Dartmouth closes the Gender Research Institute

by Abby Mihaly and Rohini Mandal | 10/12/17 9:08am

The Gender Research Institute at Dartmouth has been closed, according to GRID director Annabel Martín. Martín wrote in an email statement that she is uncertain how long the institute will be closed and $30,000 has been allocated for gender-related research in the interim period. Although Martín did not specify the reason for GRID’s closing, she wrote that the decision surprised all faculty involved in the process.

College spokesperson Diana Lawrence wrote in an email statement that GRID was funded in 2013 with a one-time grant for four years, and that the grant has now been spent. She added that a group of faculty members will soon meet to discuss future options.

In an interview with The Dartmouth in May 2016, Martín said that Dartmouth losing its “R1” status, a top research classification determined by the Carnegie Commission on Higher Education, hurt GRID by lowering morale and decreasing budgets, as well as potentially hurting recruiting prospects and the possibility of obtaining external grants. At the time, GRID was renegotiating continuing its funding with the College.

Martín wrote that Provost Carolyn Dever had “promised to work with a group of faculty to bring something back into existence,” though it is unclear whether the institution’s name will be preserved.

Martín and four other faculty members launched GRID in 2013 to bring together a variety of professors to study gender. GRID provided fellowship opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students and professors, hosted lecture series and events and organized an annual spring symposium. Topics discussed at these lectures and symposiums ranged from intersectional feminism to substance abuse and addiction. GRID also collaborated with other institutions at the College, such as the Geisel School of Medicine, the Dickey Center for International Understanding and the Tuck School of Business.

The model for GRID was loosely based on gender research institutes at Barnard College, Brown University, Columbia University and Rutgers University. Columbia English and comparative literature professor Marianne Hirsch, who previously taught at Dartmouth, co-founded the Center for the Study of Social Difference at Columbia. CSSD serves as a “space where people can get together, share their own research, read together, learn new things and then develop courses that evolve from that,” Hirsch said.

She called the program a “global community of scholars” and a “space to think together.” For example, on Oct. 5, CSSD hosted a round-table discussion on campus sexual assault led by researchers who have been working to change the way people look at conversations about sexual assault.

Hirsch lamented the closure of GRID, explaining that it was one of few gender research programs in the U.S. that offered post-doctoral degrees, which she described as an “amazingly productive thing” to start people’s careers and “support young scholars’ research.”

In May 2016, GRID attracted attention from national media outlets after the institute brought Jasbir Puar, a professor of women’s studies at Rutgers, to speak at a panel entitled “Archipelagic Entanglements.” Puar, who has been accused of anti-Semitism in the past for her writings and remarks on Israel, drew criticism from several attendees for its controversial content. A student who attempted to record the talk was allegedly threatened and asked to leave.

Although The Dartmouth was unable to obtain specific information regarding GRID funding from internal sources, contacts at other colleges and universities with similar programs said it is difficult for such an institute to get off the ground without strong support from its parent institution.

“If it’s the case that a center like that has to raise some of its own money, that can’t be done in two or three years, so the school would have to launch it and support it for a while so it can get off the ground in that way,” Hirsch said.

Institutions like the Barnard Center for Research on Women feel secure in their funding due to support from the college, according to the center’s associate director Tami Navarro.

“I haven’t experienced a sense of insecurity [in funding],” Navarro said. “It’s been my experience that [Barnard] has demonstrated their commitment to the center in the time that I’ve been working with it.”

Though the BCRW applies for foundation grants to fund specific programs, Navarro said most funding comes through Barnard, including its annual operating budget.

She explained that because Barnard is a women’s liberal arts college, the center is particularly important to the institution.

“I do feel that we’re recognized within the institution and that is reflected in our funding,” Navarro said.

Rutgers Institute for Women’s Leadership, the umbrella organization that includes the Institute for Research on Women, is endowed. However, Sarah Tobias, associate director of IRW, said it is still difficult to find funding.

“I think in this corporate university climate, no one who does work like this feels secure,” she said. “No one at all.”

She added, though, that Rutgers has a unique commitment to gender and women’s studies.

“Gender and women’s studies has a very significant base at Rutgers that it doesn’t necessarily at other universities,” Tobias said.

She explained that if Rutgers decides to change its funding model or shift around its money, there is no guarantee for IRW’s longevity.

These centers at Barnard, Columbia and Rutgers also engage in external fundraising. Tobias explained that gender research is one of the most difficult types of research to find funding for.

“It’s very hard, because in this political climate, interdisciplinary work, work that’s seen as humanities-focused or humanistic social sciences, they don’t tend to attract external funding in the same way that the hard sciences do,” she said.

She said she believes this is due to the lack of money the humanities bring in to universities.

“The university is being corporatized and centers that do interdisciplinary work are the most vulnerable within that,” Tobias said. “Centers that focus on race and gender and ethnicity are on perilous turf often. We don’t bring in money the way the sciences do, and that becomes of value.”

Hirsch said CSSD’s funds come from a variety of sources, from the president of Columbia providing “seed money and an operating budget,” to external funds, to Columbia’s trustees. However, Hirsch said that as time progresses, the center cannot be as dependent on Columbia to provide as much funding.

“I think we have to make our case and raise our own funds,” Hirsch said, which she said seemed fair.

Margarita Ren ’18, who is an environmental studies major and women’s, gender and sexuality studies minor, called GRID’s closing “horrible.” She said she appreciated that GRID was able to highlight gender studies at the College and allow students and faculty to collaborate on research and scholarship as peers.

“The school just doesn’t value humanities and value radical thinking, which GRID of course didn’t do a great job at every year, but sometimes did do a great job at,” Ren said.

Faculty affiliated with GRID did not respond to multiple requests for comment. Women’s, gender and sexuality studies program coordinator Cristen Brooks did not respond to an interview request.