Oregon State University Libraries and Press

Susan Shaw Oral History Interview, February 3, 2014

Oregon State University
Toggle Index/Transcript View Switch.
Search this Transcript

SC: So today we are here with Susan Shaw. And could you please state your name, date and location of the interview for the record?

SS: Ok, my name is Susan Shaw and it is February the 3rd 2014 and we are in my office in Waldo.

SC: Great well thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us today. I think this will be a great benefit for the Oregon State University to hear a little bit of your life history.


SC: So we would like to go back to the very beginning. We read a university bio that you have online and it talks about your first inkling for the need for feminism and how that occurred in the first grade. Could you tell us a little bit more about that?

SS: Yeah so I grew up in Georgia in a conservative community and predominantly southern Baptist and the south is also football country and so I grew up loving football. And so went to first grade and was devastated when I was told that I couldn't play football because I was a girl. And so I knew that there was 00:01:00something wrong with the world if I couldn't play this game that I loved. And so even back then you know I was starting to see these gender inequities you know, even though I didn't have the words for it. Though at the time, you know, I was born in 1960 and so by the end of the 60s early 70s the women's movement was starting and it was something that we watched on TV but I knew about it. And so when Billie Jean King played Bobby Riggs in the battle of the sexes which was this tennis match. I mean I remember watching that, I think that was 1970 so I would have been 9, almost 10, and I knew how important this was and I just remember cheering for Billie Jean King and I was so glad when she beat Bobby Riggs because he was a total sexist. And you know Helen Reddy's song I am woman was on the radio all the time and there's just a part of me in my heart had my fist held up in solidarity and sisterhood. And so even though I wasn't in an environment that was particularly conducive to feminism there were parts of me that were already connecting with it in ways that I couldn't have articulated at 00:02:00the time but looking back I can see those beginnings.

SC: So how did your family support or maybe not support this reaction given that area that you grew up in?

SS: (laughs) Well it was really interesting because my family for whatever reason always told both me and my sister we could do anything we wanted. And so in some ways-- well, I could be anything I wanted but a Baptist preacher so of course that's the one thing I did have to become down the road but basically they were really supportive for that. I don't think that they ever knew what that would mean, what that would mean, but my parents just always said you can do anything you want to do. And then I was fortunate enough that even though I was in public schools in Georgia that I had these teachers who were supportive of girls. I never heard girls can't do things. And even when I got to high school my math and science teachers were women and so in some odd ways I avoided some of those typical experiences where girls get told well "girls aren't smart 00:03:00in math, girls aren't smart in science, girls can't do this or that." And so it was oddly supportive even though in some ways there was still the expectation that you would grow up, get married, your husband's career would be more important, you would have children and that would be your primary role. But then next to this was this odd "but you can do anything that you wanted to do." And so obviously this side of things weighed more strongly for me than the other side of things. But yeah, most of my life I felt pretty supported.

SC: That's really interesting. So I guess one of our questions was what was it like growing up in the southern Baptist church in that type of environment?

SS: Well, it's really kind of funny because in the midst of it, it was this happy supportive place for me. You know, because it's the place that I went and I felt good about myself and people were kind and they gave me good feedback about who I was even though I was learning this very exclusive stuff about you 00:04:00know, who god liked and who god didn't like and who was in and who was out. And of course in the south in the 60s racism just permeated everything. And so all of that was a part of it. But even early on there were things that bothered me a little. So for example the girls always had to wear dresses to church. And I never liked wearing dresses anyway. We had to wear them to church but the boys on Wednesday could wear jeans. And again it was like, something's not right here. Why do we have to wear dresses but they can wear jeans? And we would go to certain programs and the girls would be all serious and do their studies and you know make little gifts to send to missionaries and the boys were out, you know, building soapbox cars and playing basketball. And so it was like, some things here are not quite right. And then by the time I got in to this junior high, we were told you know, we were supposed to read the bible every day and so I started from the time I was 12 until actually in my early 20s. I read the bible 00:05:00through every year, completely, cover to cover. And somewhere in high school I started a little list that I kept in my bible of passages that contradicted or seemed problematic and I never asked anybody because the answer would have been "well the problem is you, you're not reading it right." But at the same time I was preparing to be an English major so I knew I knew how to read a text. And so I just kept my little list and then when I went to seminary I was able to kinda recognize that yes there are contradictions and problems and sexism in the text and all this sorta stuff. But it was this sort of odd division between ok here's this church and it's this place that I feel welcome and happy and accepted but now I am starting to ask these questions they're not gonna like so I better keep those quiet for now. And then as I left there, then I was able to move in the direction of asking those kinds of questions.

SC: So your time in seminary. What was that like and how did that construct more of your current views?

SS: So, I went to seminary. I started in January of 1982. I went to Southern 00:06:00Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky which was considered to be the academic seminary amongst southern Baptists and was considered to be the progressive seminary among southern Baptists. And in 1979 fundamentalists had started a concerted effort to take over the southern Baptist convention and to take control of all of the agencies in the seminaries and all of that. And so when I got to seminary, the 5.5 years I was there were right in the middle of the worst of the controversy. So it permeated everything that we did, these sort of battles. And one of the primary issues of the battle was women. And so it was really personal to us because essentially we had all of these people saying we didn't belong there, we shouldn't be doing these things, we didn't have these rights, you know, we needed to go home and have our babies and raise our families and not, you know, be in seminary. And so I became a feminist at seminary, I embraced the label in seminary. In fact, I can tell you about the day I did that. Which, I don't know if it was anything you read so, but I'll 00:07:00tell the story again because it was a profound turning point for me.

