Women and Language

The following testimonial was written by Sheila Golden on April 18th, 2013.
 
“Unfortunately, I can’t tell you anything of Chiron Studies’ beginnings, credit status, mentoring etc., I didn’t move to Portland until 1974. I can, though, tell you of my own involvement with it, and of it’s role in the emergence of Portland State University’s Women’s Studies program.  
 
I came to PSU to earn a post-bac in Teaching English as a Second Language, and took a lot of required linguistics, especially from one inspired teacher, Professor Jim Nattinger. At the same time, I became involved with a group of PSU women (students and faculty) who were lobbying the university for the creation of a Women’s Studies program. At first, we encountered skepticism about the academic credentials of Women’s Studies and little willingness to offer feminist classes. But some of the faculty, who had sympathetic departments, started offering courses in their disciplines: Nancy Porter and Nancy Hoffman (English), Nona Glazer (Sociology), Elaine Spencer (Biology), Amy Kesselman and Susan Karant-Nunn (History), and maybe others. Enough to lay the foundation (bare bones) of a program. We were all looking for ways to expand WS class offerings, and by doing so prove to the admins that there was both legitimacy and student interest in these classes.  
 
For me, Chiron was the answer. I developed a class called ‘Women and Language’, which examined the language behavior of women and men, using sociolinguistic tools to explore whether American English, as spoken and written, was gender-marked. The idea for the class came from a paper I wrote for Dr. Nattinger, who, I think (not totally sure), introduced me to Chiron and encouraged me to develop a syllabus. He was my sponsor, reviewed and commented on the syllabus, and remained available to me as I was teaching. It was a fine experience, offering a course not previously offered in PSU Linguistics, generating a lot of student involvement, and giving me my first experience in teaching.
 
And so Chiron became the way other women offered classes that didn’t exist in PSU, a way of creating a de facto Women’s Studies program before the university was willing to recognize and fund it. It also offered students a program of peer-instructors, which was particularly valuable for many womens studies classes that focused on ‘the politics of personal experience’.
 

I taught ‘Women and Language’ once a year, from 1975 to 1978 or 1979.  At some point, Women’s Studies, which by then had a small budget, started funding the class. But Chiron remained a major seedbed for new womens classes, especially the ones that couldn’t readily be accommodated within the existing academic frameworks. When a formal Women’s Studies program was established (1976?) it had proven itself partly through the availability of Chiron.”

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