Skip to content. | Skip to navigation

You are here: Home » Women and Gender Studies » Mission Statement

Photo By Dagmar Schultz

LIVE STREAM OF CELEBRATION OF AUDRE LORDE

 

BIOGRAPHY

Audre Geraldine Lorde was the third child of Linda Belmar and Frederic Lorde born on February 18, 1943. Born Audrey, she dropped the "y" from her name while still a child, explaining in Zami: A New Spelling of My Name, that she was attracted to the symmetry of the "e" at the end of each name.  Influenced by her mother's love for words and storytelling, Lorde was drawn to poetry and language from a young age. Her schooling began at a Catholic grammar school where she experienced racism and hostility. It was during this time that Lorde first began to develop her literary voice; as a teen she was an active contributor to her school arts magazine and published her first poem in Seventeen magazine. Lorde attended Hunter College (1954-1959) studying Library Science and went on to earn a Master's degree in that subject from Columbia University in 1961. There she met Edwin Ashley Rollins, an attorney, whom she married in 1962. Lorde and Rollins wedding reception took place at Roosevelt House. The couple had two children, Elizabeth and Jonathan; they divorced in 1970. In 1968, Lorde was a writer in residence at Tougaloo College in Mississippi where she met Frances Clayton, a professor of psychology, who was her partner until 1989.

Mina Shaughnessy, former director of City College's SEEK Program (Search for Education, Elevation, and Knowledge) offered Lorde her first position at CUNY. From there, she went to John Jay College of Criminal Justice in 1970 where she fought to build a significant Black Studies program. In 1981, she accepted the Distinguished Thomas Hunter Chair offered by Donna Shalala, then Hunter College's president, where she taught until 1986. Lorde also taught in the Department of English; today an annual prize for undergraduate excellence in poetry and prose is named in her honor. Lorde was a mentor at the Audre Lorde Women's Poetry Center, housed at Roosevelt House in the 1980s-90s prior to its renovation.

In 1980, together with Barbara Smith and Cherrie Moraga, she co-founded Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press in order to call attention and make available work by women of color. As a prolific poet, talented teacher and artist, and well known activist, Lorde has been acclaimed as a central figure in the feminist movement. In 1991-92, Lorde was the State Poet of New York.

In the late 1970s, Lorde was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent a radical mastectomy; she died on November 17, 1992 ofliver cancer in St. Croix where she was living with Gloria Joseph. In her own words, she was a "black, lesbian, feminist, mother, warrior, poet"; Lorde's life and career was characterized by her hopeful efforts to establish a better humanity through her teaching, activism, poetry and prose.


This biography is compiled from a number of sources, from entries found at "e-notes", poets.org, and from Columbia University's Center for New Media Teaching and Learning as well as Clare Coss and Blanch Wiesen Cook's entry in Notable American Women. Special thanks to Thorn in the Department of English for providing some details about Lorde's time teaching at Hunter.

 

 

Daniel G. Simmonds, III

 
Document Actions

Mission Statement

History

 

The Women and Gender Studies Program (formerly Women's Studies) at Hunter College was one of the first such programs in the country. Officially established in 1975, the program emerged as part of a much larger intellectual and pedagogical movement in the United States and soon across the globe that sought to redress a wide array of silences, distortions and biases in undergraduate university curricula. Along with its counterparts at Hunter and elsewhere are Africana and Puerto Rican/Latino Studies, Latin American and Caribbean Studies, Asian-American Studies, Native American Studies, Chicano Studies it brought not only the richness of interdisciplinary learning but also the vitality of new and previously unrecognized voices and visions to the study of history, literature and languages, social sciences, natural and health sciences, and the arts.

 

Because of its location in a predominantly urban, public sector institution that historically was the first to serve young women of all races and class backgrounds, Hunter's Women and Gender Studies Program was from the beginning conscious of its special mission of diversity and inclusion. Prior to the 1950s, Hunter College enrolled more African-American women than any other institution outside the traditional black colleges. After becoming co-educational in 1964, three-quarters of its student body remained and remains today's female, the majority of them women of color, immigrants and working class. In past decades, Hunter's Women's Studies faculty played a pivotal role in securing the College's Pluralism and Diversity requirement. The program also received major foundation funding to develop CUNY-wide curricula to explore the intersections of gender, race, ethnicity, sexuality, and class; to host resident scholars from Asia, the Caribbean and Latin America on the theme of Gender and Feminism in Third World Contexts; and to offer pioneering after-school instruction for diverse middle-school girls. More recently, it has become the unofficial home at Hunter College of sexuality and queer studies and is in the process of making this component a central and visible part of the major.

 

Goals

 

Recognizing the diversity of gendered experiences is only one element of the Program's mission. Equally important is to develop and apply a shared framework of gender analysis across all fields of knowledge. Both a basis of critical inquiry and the ground of a feminist pedagogy, gender as a category of thought:

 

** Has multiple and sometimes contradictory expressions across times, cultures, and situations;

** Intersects in critical and dynamic ways with class, race, ethnicity, religion, sexuality, age, geographical location, and other markers of social identity;

** Applies as much to men as to women and to transgender persons that is, involves the study of shifting masculinities as well as femininities and sexualities;

** Deeply affects nearly every area of human experience, psychology, art, science, medicine, politics, religion, sexuality, economics, culture, diplomacy and war.

 

Women and Gender Studies at Hunter seeks to apply this critical perspective through (1) its 24-credit major, including the proposed new three areas of concentration of Sexuality and Queer Theory, Immigration and Globalization, and Culture, Race and Class; (2) its wide range of core and cross-listed course offerings, open to all students; and (3) the array of public events, lectures, panels, films, and other activities it sponsors for the college and larger community every year. In addition, the Program has a commitment to teaching the relation between feminist theory and practice by maintaining strong links to New York City-based, national and international activist groups and by exemplifying different roads toward social change at the level of the community, the society and the globe. Through supervised internships open to Women and Gender Studies majors as well as public events in collaboration with allied groups both inside and outside the college, our faculty and students try to put into practice the ideals of social, gender and racial justice and to work for a better, more peaceful world.

 

Majoring in Women and Gender Studies offers practical as well as theoretical benefits. Understanding the relationship of feminist theory to everyday life has inspired our program to stress building and maintaining a strong sense of community and intellectual as well as emotional support between faculty and students and among students of diverse backgrounds and orientations. This affects the quality of life for students while they are still at Hunter College. Looking forward to the future, the skills and knowledge students acquire from the program will help prepare them for work and further training in fields such as public policy, law, education, social work, health care, journalism, and the arts and sciences. Our graduates have excelled in many of these professions, and some have gone forward from undergraduate internships to full-time jobs in the field or with the agency where they worked as interns. Overall, the program seeks to instill in our students a critical understanding of the ways in which societies and their dominant institutions are gendered as well as racialized and class-divided and a commitment to bringing that understanding into their future areas of work, activism and everyday life.