1975 saw the first class to graduate in Women’s Studies at UCSC, but at that time it wasn’t a sanctioned degree, since it was still a student-faculty collective. What is now called Feminist Studies had an arduous journey to becoming a full-fledged department, despite the fact that, in the heat of second-wave feminism, many found it unacceptable that there was no curriculum focused on women’s issues.
“Certain administrators were very resistant to allowing Women’s Studies to become a bonafide department; it took until 1996 to become a department—it was simply sexism, it was just a prejudice,” says Bettina Aptheker, one of the most renowned professors for spearheading the Feminist Studies department.
Those early years depended greatly on faculty members from various departments and students to keep classes afloat, says Aptheker. Today, the department has 10 full-time faculty members and the classes are packed. In 2013 the first Ph.D. cohort in the department began its inaugural session, and during the 10 years faculty pushed for its approval, the department was granting a “designated emphasis” in Feminist Studies—meaning more than 100 doctoral students have already graduated with a double degree, just not one in the department they wanted.
“Reproductive rights, violence against women, issues around child rearing, the family, race and class, gender, sexuality, lesbian identity, gay identity—these were all major political issues that were being argued on a much broader political scale,” says Aptheker.
History (and most other fields) were taught by the victors (men), so students demanded a gender-balanced education—one that included both sides of the story.
Aptheker began teaching “Intro to Women’s Studies” in 1980 and became the first hire on a tenure track in 1987 when the then-“program” became a “committee.” She’d already made a name for herself in the Communist Party and Free Speech Movement in Berkeley and worked for the defense in Angela Davis’s high-profile trial in the early ’70s.