Women’s Studies Department welcomes first head
by Leslie Vryenhoek
Dr. Katherine Side knows all about leading the way when expansion is imminent.
The first head of the newly-minted Women’s Studies Department at Memorial University was also the first Canadian to receive a freestanding PhD in women’s studies one that was not in combination with any other discipline. That was in 1997.
“There have been at least 26 since then,” noted Dr. Side, who received her doctorate from York University.
Formerly an associate professor at Mount Saint Vincent University, Dr. Side takes on her leadership role at a pivotal time. Women’s Studies at Memorial was only granted autonomous departmental status a few months ago. Previously, the interdisciplinary field of study had operated as a program under the Faculty of Arts since 1983.
Now, the Department of Women’s Studies is poised to enhance its academic offerings.
While it currently offers a minor program of study at the undergraduate level, as well as a master’s program, there are plans to develop a major program and to expand its graduate-level studies.
In 2004, Dr. Side was involved in developing a minor into a major at Brandon University in Manitoba, where she was serving as the Margaret Laurence Scholar in Residence in Gender and Women’s Studies.
“We hope to see growth in the number of students drawn to women’s studies now that it’s a department,” she said. There’s already progress in this arena: the master’s program has seven incoming students more than double last year’s cohort. In a testament to Memorial’s already strong reputation in women’s studies, six are coming from Canadian locations outside this province, while the seventh is from Bangladesh.
Dr. Side emphasizes that her first order of business will be to meet and begin a consultation process with the Women’s Studies Council, which is comprised of faculty from a broad range of fields, as well as community members.
“I feel it’s very important that I get a sense of the women’s community here, because I’m coming in as an outsider.”
Dr. Side has been actively involved with community groups in the past, including on the boards of the Nova Scotia Midwifery Coalition, as well as Planned Parenthood in Halifax (now the Halifax Sexual Health Centre).
The vibrancy of the St. John’s community attracted Dr. Side here, as did the prospect of working at a university that has such a strong academic interest in Ireland.
Dr. Side studies social policy and gender issues. Recently, her research interests have expanded into Northern Ireland, where she has worked with community organizations and started examining social policy.
“I’m looking at governance in the post-Good Friday Agreement era, and especially women’s participation in that process,” explained Dr. Side, who has served as an adjunct professor of Irish studies at St. Mary’s University in Halifax. “There is a strong contingent of Irish scholars here at Memorial, and wonderful library resources, so for me this is a great opportunity.”