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Woman of the Year builds reputation as advocate

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Roberta Feldman didn’t intend to become an advocate for women’s rights. She sort of fell into the role.

Feldman, this year’s recipient of UIC’s Woman of the Year award, has spent the better part of her time here furthering women’s rights and the rights of underrepresented groups in society.

“I didn’t start out as someone who intended to work on women’s issues,” she said.

She began her career at UIC in 1984 as an adjunct assistant professor in the College of Architecture, Art and Urban Planning.

She was one of a handful of women with a tenure-track position in the college; as a professional architect, she worked in a field dominated by men.

“I began to become aware of women’s issues in my field,” she said.

Since then, she has mentored young female students and colleagues, presented lectures and worked on exhibits that showcase the work of women in architecture.

She served as chair of the education committee of Chicago Women in Architecture and UIC’s Chancellor’s Committee on the Status of Women on the academic and curriculum committee.

Feldman worked her way up the academic ladder at UIC, serving as the director of graduate studies in the School of Architecture from 1992 to 1994.

From 1994 to 1996, Feldman was an associate vice chancellor for academic affairs, which gave her a chance to address women’s issues.

“Her area of research is community advocacy in architecture, with a particular focus on women and people of color,” said Katerina Ruedi, director of the School of Architecture, in nominating Feldman.

“She is proud to represent the issues of women in her teaching, research, service and outreach.”

One of Feldman’s current projects is a book tentatively titled A Place of Hope: Women’s Struggles for Homeplace in Public Housing.

The book came about after Feldman attended a conference about women and safe shelters.

“It’s a critical issue,” she said.

Feldman said she met many women trying to save their homes; they inspired her to work on these issues, particularly low-income housing.

“There are everyday heroines in that situation,” she said. “It has been the most broadening experience to me personally. Their courage is inspiring.”

Feldman said she has noticed a change in how women are treated at UIC since she first arrived.

“It has been dramatic,” she said. “We now have women leaders.”

Not only has the university’s top administration changed, so has the make-up of the students, she said.

“I see many more women faculty members and students,” Feldman said. “I’m seeing it from the bottom up.

“All of the women’s issues are out of the closet and efforts are being made to correct problems, such as equal pay.”

Feldman is director of the City Design Center, a multidiscip-linary research, education and service program in the College of Architecture and the Arts.

The center’s main mission is to promote the study and practice of design in the public interest.

Feldman said she enjoys working with colleagues from many different disciplines.

“It’s fabulous when you bring other areas of interest together,” she said.

Feldman will teach a spring semester course on gender and space, crosslisted in the women’s studies program curriculum as well as architecture.

In a letter supporting Feldman’s nomination for the award, former provost Elizabeth Hoffman praised Feldman for the course and others like it.

“She is an exceptional woman who has used every aspect of her unique career to advance the status of women,” Hoffman said.

Feldman’s ties to UIC do not end when she goes home.

Her son, Jason, 28, received his degree from UIC in graphic design. He and his wife, Monica, have a 1-year-old son, Gabriel.

Her other son, Scott, 31, is working on his doctoral degree in clinical psychology with a minor in disability studies. He is an advocate in disability issues.

Feldman’s husband, Richard, heads the emergency department at Illinois Masonic Medical Center, a participant in the UIC residency training program.

“It’s a family affair,” she said.

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