Breaking through systemic silence

De-funding of WGST program symptom of larger, institutional issue

Last week, the Mount Allison University administration indicated that there would be no available funding for the women’s and gender studies program (WGST) for the 2016-17 academic year.

As a WGST minor myself, this news is both infuriating and devastating. Also, it sadly comes as not much of a surprise. This potential cut to the WGST program is merely a symptom of a much larger problem at the institutional level. It is not simply about the loss of an academic program, but about the persistent policing and silencing of marginalized voices. The WGST program at Mt. A makes a conscious effort to cultivate spaces where these marginalized voices – which are often isolated and excluded from mainstream discourse – are given the opportunity to flourish and make themselves heard. Our courses focus on topics such as the body, sexuality, racism, colonialism, ableism, violence against women, and so on. Our classrooms create safe spaces to have these difficult conversations which allow students to foster new perspectives and look at our communities, and the world around us, through a multifaceted, intersectional lens. These conversations are integral and valuable not only to us as WGST students, but also to individuals and groups in our communities who may struggle to have their voices heard.    

The decision from the administration to de-fund the WGST program next year, as well as the looming question of its long-term sustainability, is a direct consequence of the institutionalized sexism and misogyny that WGST actively works against in our classrooms on a daily basis. It clearly reflects the mindset that women’s voices, marginalized voices, gender equality, anti-racism, and so on – all critical aspects of our WGST program – are not a priority of the administration. This decision demonstrates the administration’s complicity in the silencing of these marginalized voices as well as the consistent devaluing of WGST programs and professors.

The mobilization around the WGST cuts issue has been swift and compelling. As the president of the WGST students’ society, other executive members and I have been somewhat at the forefront of this movement over the past week-and-a-half. We have been in countless meetings, conducted multiple interviews with various media outlets, organized student demonstrations, gathered nearly 7,000 signatures on our online petition, and worked with our allies and supporters to ensure that our frustrations are being expressed. Although the WGST program has only 44 declared minors, the number of supporters, both students and faculty, is enormous and overwhelming in the best way possible. The momentum we have gained with this movement is incredibly powerful. I sincerely hope that it can remain strong and sustainable and that we can mobilize around other important issues on campus. Our fight is nowhere near over, as the administrative process to essentially save our program is just beginning, but our movement grows stronger with support each day. Our voices will be heard, loud and clear.

Katharyn Stevenson