During Women’s History Month, The College Today will take a look back at the women who led the College of Charleston to become the place it is in 2017. Today, we take a look back at the history of the Women’s and Gender Studies Program.

It was 33 years ago that the College of Charleston decided to offer a course in women’s studies.

It turned out to be a good move.

That course was very popular — so popular that a few years later, the College decided that it was time to expand and offer a minor in women’s studies.

Once again, a good move.

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Student interest in the program grew yearly. By the 2006-07 academic year, more than 1,700 students enrolled in women’s and gender studies courses.

Alison Piepmeier, the first director of the Women’s and Gender Studies Program

That strong student interest convinced the College to establish a bachelor of arts degree in women’s and gender studies in 2008.

“I think that the women’s and gender studies major is popular because it introduces students to topics that are relevant to our daily lives and the world we live in today,” says Cara Delay, the director of Women’s and Gender Studies Program.  “There is also an expanding job market for women’s and gender studies students, and we have good numbers in terms of our graduates getting employment or getting into graduate school.”

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The driving force behind the early popularity of the Women’s and Gender Studies Program was Alison Piepmeier, who moved to Charleston in 2005 and became the program’s director.

A tireless advocate for the inclusion of all students and equality for all, Piepmeier was able to elevate the program and inspire students along with way. She also created the College’s popular Yes! I’m a Feminist event, which celebrates the achievements of students in the Women’s and Gender Studies Program and serves as an important fundraiser each year.

Hundreds of students, faculty and community members gather each year for Yes, I’m a Feminist!

She passed away last year after leading the program for nearly a decade. A scholarship was created in her honor; senior Leigh Friar was its first recipient in February.

“We feel Alison’s impact every day,” says Delay. “The major and curriculum were her creations, and we still have many students who were inspired to become women’s and gender studies majors or minors because of her. She is responsible, too, for creating close relationships between students and faculty, and our program is still known for this.”

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The program continues to flourish. Delay says the the current political and cultural climates have only made the Women’s and Gender Studies Program more relevant.

“Since the (presidential) election, we have seen an increased interest by both students and faculty in women’s and gender studies and a new recognition that in a world in which it is essential to study identities and intersections — race, gender and sexuality — women’s and gender studies is the place to be.”

Featured photo by Reese Moore.