So I was in this class called formation for Christian ministry and everybody had to take it your first semester in seminary. And it was a small class with 20 people and you had a professor and a graduate assistant who was a doctoral student. And I ended up, there were 3 women and 17 men in our class and we had small groups that met one day of the week and I was the only woman in my small group. And there were also these three guys in the class who were coal miners form eastern Kentucky and they were part of this seminary program that let people without bachelor's degrees come and study because they figured better they preach with some seminary than they preach with no seminary. And so they were in that class and all three were in my small group.

So the professor had said that one day we were gonna talk about women in ministry and he had invited a woman he had helped ordain back when he was a pastor and she was a hospital chaplain I think. And I thought "well this is good 00:08:00because I am trying to figure what I think about this issue and this is all new because I came out of a church that didn't think women should be ordained." And the day she came to class--this guy's ‐,and seminary guys, they're their kind of own set of creatures. But a lot of them carried around these big briefcases to make them look important and they would put all their notebooks and their papers in there. And this guy is sitting there and this guy, I mean, this guy is huge, he's like the size of a mountain. And the professor gets up there to introduce this woman who has come to speak to us and he starts throwing his papers and his pens and he slams the briefcase and snaps the locks. And he was really rude and you know, in the South I mean, thou shalt not be rude is like the 11th commandment and so I was horrified. He gets up and he walks out and he slams the door.

So the next class session happened to be our small group. And the graduate fellow comes in and he starts the discussion and it's going to be on women in ministry and this guy starts the same routine. Now to this point I had been very 00:09:00quiet, I had never spoken in class, I was very timid. And in feminist vocabulary, I mean I found my voice because before I knew it, my fist came up on the desk and I was like "What are you doing? Do you think in ministry you can walk out every time you disagree?" And I was like *gasp* he's going to kill me now. And he yelled "I can do anything I want" and he stormed out waving his bible around screaming about the inerrant infallible word of god and I was just horrified. But that wasn't the day I became a feminist. It was actually the next day because his friends stopped me in the hallway and they were trying to convince me he wasn't a bad guy and that he didn't mean it all. And then Bill says to me, Susan I just want you to know I'm going to be praying for you that you don't get messed up with this women in ministry stuff." And I became a feminist on the spot. I was like if this is the alternative I am done with these people. I always keep saying I should probably go back and find this Bill guy and thank him and say look what you did for me! Not only did I become a feminist, I became a women's studies professor. But that was not an atypical sort of interaction for women in seminary. I mean we got told we didn't belong all the time. But for 00:10:00me that was kind of like the day that summed it all up. And that reflected the larger trends that were going on in the denomination when they were fighting about the role of women in ministry. And I think it sent us all on this sort of trajectory where most of us left the denomination shortly after we graduated because it became such an inhospitable place for young women.

And actually I am getting ready to redo the Camelot article. Did I send you that? Yeah I sent you the Camelot article -- the Once there was a Camelot? We're getting to redo that and do Camelot revisited. So we're gonna go back and re‐interview all those women and see what's happened to them 15 years later and how they reflect back on all that stuff now.

SC: So how do you reflect on your involvement in the ministry? I think that was sort of a good segue to talk about that a little bit and your family. What were their views as well? You said that was the one thing they didn't want you to do.


SS: So I wasn't ordained until 1993 so I when I finished seminary I got a teaching position in religious studies as California Baptist College and I couldn't be ordained there, they would've fired me because they were not supportive of ordained women. So I only lasted there 4 years because it was very conservative and the pastors and the parents were just not ready for a young feminist teaching religion.

And so I took a job at George Fox. Which I went there and I thought oh Quakers yay, they'll be all progressive. But they're evangelical Quakers so they're kind and lovely but they are not progressive. But they were kinder to me than the Baptists had been. But I looked around and there were 9 of us in the religion department and I was the only woman and I was also the only one who didn't have an official sanctioning. So Quakers don't ordain, they record and so all the guys were recorded. And I thought well this isn't right because what message am I giving I mean, to the young women if the only woman in the department doesn't have her official sanctioning. So I ended up, I had to go back to my church in Louisville to be ordained. So among the Baptists, ordination is a local church 00:12:00issue and the denomination can't control it which is why any of us could be ordained at all. So the denomination could say it didn't support it all it wanted but every local church makes that decision. And my local church at the time in Oregon couldn't do it because a lot of the state denominational workers were members there and had they ordained me they would have probably kicked the church out of the state association which meant those people would have had to choose between their church and their job and it just felt like that wasn't worth it.

