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At 50 years and counting, Purdue Fort Wayne’s Women's Studies Program is golden

Arthur & Badia hope that the next 50 years will carry the great work being done by alumni to gain even more traction and steam
Julia Meek/WBOI
Arthur & Badia hope that the next 50 years will carry the great work being done by alumni to gain even more traction and steam

Purdue Fort Wayne’s Women’s Studies Program is celebrating its 50th anniversary with a Gala on Thursday, March 30 at the History Center.

It all officially began when Cathryn Adamsky’s first class on the subject was taught in 1972 at what was then know as Indiana-Purdue University Fort Wayne, or IPFW.

From there a group of like-minded women started meeting and identifying themselves as a program in the spring of 1973.

And in 1992 the university became the first public Indiana institution to offer a Women’s Studies major.

Julia Meek discusses the program’s rich history with Women’s Studies professor Janet Badia & Chicago based musician Hope Arthur and how it has impacted the entire community.

The music featured at the end of our conversation is "Bloomingbird," by KelsiCote from their 2020 release "Ayun."

Event Information:

PFW’s Women’s Studies 50th Anniversary Gala
The History Center, Fort Wayne
Thursday, March 30
7:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.
Admission: $10.00/Adults $5.00/Students

For tickets & more information visit the Purdue Fort Wayne website.

Below is a transcript of our conversation:

Julia Meek: Janet, Badia Hope Arthur welcome.

Janet Badia: Hello.

Hope Arthur: Hello.

Julia Meek: Now it's 50 years in the Women's Studies business. Congratulations. What a milestone! In a word, Janet, how does it feel, that kind of an accomplishment?

Janet Badia: Outstanding.

Julia Meek: Fair enough. You've been a big part of that department for a really long time.

Janet Badia: Yes, that's true.

Julia Meek: Now, this remarkable journey all began in the emerging women's movement of that day, 50 years ago. Then versus now, what kind of environment was your Women's Studies Program born into?

Janet Badia: Well, I think you get a real sense of the environment that the program rose out of through the archives that we have in the office on campus. The Archives include letters and correspondence from some of the women who founded the program.

And what you really see is the struggle, the resistance to the program, the urgency of the work, just the sense of solidarity among the women. They knew they were doing something really important. It was costing a lot to do it. It was painful sometimes, but they banded together and really gained energy from the sisterhood and the solidarity.

Julia Meek: Like it was supposed to work. It's fantastic.

Janet Badia: Exactly.

Julia Meek: So Hope, how and when did you connect with the department?

Hope Arthur: Well, I had a lot of friends in the Women's Studies department when I was going to school there and now still. So I was kind of orbiting the department, I guess you could say. I was studying music.

And when I was working on my music degree, that was the first time in my life I ever realized that I had never played a piece by a woman composer, it took until college for me to have that realization. And I had this idea that I really wanted to do a concert that featured women composers.

And so I connected with Dr. Badia and we collaborated on a concert called The Miss in Mozart and we perform pieces from, I want to say, like, as early as 1400, to the present, that was probably my first deeper connection with the Women's Studies Department.

Julia Meek: How does it feel these days being active on the end of this 50-year food chain that we're talking about?

Hope Arthur: It's really exciting and inspiring to see all of the hard work. I was around when it was IPFW. That's where I got my degree from and then it split. So I was around when it was closed and then reinstated. That was probably one of the most inspiring times especially to see all these women rallying and really fighting for something that's incredibly beneficial to the community.

Julia Meek: You saw exactly how it was supposed to work in action, then?

Hope Arthur: Yes.

Julia Meek: That had to be very, very satisfying.

Hope Arthur: Exactly.

Julia Meek: Now, this all dropping in Women's History Month, of course, is very, very righteous. What are some of the very biggest accomplishments since Ms. Katherine Adamski facilitated that very first class at the Fort Wayne Folk School a little over 50 years ago?

Janet Badia: There have been so many milestones along the way. I think accomplishing the Women's Studies minor in 1976 was a highlight and really marks the program as being a trailblazer in the country in terms of establishing curricular programming in Women's Studies.

The second milestone would have to be 1992 when the Women's Studies program at then IPFW became the first public university in Indiana to have a bachelor's degree in women's studies. I mean, when you think about you know, there's Purdue and there's IU, and yet it's this little regional campus in Fort Wayne, Indiana that pulls off this amazing degree that remains still today, the only bachelor's degree in women's studies in northeast Indiana. So I think that's, you know, amazing.

For me personally, in my 12 years of directing the program, 2016 stands out for a variety of reasons. But in May of that year, we actually graduated our largest class in the history of the program. And it was such a large class by far--it was like three times as big as the class before. And that was an amazing accomplishment. I thought.

