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Judith Gardiner - UIC Woman of the Year

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It has been a busy 20 years for Professor Judith Kegan Gardiner.

She helped establish the Women's Studies Program and the Children's Center, an educational day care program for kids of students and employees.

An architect of the women's studies minor and graduate concentration, she is a member of the Committee for Research on Women and Gender. For many years, she has taken on an extra teaching load in women's studies in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and the Honors College.

For her work on behalf of campus women, Gardiner was named UIC's first Woman of the Year.

In her acceptance speech at a Sept. 15 ceremony, she said 20 years ago, she and other female faculty members set their goals on behalf of campus women: a studies program, health services, free child care and centers for women's services and research.

"Because of her efforts (and, of course, those of others with whom she has worked), this campus is a much more hospitable environment for women," said Stephanie Riger, director of women's studies, in nominating Gardiner for the award given by the Chancellor's Committee on the Status of Women.

The award's criteria include service to women at UIC while on the job, response to issues affecting women, service to women through voluntarism and public support of women's programs.

Gardiner came to UIC in 1969 as an assistant professor, teaching English literature. Since 1988, she has been professor of English and women's studies.

She taught extra classes in the early years of the Women's Studies Program to prove there was student interest in women's issues.

"It is always a fight for priorities and resources," she said.

Women's studies courses have drawn students since the beginning, Gardiner said.

"They seem to attract a larger portion of returning students. These students have experience working as waitresses or nurses, and they have encountered the same barriers to advancement."

As gender studies gain a higher profile in the humanities, the number of graduate students in women's studies has also grown, she said.

And although there aren't many male students in the women's studies core courses, Gardiner said more men are enrolling in courses with "gender" in the title.

There are undergraduate men minoring in women's studies and others concentrating their graduate courses in the field.

Her students' varied backgrounds make the courses interesting for Gardiner. One student, a nurse, is studying hypertension in obese women. Another student's research concerned homeless women who are mentally ill.

"There are a lot of areas that gender studies help to understand," said Gardiner.

Gardiner teaches extra courses on women and gender in the Honors College, which she says are lively classes with lots of controversy.

"Some honors students take the course who might not otherwise take it, then are persuaded that it is a legitimate course of inquiry," she said.

The Children's Center's 20th anniversary this year might not have been possible without Gardiner's efforts.

In the early '70s she helped organize student demand, get university funding and support, hire the first teachers and obtain space for the center.

Although the center is not free to all employees and students as Gardiner had hoped, it offers a quality educational program with fees based on each family's resources.

"There is still an increasing need as the student population gets bigger," she said.

As a member of the campus senate, Gardiner has fought to change the schedule for acquiring tenure to take into account faculty members' child-care responsibilities.

"One factor that has impeded women's advancement is that women take time off for their children. The time women are likely to start a family is the same time that their career develops," she said.

"Men get leave for military service because it is a public service. Children, in their own way, are a public service."

Gardiner helped found the Newberry Library Feminist Literary Criticism Group, the National Women's Studies Association and the Chicago Area Women's Studies Association.

She is an editor of Feminist Studies and a member of the editorial board of Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society.

Her book, Rhys, Stead, Lessing, and the Politics of Empathy, is a model of feminist literary scholarship.

"It is nice to be doing something which is clearly useful," she said.

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