So I went back to Louisville in '93 and was ordained and my parents didn't come to my ordination because they didn't believe that women should be ordained, which is interesting because later in life they became advocates for women in ministry. And as my mother would say you know, I don't want to have a woman as my pastor but if a church calls a woman it is their right to call her and so she ought to have that position. And then gosh, years ago, my parents at the time were in a southern Methodist church but the pastor was a guy who had grown up holiness and holiness have always had women preachers so he asked me to preach 00:13:00one time when I was home. And so I preached in their church that Sunday and it was the first time my mother had ever heard me preach and she came up to me afterwards and she goes "well, there wasn't anything wrong with that." And I was like "ok I've won the battle."

My mother has become an outspoken advocate for women as deacons and so in her church every year they take nominations for deacons knowing men can hold that office and every year my mother faithfully writes in the names of women and submits them as part of her nominations. And so, wound up being sort of one of the little steps with my family. And of course my sister is incredible supportive and always has been but I see that growth there with them. And at the heart of Baptist belief is this notion that's called, sometimes called, the priesthood of the believer or soul competency which is the idea that each individual goes directly to god without a need for a mediator. And so that means God then can speak directly to every individual which means ultimately the individual conscience is the final authority and so every Baptist can kind of do what they want, believe what they want. And so you really see that in my mother. 00:14:00So she's got that whole denomination she's part of and a whole church she's a part of that say we don't support women in ministry and here's my mother going well, I don't think that's right so I'm gonna. And I begin to see probably there is some connection to my attitude about doing what I want to do despite opposition that come from my mother. But that's been an interesting evolution to watch with her sort of coming to terms with all of that and then becoming an advocate for women.

SC: So do you feel that your education and your career has helped influence her views? Or do you think that's just the progression in time as well?

SS: Well I think part of it is that times have changed but I think also when I was interviewing my mother for the "God speaks to us too" at one point she talked about kind of having more progressive attitudes about women and I remember asking her where did that come from. She said, well you know it was you and your sister. And so she acknowledges that part of it was seeing our 00:15:00experiences and the world was changing too. I mean she was watching the women's movement and what she says about the women's movement is "well, I didn't need it but, you know, I needed it for you so that you could get a job and have equal pay and have equal protections and you know they went a little too far--" but you know.

SC: So in some of your publications you talk about a lot of the challenges that other women have gone through. Did you relate or was that sort of autobiographical?

SS: Oh yeah. Yeah, I mean when I got to California Baptist college my first day on campus I had some kid come up to me and he was like "I'll never take a class from you because women shouldn't teach men the bible." And I was like well thank God you won't take any classes from me. And then it was this odd mixture of on the one hand I think students responded really well and at the end of the first year they named me the teacher of the year and all that kind of stuff and on the 00:16:00other I was in trouble every week being dragged in to the dean's or the president's office because somebody had called to complain about what I was teaching. And you know like the pastors in the state, I mean they referred to me as "that woman in religion" I don't know that they even knew my name. And to me that indicated the gendering of it. They didn't like that I was a feminist. They didn't like that I was young and they didn't like that I was female. And so it was hard. My best friend says I changed so much while I was there that she was scared of me because I had such anger. Because these pastors wouldn't confront me to my face, they'd call the dean and the president. And then they wouldn't tell me who it was so I could never respond to what was mostly misinformation about what I was doing. And so that's why when I came to George Fox, I think they acted with much more integrity but they were still too conservative for me to be there. But they weren't mean like that. But even there, I mean, I ran in to problems because of my viewpoint and some social issues. You know, and so it was kind of a constant battle there. Which is why I mean, four years in to that 00:17:00is when I didn't even have another job lined up and I just went in to the vice president and said I quit, I'm not coming back next year, I can't do this anymore. And so that was a scary time because I was desperately seeking employment and didn't know if I'd ever get back in the classroom and spent a year working for ecumenical ministries in Oregon directing their HIV respite care program. And thankfully Janet Lee finally called and said Hey do you think you'd ever want to teach for us at OSU? And I was like yes! So I always credit Janet with saving my life and getting me out of social services work. I wasn't cut out for that.

SC: Is that during your time working with the HIV program in Portland? Can you tell us a little bit more about that?

SS: Yeah I was only there a year, like I said, it was that year in between. So it was a program that provided respite services so we had breakfast and lunch, hot meals on site but we also did home delivery and then we had programming for folks. Because most of our clients were homeless, mentally ill, drug and alcohol addicted and HIV positive. And so we were dealing with a whole set of issues 00:18:00with them. And I liked the clients and I liked the work we were doing but I just, it was a different world, I mean I'm just, I'm meant to be in the academy. And so, it was just, it was a hard year because even if you had asked me all that time, what do you do? I would have said well I'm a professor. I'm doing this in the meantime but I'm really a professor. But out of that is where I developed an interest and I did a little writing early on in my career on HIV, HIV and women and for a while I was involved in some volunteer work down here in HIV and women but then you know, interests move on. I've done some other work since then.

SC: So can you talk a little bit about your time teaching religion in, I believe it was Newberg, Oregon?


