities.

Ng said this goal will involve "a re-thinking of everything we do. We will not just add the global perspective but integrate it into the curriculum, so that other societies and cultures would be studied throughout the semester."

As a result of input from women of color, women's studies courses have already grown to include an analysis of race and class. As Ng sees it, the global and science perspective "is the next logical step."

In response to a question, Ng said there has been a backlash against women's studies nationally in the current conservative political climate. She cited Pennsylvania State University, where she said women's studies faculty and students have been slandered.

"The typical strategy is to caricature women's studies students and faculty as doctrinal, close-minded, and man-hating, and to call them lesbians," Ng said. "This line of attack is well-organized and tries to exploit the prejudices — like homophobia — that are there. There would be no impact if there were no homophobia. The backlash has occurred because we have really begun to make a difference in the curricula. I interpret backlash as a sign of our strength."

She also said that male as well as female students take women's studies classes because they are interested in broadening their knowledge.

"We need to do a better job of explaining what we do and what our courses are," said Ng. She added that some women's studies classes — such as Classism, Racism and Sexism: Issues — are already heavily used by students in the departments of Africana Studies and Latin American & Caribbean Studies.

Ng said the demand for women's studies courses exceeds department resources. At the same time, she said, there is a high degree of faculty commitment to women's studies, as demonstrated by the participation of joint faculty in all aspects of department governance.

Finally, she said the department needs to broaden its appeal without losing its distinct identity.

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