Julia Meek: Was there a particular reason that could be determined it was such a wonderful year?

Janet Badia: It was the growth of the program. We had just enrolled so many students, we had developed a bunch of new courses that were pulling students into the minor and major and there was such an energy in the program it was incredible. It really was.

Julia Meek: And that's part of the time that you were involved in it, Hope?

Hope Arthur: It was, yeah. I don't think I was going to school at the time but I remember getting really involved in all of the activities around that time.

Julia Meek: That had to be music to your ears, Janet.

Janet Badia: Yes, absolutely. It was really an incredible time.

Julia Meek: Okay, Janet, it's amazing getting your Women's Studies Program archives into a digital timeline, speaking of over achievement, What will that mean for the whole community going forward?

Janet Badia: It's really an incredible opportunity for the community to see, to really feel our history. So when I became Program Director in 2009, I inherited what we laughingly refer to in the program as these "binders full of women."

They are literal, Big Blue binders that somebody had collected all of the materials, and it's been sitting there and really it's a credit to Deana Woolley and Stevie Shurick who are two instructors at Purdue, Fort Wayne, who have just poured a lot of energy into digitizing all of this material. It's actually going to be available and viewable online.

So you know, Linda Foxx, who was director of the program in the 90s and the 2000s, and is sitting in California, is now we're going to be able to pour over course, flyers from 1977, pictures from 1996. It's just this amazing archive.

My hope for it really, I think all of our collective hope is that the community recognizes what many of us have long known, which is this is a gem of a program, it really is such a treasure. And when you look at that archive, and you see this life of these women who had such commitment just kind of ooze out of the documents, it's just so inspiring.

Julia Meek: And it's out there for the world...

Janet Badia: And it's out there.

Julia Meek: see and use and learn from.

Janet Badia: And hopefully forever, no matter what happens with the binders, (chuckles) we have a digital archive.

Julia Meek: Great point. Great point. Now Hope, what would you say is the biggest advantage to this kind of solidarity in this 21st century world we are living in?

Hope Arthur: Well, I guess, living my life as a musician, you know, women face all kinds of adversity in every field. And it's still no different in the music world at all, you know, in fair pay, and misogyny in the workplace, things like that.

And so in Chicago, you know, I play in a lot of groups where I'm among some of the most amazing supportive people. But then there are other groups I'm in where it's 2022, and very recently, still experiencing incredibly misogynistic things that I just can't believe this is still happening.

And having a program like this nearby, and having courses and enlightening people, I think it's incredibly important to keep educating people because that's the only way I think we're going to solve some of these problems.

Julia Meek: You feel good about going forward now. It's going to always be getting better?

Hope Arthur: I think so I think so. For example, in 2022, I started a Polka Band for women and people of marginalized genders, because of the adversity I face in the workplace in a very honestly male dominated genre.

I for two years, was working really only among men, and I was the only woman there and singing songs that are, they're all in German, so most people don't understand them, but they're about being in the kitchen or kind of really minimizing the role of women.

nd so I just got real tired of it, and (chuckles) knowing that people like Dr. Badia exist, you know, and this program really inspired me to start my own band and try to make a ripple and a difference in the world of Polka!

Julia Meek: If anything that gives us a perfect metaphor into what all of this is about. And yes, it's pretty remarkable, Hope.

Okay, on to the upcoming Gala, lots to celebrate, including 50 years of women in music and that's a big point of celebration. So what can participants expect on that night?

Hope Arthur: Well, there's going to be a lot of live music. We have five acts, we have a band called L80's Nite, who's going to do a lot of amazing 80s covers.

KelsiCote, they're going to be performing their original music, Kyla Walters, who's going to be doing some originals. And JayDid is another artist, and then I'll be performing at least three songs.

Julia Meek: Obviously, your playbill's quite a showy one, it certainly has a lot of creativity there and a lot of very strong women like yourself. How does it feel to be in line literally with that kind of a night?

Hope Arthur: I'm incredibly honored. When they asked me it was really no question of whether or not I would do it. I would just make it work and drive in and make it.

Julia Meek: Oh, yes, you're commuting from Chicago for the occasion.

Hope Arthur: Mmmhhmm.

Julia Meek: Good for you and Janet, what is it about music in particular that reflects this whole journey that you're celebrating?

Janet Badia: You know, when I think about the origins of Women's Studies, one of the most pressing issues for the founders of the program was how do we make sure women's accomplishments and experiences are recognized, right?

They've been buried and marginalized for so long. And so when I think about women's music in particular, and I hear Hope's story about her own experiences today, you really feel that history and how while we've made a lot of progress, right, we still really have to work hard to make sure the work women do that's their talents, their successes, get a spotlight on them.