SS: Mmhmm. Yes, so that's when I was at George Fox and mostly taught in their Christian Ministries program but you know small liberal arts college you teach a little bit of everything so I taught introduction to the Hebrew bible, introduction to the Christian testament, what else did I do, courses in like Christian discipling-- and then I had my program I had developed for my majors which is called shared praxis which is this model of action and reflection and it was really centered around social justice issues. And so I would take students to San Francisco for a week to do social services. And so we'd hand out meals with Project Open Hand and we'd go work with the San Francisco food bank and then I'd let them go to the Metropolitan Community Church which is when I'd get in trouble again because that is a church that is primarily for LGBT folk and they'd leave the service and go "why these people can be Christian too." Then people at George Fox would get upset. But to the president's credit I mean, he and the vice president came to my defense on that and said you're not advocating your position you're just asking them to have an experience and think about it and we think that's fine. And so I always appreciated that I had a sense that you know, at George Fox that they had my back with stuff like that. 00:20:00But it just for me it just became too much of an issue to be somewhere where I knew my personal viewpoints were really in opposition to a lot that the school stood for. And so I just at some point had to move on and do what felt right for me.

SC: So how did that transition occur going from religion at Newburg to women's studies at OSU?

SS: So I had developed an interest in feminist theology, feminist biblical criticism after seminary because seminary didn't really touch on that stuff. It was pretty traditional theological education. And so I was incorporating some of that in to some of the stuff that I was doing and so once I got to George Fox and realized that even though I had changed locations, I was still facing the same kinds of issues as a young feminist doing religious studies I thought that I needed to prepare myself to get out of teaching religion. And so I came down to OSU to do the MAIS in women's studies and English and work with Janet Lee which is how Janet and I met. And while I was, so I would spend three days a week teaching at George Fox and then come down here for two days to do that 00:21:00degree and while I was doing that I taught a feminist theologies class down here. So it was in the midst of all that and Janet knew that I was trying to get out and I was having a hard time finding a position because people would look and my PhD is from a Baptist seminary and in women's studies circles, I mean, you know, you can imagine the sort of assumptions people would have had about who I was. And so Janet was getting ready to go on sabbatical and she needed somebody who could come in and administer the program while she was gone. And so that's when she called and said, hey do you think you'd be interested in teaching for us and she said, it's part time, it's a fixed term instructor and I was an associate professor already at George Fox. And I said yes. And so came down here and started over, essentially and loved every minute of it.

And it got me out of ecumenical ministries and doing work that was not my heart's desire and I you know, it was new preps because I had never taught any of this stuff before. And I remember Janet the first or second year saying, ok, 00:22:00I want you to teach International Women. And I was like Janet I've been to Mexico and Canada, I can't teach International Women. And she was like, yes you can. Go do it. And so I just started developing the courses and we started working to grow the program. And so you know, eventually I was directing that program, I was directing the Difference, Power and Discrimination Program and Janet and some other powerful women faculty members went to the dean at the time and said look this is embarrassing we have a fixed term instructor directing these two programs, you must give her a tenure track line. And she goes, oh yes, I was going to do that. And so that's how I ended up with tenure track line. But when I got here, I mean, Janet had said, ok you're here now, make yourself indispensable. And so I really tried to take that advice to heart and I think having been an associate professor it was easy for me to come in and just act like an associate professor so I think that that also helped me make my way. And Janet was always a great advocate you know and was a good mentor helping me 00:23:00figure what are the important committees to be on, what's the kind of writing I need to be doing, how do I situate myself. So I really do credit her with saving my life because I was in a bad bad place when she asked if I would come teach at OSU.

SC: I'm sure OSU is very very pleased to have you here.

SS: I hope so anyway because I'm happy here. So I hope they are.

SC: So during the time here, you talked briefly about some of the challenges, but I know that this program has evolved and changed a lot over time. Can you talk about your involvement? Maybe anything that comes to mind?

SS: Yeah. Yeah it's really funny because there are days when Janet and I sit around and we'll have our faculty meetings which now have I don't know 11 people in them or something and I'll poke her and I'll be like "look what we've done!" Because when I got here Janet had the only tenure track position in women's studies, there was funding for some part time instructors, there were I don't know a couple of TAs, I mean, and all we had, we had first year and second areas in the MAIS and we had the minor and that was it. And then I came, Janet was 00:24:00able to advocate with her colleagues for me to get a tenure track position and then we brought a third person in and then as we brought people in we were able to grow the program. And so you know we added the bachelor's degree four or five years ago and that part of that was I looked around and suddenly we had enough courses to do it. And I was like, oh my gosh, we should be offering this. And then, same thing with the MAIS, we looked around and that's what our students really wanted was an MA and so, what, two years ago, three years ago we added the MA and now Fall of 2015 we'll add the PhD. And uh-- of course we did a name change last year to Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, and we've been able to hire in queer studies, we got somebody in men and masculinity studies and I felt like we've really grown then to encompass a broader discipline than when just Janet and I were doing it.


SC: So, we've kind of brought you to present day I think now. Can you tell us a little what it's like to study topics in feminism that have gone against your religious background and coming to Oregon from a different are of the United States?

