Chris Cuomo is running late. The new director of the Institute for Women’s Studies is returning from a business lunch where she greeted another group of people eager to meet her. After one semester at UGA, her schedule is still filled to the brim.
She arrives with apologies for being late, and more apologies for her office being messy. It’s been busy; not much time to clean. Within a few minutes, she seated on a couch and reminiscing about her time in prison.
“It was my favorite stop on the New Faculty Tour,” she said.
The girls she met at the Youth Detention Center in Macon showcased a need in the state. To address it, the IWS is preparing to launch an annual conference on the status of women and girls in Georgia. It’s scheduled to begin next year.
“I take our mission as the Institute for Women’s Studies at the flagship institution in the state very seriously,” Cuomo said. “We want to create and foster the research that will help promote the interests of women and girls in Georgia, which will in turn promote the interests of everyone in Georgia, because if you target the women and girls, you raise everybody up.
“In this state, we have the immigrant wives of guys working on the farms in South Georgia. (On the tour) we saw the Latina women who were harvesting the onions on the onion farm. I wanted to figure out how we at the university can help to compile data and give them a stronger voice in the legislature and national conversations and local initiatives,” she said. “I just wanted to cement that in: that this will be part of what we do.”
Cuomo came to Athens from the University of Cincinnati, where she taught philosophy. She is currently pursuing research interests in Alaska and is a celebrated author (see Weekly Reader, below). Her interests are outlined on her Web site, www.ccuomo.org.
“There’s the director of women’s studies part of the job, but the other thing that’s really exciting to me is that this is such a great campus for my research in feminist philosophy and environmental ethics and philosophy of art. This is such a great campus for that research,” she said. “There’s a great community of scholars here, a lot of folks with similar interests.”
Cuomo is teaching one course this semester, entitled “Women and the Construction of Knowledge.” It concerns feminist epistemology and how the conception of knowledge is shaped by norms of gender.
Earlier this year, the Red&Black ran an article highlighting the dilapidated condition of the Benson Building, which houses the IWS. With the article came an outpouring of support from the student community, Cuomo said.
“It’s great that the students really care,” she said. “. . . It’s good that the students are thinking about why this matters to them.”
In May, the IWS is hosting a small conference aimed at cultivating interest from undergraduates and the local community. Entitled “Women, Politics and Rock Performance,” the conference also could help dispel stereotypes about feminist scholarship, according to Cuomo.
“One misconception people have is that women’s studies lacks relevance beyond women’s lives,” she said. “A lot of people who negatively judge the work of women’s studies aren’t familiar with it. People tend to assume that an area of study that’s identified with a particular group just takes that group for granted and celebrates it, but that’s not at all what women’s and gender studies is about.”
“Women’s studies takes feminist criticism and scholarship as a starting place for asking deep questions about culture, literature, history, philosophy, science, etc. through an interdisciplinary lens.
“So it’s made huge contributions to our understandings of good methods of ways to write history, theory and empirical studies in ways that are appropriately inclusive and about what it means to do research that is good for society,” she added.