Letter to the Editor: By letting go of women’s studies professors, GW is failing its students

Robin Jones Kerr is a 2015 alumna and The Hatchet’s former opinions editor.

I’m writing in response to the story, “Two positions in women’s studies cut as budget troubles continue” by Ellie Smith (Jan. 13, online).

I’m ashamed to admit it now, but when Dr. Bonnie Morris walked into our Women in Western Civilization class on the first day of my freshman year, I inwardly groaned.

“Well, hello!” she called out, thumping a massive bag of textbooks down onto the desk at the front of the room. She whipped off the multi-colored scarf she was wearing and spread it over the podium, commenting that she wanted to brighten up our dingy Funger Hall room just a bit.

“Oh god,” I thought, seconds after Dr. Bon – her universal campus nickname – walked into the room. “Here’s one of those professors that’s gonna try to bond with me.”

I had seen “Dead Poet’s Society” and “Take the Lead” and “Sister Act 2” and “Freedom Writers.” I knew how this story went: Misfit teacher finds unlikely ways to bond with hardened, callous students and everyone’s lives are changed forever.

I clenched my jaw and rolled my eyes because even as a 17-year-old freshman sitting in one of my first-ever college classes, I was cynical. I didn’t think a single professor in a giant lecture course could or would have any real impact on me as a person.

But the truth is, those hokey, inspirational movies are based on something real. Sometimes, there really are teachers who find a way to connect with you on a personal level, who affect your growth and development as a student and, ultimately, as a person. Dr. Bon was one of those teachers, and I’d wind up taking three of the classes she taught during my time at GW as a women’s studies minor.

A university’s finances are a complicated thing, and it’s understandable that cuts have to be made somewhere in order to keep a school afloat. But not inviting Dr. Bon back to teach next semester in order to save a bit of cash shows just how deeply out of touch GW is with the needs and wants of its students.

After teaching at GW for more than 20 years, Dr. Bon has touched countless lives, including mine. Failing to let her continue on as a professor and mentor means GW is failing its students, and I hate to think what future generations of students will miss out on without her.

In Women and Western Civilization, Dr. Bon opened my eyes to how the women’s movement isn’t just a modern phenomenon, but one that’s rooted in structures of power and gender that were established centuries ago. She taught us about ancient warrior queens, witches and midwives, the women who worked for the abolition of slavery, and, soon after, for their own right to vote.

In Women and War, Dr. Bon revealed for us an untold underside of history: the women who waged, supported, fought and ended our world’s greatest battles. In Athletics and Gender, Dr. Bon broke down how constructions of masculinity imbue modern sports, and made her students – more than half of whom were GW varsity athletes – question the very structures of the sports they played.

And each semester, on the anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001, Dr. Bon set aside time to discuss the events of that day with her class. She was on campus that morning when terrorists flew a plane into the Pentagon building just a few miles from her classroom, and she would spend the next weeks and months emotionally supporting her students, many of whom hailed from New York or New Jersey, and some of whom lost loved ones in the attacks.

Dr. Bon is an institution, but not just because of what she did when times were tough. On a daily basis, Dr. Bon was a phenomenal teacher at a school where academics often seemed overshadowed by fundraising campaigns or lofty research goals. She was happy to help you land a career-changing internship, but first and foremost, she devoted herself to making sure students left her class with a greater appreciation of history, gender, culture and society than they had when they joined.

It’s been more than four years since my rocky start in Dr. Bon’s class freshman year. In the weeks that followed, my cynical perspective would start to melt away – and I’m so glad it did. I let Dr. Bon, her superior teaching ability and her loyal friendship into my life, and she stayed close for my entire undergraduate career, shaping me into the feminist, writer and thinker I am today.

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