SS: Well see, actually, my religious background is what led me to feminism because what I learned despite that they said was that all people should be treated equally and fairly, and no matter what their differences, they are valued-- all that was really kind of there from the beginning. And so I just resonated with feminism. And so, the theological struggles I had were more at seminary just giving up fundamentalism for a more progressive kind of theology. But then again all that fit really well with this feminism that I already had these inklings of even when I was a child. And so what I discovered at seminary was that I loved that challenge and so I try to push myself to find and to read 00:26:00things that challenge me, and so three years, four years ago I read across post-colonial feminist theologies. And it just blew my mind, I'm still wrestling to make sense of that and figure out how to fit all of that in, to make sure I'm including that perspective in the way that I think about theologies. And so I like all that sense of disruption and challenge because I think that if we're not doing that we become complacent and we start to think that we're right -- instead of sort of being in this place where we're always ambiguous we're always a little ambivalent, which makes room then for other experiences and other realties and other differences. And that is really what I try to help students see is that it's good to challenge what you think. It's good not to be able to say I believe this with any kind of certainty because we can't really know things with that kind of certainty. And so that's part of why I love teaching theology and that kind of biblical criticism because all its about is disrupting 00:27:00these notions people hold to as if there's some kind of ultimate truth. And you can see why I got myself into trouble at schools that thought there were ultimate truths and that they knew them. I was going, no no no! But OSU has always been more open to my religious background than the religious colleges were to my feminism.

And part of that I credit to Marcus Borg and Marcus retired 3‐4 years ago, but he was in the philosophy department and he is the premier Jesus scholar in the world. I mean we had like studied him in seminary and I couldn't believe it when I got here, Marcus Borg is here?! And so, when I got here, people understood the academic study of religion and so even being a state school I didn't have to explain this is something that people do. And people said oh yeah, you're like Marcus Borg. And I'm like oh thank you. Please I hope I can be like Marcus Borg! So it's been a really good place for me. And they let me do my research and in fact, when I first got here, shortly after that is when the Camelot article came 00:28:00out and when it came out it created a huge flap I had no idea, I had no idea it was even going on until a few months into it and I happened to run across something someone sent in an email. And so the Baptist press, the fundamentalist press, was writing articles about it and the associated Baptist press, which was the moderate press, was writing about it, the seminary president had to respond to it and all this other stuff and it was swirling. This is the kind of thing that would have got me fired at George Fox or Cal Baptist so I went to the dean and said, "hey I have to tell you I've written this article and it's causing this uproar among Baptists", and she's like "good for you"! And thought, oh my gosh, this is where I belong! And I can say these things and write these things, and the university just applauds me when I do it. And so they've been so welcoming to the kind of research that I enjoy doing. And I feel a real responsibility because so many friends that stayed, maybe, not among southern 00:29:00Baptists, but they're still among the more moderate Baptists, or they're in these religious institutions and they have to be careful, and I don't. So I feel a great deal of responsibility for saying the stuff they can't say. And so I felt very safe now to just throw my little stones from afar and call things as I see them, raise these feminist questions, and OSU's just been so supportive of that. And so I'm not going anywhere, I'm here to stay.

SC: And we've noticed, in some of your research as well, you kind of have some non-traditional ways of publishing. We found something that was published into a play. So can you tell us a little more about those types of publications?

SS: Well, gosh, really all the way back to the first things I wrote even with Mina and Tisa I did the rock and roll book. I decided that for me, to do feminist writing meant that it had to be accessible to women. And that for me to 00:30:00write stuff that only other educated academic feminists would read, I mean that's good but it didn't accomplish the goals of feminism that I had. Which were about reaching women in particular, and then like people in general. And so even when we wrote the rock and roll book, even though it's got a university press as its publisher, we said to them early on, we're going to write this accessibly, and they were really supportive of it. And the same press published this other Baptist women book. And so I tried to do the same thing. And basically what I would do, sit down and say ok would my mother be able to read this and make sense of it? She has a high school education, she's a smart woman, she reads, she watches the news. Can she read it? And, and so really all of my stuff has been like that since then. I mean I do some stuff for the academic journals, that are, but I'm just not highbrow.. I'm.. I came from a paper mill family, so I've never, you know, more than two forks freaks me out--I just, I have never been highbrow in any way. And so for me to try to do that in my 00:31:00writing, wouldn't be true to I am. And so Kryn and I did that play, so after the book came out, I had all of this data from the interviews that I had done, and so Kryn -- who also teaches in women's studies and who has a theatre background said -- let's turn this into a play! And I thought, oh that sounds like a good idea! And so she's the primary playwright on it, it's called Baptist preacher girl. It was performed here in one of the one‐act festivals. And I think we're taking it on the road to Atlanta, um we've proposed to perform for the National Association of Baptists Professors of Religion, so which is in May in Atlanta, and so that should be a lot of fun. And then the book that is coming out, sometime soon, is called They Didn't Teach Me That in Sunday School. And it's a book that, I'm actually publishing with a religious press of Smyth and Helwys, which is a moderate press that broke off from the fundamentalists during the 00:32:00controversy. And it's geared toward lay women and it's basically here's how you do feminist theology.

Though I don't use the word feminist until about half way through the book because I figure once I get them hooked then they'll worry less about that word. So I mostly talk about women, women, women, then it's kind of, feminist--feminist. And then it gets more feminist as it goes. Part of that I mean is the freedom now as a full professor it's also easier to do that sort of thing. But OSU has also been supportive of me to get back to Marcus Borg, I mean a lot of what Marcus published was popular press stuff, Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time, and these other books that took this important scholarship and made it where other people could read it. So I'm trying to sort of use Marcus as my guide in that. And you know, I'm really excited because Marcus gave an endorsement quote for the back of the book even so I'm quite excited about that. But it really comes from a place of wanting feminist scholarship to be accessible to the general public and so I'm pretty committed to that.