I think that's a lovely way to mark the milestone of the anniversary. But also music is fun. And when I was thinking about the Gala, right at the end of my term as Director of Women's Studies, what I most wanted it to be is fun.

So much of the history of the program is of struggle, of fight, of facing resistance, a lot of anger sometimes. And I think if you're going to mark the accomplishment of 50 years, then you know there should be dancing. (chuckles) There should be music, and good community among people.

Julia Meek: Very, very good. Now on the survival instinct of this movement, there have been some big challenges. What's your biggest strength as a group and as part of this movement, would you say and what's the biggest challenge ahead, could you imagine?

Janet Badia: So I think the biggest strength is really the community. When I looked at the archives, and I see the ways in which people founding the program found strength in each other and I think about my time in the program and the challenges I faced having been director of the program when it was closed and reinstated, it is the community that you gather your strength from.

Its students like Hope, it's our alumni who are out in the community doing just really amazing work, transforming the community here in Fort Wayne even, through their experiences, you know, working, whether it's at the Center for non violence, right, or other social service oriented organizations.

Julia Meek: And those are all pretty much direct offshoots of those very early days of the movement.

Janet Badia: They absolutely are! The circular nature of this program is just amazing, you know, that the entities that were founded by the women who started the program are now being sustained by recent graduates going out with a Bachelor's Degree in Women's Studies.

And I could give you so many examples of how they're bringing this expertise from their degrees to enterprises in Fort Wayne and the region, and really, the whole United States. It's just amazing. They are making the world better.

Julia Meek: They're on fire, and they're not going to extinguish any time soon.

Janet Badia: They are not, they are not. They are not.

Julia Meek: That's fantastic. Now, I am curious, from both of your perspectives, how do you convince folks that women's studies and movements help everyone?

Janet Badia: So one of the little sayings that we love to embrace in Women's Studies is that feminism is for everybody. Feminism is for men top. right? And that really, it is a movement for equality, and the advancement of all people. I mean, it is a human rights movement. So we all benefit.

Hope Arthur: I think, for me, and in my career, the way that I go about doing it is just by being the example and showing up on stage, taking up space, maybe altering some of those lyrics that I don't like so much. (laughs)

You know, and showing people the quality of our work is the same, you know, I've heard it actually with my Polka Band, you know, some people think, we maybe won't be as good as some other band, and then we get up there and we blow your mind. So that's my approach.

Julia Meek: And it's a good one and that's your impact. So what's in store for the future of the Women's Studies program the next 50 years?

Janet Badia: I certainly hope it's more growth and broadening its impact on our community, reaching new students. I think, you know, the more students who encounter the program on campus and in the community, the better we all are.

Julia Meek: Sheer strength in numbers?

Janet Badia: Yeah.

Julia Meek: And if both of you could add anything to the program right now, dream, big, sky's the limit. We know both of you can do that. What would it be?

Hope Arthur: I would love to take a class on--it might already exist--but like depictions of women and folklore. Does that already exist?

Janet Badia: Hmmm, well it probably did in the 1970s. (laughs)

Julia Meek: But that would be a great time to revive it, that's for sure.

Hope Arthur: Mmmhhmm.

Janet Badia: I would just love to see more interest in the program. I think the degree to which too many people think of the Women's Studies program as being this niche thing that only certain people should be drawn to.

And if I had a magic wand, I would make everybody curious about it, willing to give a Women's Studies course a try and just be open minded about it. I really do think there's something in women's Studies for everybody.

Julia Meek: That's a really great approach to it. And last question, how does all of this activity in history and outcome speak to the spirit of Purdue Fort Wayne's Women's Studies department and all of the she-roes who have or will contribute to its success?

Hope Arthur: Yeah, when I think of the history of it, and how long it's been here and how it's been closed and then reinstated, it's just nothing but strength. I think it speaks to a really bright future of women's studies in northeast Indiana.

Janet Badia: I think strength is a great word. And when I think about women like Harriet Miller and Joan Uebelhoer and Cathryn Adamsky, I think about their spirit of collaboration and their tenaciousness, and I think those two qualities are exactly what you see in our 50th anniversary celebration.

Julia Meek: Janet Badia is Purdue Fort Wayne's Professor of Women's Studies and Hope Arthur, a Chicago based musician. Thanks for sharing this remarkable story of remarkable local she-roes. Have a great celebration. Do carry the gift.

Hope Arthur: Thank you.

Janet Badia: Thank you, Julia.

A Fort Wayne native, Julia is a radio host, graphic artist, and community volunteer, who has contributed to NIPR both on- and off-air for forty years. Besides being WBOI's arts & culture reporter, she currently co-produces and hosts Folktales and Meet the Music.