Jennifer W. Davidson (PhD, '11) is associate professor of theology and worship at American Baptist Seminary of the West, and chair of the GTU's Women Studies in Religion Certificate Program.
Know Your Why
We do this work because we sense a call to connect women to one another, to bring resources to women, to help one another respect difference and facilitate connection, and to give space for women to bring our whole selves to this work—work that is nourished and nourishing, intersectional, examines privilege, and breaks down isolation.
It’s not enough to know what we’re doing--or even who we’re doing it for. If we want to make a difference and be persistent in our efforts, we need to be clear on why we do what we do. If we don’t "know our why,” we can become bogged down in tasks that don’t advance our mission. We can get discouraged more easily. Whether it’s about eating healthfully or exercising, or about studying, writing, and teaching, knowing “the why” behind what we do helps us be more passionate, committed, tenacious, and focused.
When the students, staff, and faculty members of our steering committee for the GTU’s Women’s Studies in Religion Program came together for our first meeting of the Spring 2019 semester, we set aside the majority of our time to talk about our whys. Why Women’s Studies in Religion at the GTU? Why is each of us involved in women’s studies in general, and why do we serve on the steering committee? Why offer the Women’s Studies in Religion seminar course for GTU students? Why host public events that lift up scholarship, offer mentoring opportunities, and provide space for creating art and community? Here were some of our responses:
- We need Women’s Studies at the GTU because academic and religious spaces have been dominated by men, and men tend to be in positions of power. Even at the GTU where we far surpass our peer institutions when it comes to the ratio of male-to-female students and faculty, we still have classes and departments where women are a significant minority.
- We do this work to build solidarity with one another in the face of adversity. The interreligious context of the GTU provides the perfect context to work cross-culturally; to focus on commonalities as well as differences; to address the complexities of intersections of identities around gender, sexuality, bodies and size-ism, race, class, nationality; and to support one another in personal challenges, intellectual thought, and workplace politics.
- We engage in this work because it is important for women to support one another’s scholarship. We provide opportunities for emerging women scholars to publish, to present their work at conferences, and to learn about the groundbreaking work that is happening here and elsewhere.
- We do this work because we sense a call to connect women to one another, to bring resources to women, to help one another respect difference and facilitate connection, and to give space for women to bring our whole selves to this work—work that is nourished and nourishing, intersectional, examines privilege, and breaks down isolation.
- We do this work because we have seen both women and men go through the WSR Certificate Program and become outstanding academic and religious leaders who are employing womanist, feminist, mujerista methods in their work. We have seen women come alive as they step into their power and lift up their voices.
- We do this work because it is joy-filled work. It sustains us and makes a grueling academic environment more sustainable than it might otherwise be.
We will be exploring and discussing our whys more at future steering committee meetings, because we know it will help us continue to hone our mission and stick to the course in the years ahead. If you’re a student at the GTU or one of its member schools and are interested in pursuing a certificate in Women’s Studies in Religion as part of your degree program, please visit our website at www.gtu.edu/wsr to find out more. If you are a student, faculty or staff member interested in serving on the WSR steering committee, contact our program director Sheryl Johnson at firstname.lastname@example.org to find out about the application process. We’d love to know your why!