SC: So do you have any other roles here at the university? You're here to stay, and you're trying to connect at so many different levels, what else do you do?

SS: So I'm the director of the School of Language, Culture and Society, which is women, gender and sexuality studies, ethnic studies, world languages and cultures, and anthropology. And so when the College of Liberal Arts went through reorganization, three and a half years ago, those four units came together because they all do social justice work. Because on most campuses, that is an odd conglomeration of disciplines. But it just so happens that people here do social justice work so we've made that the center of our school. And so we've just put together a social justice studies minor at the undergraduate level, we're going to do a social justice certificate at the graduate school. So were trying to do more shared stuff, we're doing more collaborative teaching, and cross listing, and all that sort of stuff. And so this is my fourth year in that position and I've committed to do it three more years and then go back to being 00:34:00faculty. Because administration, I just don't love it. You know, I love teaching, I love doing scholarship I don't even mind meetings and service, but I don't love administration. And so you know, I mean the way I got the job, people laugh at it but its true, but I missed a meeting, I always thought it would be one or two of my other colleagues (interrupted) so in the midst of all this re-alignment, I really thought that there were these two other faculty members that I really thought would be fabulous for this job, but I just went along assuming they were going to do it, and we'd been having these meetings about organizing ourselves and all of this, and we had this final meeting scheduled and I was sick so I couldn't make the meeting, and then the next thing I know, they had met and decided I should do this job. And they got Janet Lee, of whom I feel such an obligation, to call me, while I'm sick, and convince me I should do 00:35:00this. And then David McMurray, who was the chair of Anthropology, sent me the most over the top, hysterical, flattering, email about why I should do this job. And so while my defenses were down, I was like, oh ok fine I'll do it. Um, so it's been nice to be able to set a vision, to help us get up and going, but what I really love is being a professor. So I'll do this a little bit longer, but I'm anxious to get back, because there are more books to be written. In fact, the next book I want to write I think I'm going to call it something like 'lies the religious right tells women'. Because there's all this really bad stuff out there, and they do, they just lie, they just lie. And so I've decided, this is one of those things that I can just safely say that. And the university will just applaud me if it upsets people (laughs).

SC: So what future do you see for the feminist movement in that sense?


SS: Well, you know, I think in some ways, the feminist movement has been incredibly successful, but I think that systems of oppression are also very good at absorbing successes and then co-opting them. And so I think obviously things are better than in the 70s. Because we do have laws around sexual harassment and we have equal employment laws. On the other hand we also know that women make 78 cents on the dollar compared to men, and we also know the extent to which sexual assault, sexual abuse, and sexual harassment still continue and those are still gendered. And so, I think we've made some progress, but I think that it looks like more progress than we've made. Because people assume well we have these laws they're for and yet what we know is that that hasn't guaranteed equality. Especially if you start to look at those with intersections with race and sexual identity and social class and you really begin to see those divisions. And so I think that the women's movement still has work to do. One of those things that 00:37:00I'm hopeful for is that I think the women's movement has really begun to understand how those intersections are important for it. And so it's really embraced LGBTQ rights as a part of it, its embraced being allies in the civil rights movement and understanding that women of color have different issues, that white women experience sexism differently. And so I think the more we're doing that, the broader the movement is. And so I think that's really important. I think it's important for young women, though, to be aware of the sort of the ways that social institutions co‐opt feminism and give young women the illusion that they're making choices that they're not. So for example, feminism popularly gets boiled down to oh I can choose to do whatever I want to do, so if I want to choose to dress these ways and do these things and act these ways it's feminist. But the truth is all it really does is play into what patriarchy is telling women they are all along. And it really becomes really about consumerism 00:38:00because the choice is to buy these high heels, or buy this kind of dress, or buy, you know. And so what it really an illusion of choice masks the fact that it is really again constraining women into these very narrow these sorts of roles. And I think so part of the task for the movement is to figure out how we recognize what real choice is as opposed to, I think, the illusion of choice that gets created by social institutions that are trying to protect market shares and patriarchy and heterosexual privileges and all that sort of stuff.

SC: So what are your greatest hopes for the future of this field of study? It can be particularly here at OSU or beyond?

SS: So at OSU it's getting that PhD, up and going, and we're going to do something that's really innovative, because our PhD is centered on multiracial, transnational, and queer feminisms. And so that will make it stand out a little 00:39:00bit nationally. And then it's also geared towards people who want to do applied gender and sexuality studies. Certainly we'll prepare people who want to go and be professors. But we really want people to -- we want these people to go out and run the world. We want them to go out and be the head of Planned Parenthood, to head up UNIFEM or to go into business and make a fortune and donate it back it to feminist causes. And that will also set it apart. And so I want to see us you know getting really good students who are really committed to both good academic work and to making a difference in the world, and to having that intersectional vision. You know, so that's kind of locally, you know and for the discipline I want to see it keep growing. I mean I'm still, you know the other day, where was I? In a doctor's office. And it was like well what do you do? Well I teach. What do you teach? Women studies. Well what's that? And it's like seriously, after 40 years these people are still asking what women's studies is. And so I hope for the discipline that we find a way to continue to be relevant and that we speak to the general public and not just kind of be confined to the 00:40:00academy. Students come to college and they've never heard of it, nobody comes to college to study women's studies. They discover us when they get here. And I would like to see us as a field really reach out more so people can see what we're doing, they see the relevance of it, and that, so that women and other marginalized people feel connected to the discipline. But that's hard. It's hard for the academy anytime to reach out. Beyond our own little worlds that we inhabit, but I'd like to see our discipline do better than that.

