Gov. Ron DeSantis is intent on overhauling Florida’s schools and universities to ferret out liberals and other threats to our children.

It was inevitable that he would propose doing away with Women’s Studies. Conservatives have long claimed that Women’s Studies is not a legitimate academic study and its very existence threatens the natural order of the universe.

As one of the founders of Valdosta State University’s Women’s Studies program, I object.

Headed initially by Dr. Sandra Walker and Dr. Viki Soady, VSU’s Women’s Studies program gained a national reputation for doing it right. Where other schools got bogged down in orthodoxy fights and distracted by media-generated issues, our program made an effort to include critics and opponents while balancing both scholarly and community approaches.

The national Women’s Studies Conventions held here during Dr. Soady’s tenure are an excellent example of that balance. VSU has every right to be proud of this program, although it’s now called by another name.

When I taught Women’s Studies classes, one of the most frequently asked questions was “Why should we study Women’s Studies?” My initial answer was simply that women were interesting and had done a lot of interesting things.

Studying women and their accomplishments was both entertaining and informative.

Knowing how half the population has interacted with, directed and responded to the other half is also useful information. It helps us understand the whole of society, not just a portion of it. Setting the limits of power would be impossible without understanding that power itself is not contained just in institutions. The power centers of our society were often hidden from us or simply ignored.

Most of us know Woodrow Wilson’s 14 Points. Do you know he took most of them from Jane Addams’ Women’s Peace Party’s platform? Did you know she was in the White House helping him write the speech that introduced them the night before he gave it?

You probably haven’t heard of the Women’s Peace Party either. Organized in 1915, it stepped in to fill the void created when traditional peace organizations remained silent in the face of World War I. A 1915 international meeting at The Hague, sponsored by the Party, drew over 1,000 women from 12 countries.

Women have always been in the forefront of the peace movement. Did you know seen women have received the Nobel Peace Prize? Look them up. Hint: one of them was Jane Addams in 1931.

Women, however, are not a monolith. There have been women warriors as well as women pacifists, one of whom, Mary Walker, won the Congressional Medal of Honor. We all know of the support women gave militarily and economically during World Wars I and II.

It’s just that so much of our contributions to society have been pushed aside and belittled. That has consequences. Books like “Hidden Figures” by Margot Lee Shetterly help reveal that hidden history. The book traces the lives of Black women who worked in the American space program in the early days. Known as computers, they did the complex mathematical equations that helped send men to space.

Women’s Studies amasses the hidden and forgotten information and presents it to anyone who wants to study it. I’ve never understood what’s wrong with that.

Women did not suddenly appear in the 1960s and ‘70s. We’ve been here all along. I can’t help but wonder if those angry white male Trumpers who want to bring down American society would be quite so angry if they had seen women in positions of power and recognized the value of those contributions left out of the usual textbooks as they were growing up. Women’s Studies teaches understanding of one another. We need more of that.

Dr. Jane Elza, Ph.D., retired, is a resident of Valdosta.

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