SC: So that brings me to a question, and it may be somewhat of an assumption, but here in Corvallis, especially, may not be as culturally diverse as a lot of other places, but do you still feel that the students in this discipline are exposed to--

SS: So our faculty has, the WGSS faculty has more tenure track people of color 00:41:00than white people now. And I'm really proud of that. And I'm proud of this school that we have a strong track record of hiring people of color. So I think what we're doing within our school anyway is creating that critical mass that's necessary for students to feel comfortable because they want to come and they want to see themselves reflected in the faculty. And so Patti Duncan, who's the coordinator of the Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies right now was saying to me this morning, that the applications for fall for the masters program are very diverse. And so I think that people are beginning to see that this is a program that does have racial diversity, gender diversity, sexual identity diversity all there. And so they come here and they can find people who look like them, and they can also find people that are very different and they can learn from those people as well. As so I think at least in this little pocket we are very intentionally hiring in ways that I think will then have an effect on the students who come to study here. In fact, we are getting ready, our newest position, we start interviews next week, is for a position in women of color/queer of color feminisms and so we have three women of color coming to 00:42:00interview for that position. So we have a native Hawaiian, one of Indian descent and an African American women. So I'm very excited about that.

SC: Does anyone else have any questions they would like to ask Susan at this time?

MC: I was curious, if you were teaching a class right now, what would it be?

SS: Well, right now because of this job I don't get to teach very much, but I do teach, this fall I taught global feminist theologies and then next fall I'll teach feminist theologies in the U.S. And in spring I teach our graduate seminar in feminist teaching and learning. But the course I just submitted is one I'm really excited about, it's a 200-level course, it will be in the bacc core and it's called feminism and the bible. And as soon as that gets approved I'll get that in the rotation. And that's gonna be taught as an English, philosophy, and WGSS course because it's really all about textual analysis and then actually 00:43:00I've talked to the religious studies program that's starting to put together a major, that when I step away from this job I'd actually like to teach intro to the Hebrew bible and intro to the Christian testament again because I always liked teaching that, the problem was just the context where I was always getting in trouble all the time. And so we were kind of figuring out how down the road maybe we can swap out, they have a professor who's a feminist and teaches women studies stuff, so maybe she can come teach something in WGSS and I can go teach for them. So I'm always looking at new kinds of stuff to do, but right now I'm kind of back in my religious studies mode. But I also like teaching pop culture classes, and so I want go back and teach in England again with the study abroad program. And when I was there I taught British women mystery writers and women in religion in the UK. So, yea, fun stuff.

LF: That leads me to one of my questions, which was, you have taken your research on the road, and so you spoke on controversial topics in many different 00:44:00contexts, so I was thinking maybe you can comment on that a little bit.

SS: Yea, in fact, I have these friends at Utah State, they love to get me to come in and just say outrageous things because, you know they're these wonderful feminist Mormon people and they, they're, Utah State's 90% Mormon, but they have to be careful, you know, because its their community and their faith, but I can come in and say all kinds of stuff and so they have me come in and say outrageous stuff and I get away with it to some extent because I'm not a Mormon and they don't expect me to tow the line and I'm not from there, you know, but it lets me push them a little bit. I have great fun doing that. And again, part of its because I'm somewhere that's safe, you know, and there's nothing I'm going to say that's going to get me in trouble here so I don't really-- actually the worst experience I had was here in Corvallis, I did a debate, the Socratic club sponsors these debates and they'll have a topic and then they'll get pro and con and so they had asked me to do one that was, oh they wanted me to take a side that, for a non-personal god, and you know that's fine, and so I did the 00:45:00debate, and the person I debated was you know very traditional but he and I you know we were having fun and we were trying to model respect and we actually had a lot of stuff in common in sort of our concern for social issues and all this sorts of stuff and we were just having a great time and then we had the question and answers. And it wasn't students it was community members, these hands shot up. You are not a Christian. [Laughs] Excuse me! You are not a Christian. I said, well that's not really your call to make, you know. And it got so bad that the student leaders sponsoring it had to step in and say look we invited her to come, she is our guest, we shouldn't treat her this way. And after it was over, this one woman came flying down and she came up to me and she goes: you are not a Christian, you're a Hindu! And I laughed, I thought she was joking you know, and I'm like aha no, but really I'm a Christian. And she's like no you're not. And I said you know what, we are not having this conversation and I did 00:46:00something I never did and I just walked away. Because that, you know, we can talk ideas all day, but for her to stand there and have the audacity to try and tell me what my faith is, is just something I'm not going to tolerate. And so the worst of it was actually right here. But again it was community members, it wasn't OSU, it wasn't OSU students, and obviously you know, OSU didn't care but, for me that kind of stuff is fun to get out there. Again it's part of, if I want to get this scholarship out there, then I need to take it where people can hear it and whether that's you know another university or you know what was it a couple years ago a church called and asked me to do something in North Carolina in a church. And I'm like, well okay, and they're like will you preach while you're here? Sure! That sounds like fun. But I do enjoy doing that.

SC: In the study abroad involvement, have you been with that for a long time here at OSU?


SS: Yeah, so one of the goals of our school as well as in more internationalization, which is also a goal of the college of liberal arts and so-- like I said, I taught with the, the program in London in 2004 and then we have a requirement for a short-term study abroad that's part of the MA in women, gender and sexuality studies and so I took a group a couple years back to Costa Rica for a couple weeks. And then, a year ago, this past month, Patti Duncan, Mehra Shirazi, and I went to India to Tamil Nadu, which is the south of India and set up an MOU with the Women's college there. And so in fact Patti and Mehra just got back with a group of students who went there to do their study abroad. I couldn't get away to go again. And so I'm getting ready this summer, Anuncia Escala, and I are going to lead a study abroad to Guatemala working with the Guatemala human rights commission. And so we're going to visit these different organizations who work with people who have somehow been victimized with all the political goings on in Guatemala. And then I was just down in Chile, because we have a Spanish study abroad program there, which is part of our school, and it 00:48:00was their 10th anniversary and we hadn't had an OSU administrator go down so I went down to kind of do the meet n greet thing. But what we realized is there's some real opportunities there to do like a study abroad on human rights because the history of Chile is really problematic and they're very interested in maybe setting up a WGSS study abroad there because there's a lot of feminist organizations, and uh, so I'm hoping to really expand that and I just started an initiative in the school to encourage people to develop more short-term study abroads and you know, I thought that maybe when I finish this job, my job will just be like leading short-term study abroads and I never have to be here.

CH: Um, I have one more question, um what is the demographics of your classes that you teach and have you seen any change over the years?


SS: They've actually stayed pretty steady so right now my classes are small because one of the things I give myself for this job is I'm not teaching really big classes, but so I do an honors class, it'll have maybe a dozen students, typically 10 are women, 2 are men, few will be students of color, mostly white, then the graduate class typically, the graduate seminar has, maybe 15‐18 in it. Same thing, you know, mostly women, couple of men, mostly white folks, but I think that, like I said, that's going to change now cause I think that the demographics of our grad program are going to change as the faculty have changed, most of them are WGSS, but we actually have a lot of grad students from other disciplines that take the feminist teaching and learning class because they're thinking about their own professional development. So that's a lot of fun because I like getting the different perspectives in there. I think that in the lower division, the bacc core classes, I think there has been a little bit of change. Some people were telling me that they may have, you know, a third of the class be men now at that 200‐level. And so I think that more and more of an openness and also now that we've changed to women, gender, and sexuality 00:50:00studies, instead of just women studies I think that young men, and of course its always, I think, been a pretty safe place for transgender folk and queer folk and all, but I think more folks are finding their way to kind of see what is this WGSS stuff and do I really want to take anymore classes with these people.

MC: Speaking of the graduate program, I met one of the women studies graduate students at the graduate women's network reception. (SS: mhm). And I can't remember her name, but she's from Taiwan and she's looking at indigenous (SS: Right! Yea, yea, yea). Are there a lot of people, or is there a lot of research, regarding indigenous women?

SS: No, I mean, fortunately, we hired Qwo-Li Driskill, last year to, who does, he does queer studies, but he particularly does queer, indigenous to spirit transgender, you know, issues, and so I think that he is helping people begin to explore some indigenous issues. One of the things we were excited about her was that she was indigenous Taiwanese, which I think, from what I gather is a very 00:51:00small percentage of the population there. And so I think with Qwo-Li here I think we probably will see more exploration of indigenous issues. And of course there's ethics studies, we have Natchee Barnd who does Native American studies and uh depending on who gets this new position, we do have, a candidate who does some indigenous issues, but that's one of those areas for growth in the future I think.

SC: Well I hope we've been able to paint a really nice picture of your, your life history with an emphasis on what you've done for the OSU community, um is there anything else you'd like to add or comment on as this comes to an end?

SS: I don't know, you know, I'm honored that you all think this would be interesting enough to ask about. Um, you know, a lot of this is in the Baptist women-- I don't know if you all saw 'God Speaks to us Too'-- this is one of 00:52:00those you were asking about you know, that one is an example of where, its sort of mixed methods, and you know, mixed genre, because there's, I did qualitative interviews and I did focus groups, and I did archival research, and then there's memoir in there and it's all sort of intertwined to tell the story, and I try to be very upfront about what I did with it in good Baptist style and say this is my viewpoint and if you don't like it write your own book, because this is how I understand it, but there's other stuff in there too that kind of gets some of the story. But I hope there's something of value and it fulfills your assignment for Dwaine. And helps the library in whatever ways.

SC: Yeah, thank you very much. I'm sure that current and future and past OSU community members will be happy to have this as part of the archives.


SS: Good, It's very much an honor, I'm just, I'm glad I was on the list! That's Jane Nichols who did that, she's fabulous, she's one of the librarians over there and I adore her. Well thank you all. As I said, I hope it was helpful.