The following interview was conducted with Dr. Debbie Bruckner as part of WSF’s Women’s Studies Archive Project. Her answers appear below as they were written by her, with the one exception that any names mentioned have been redacted as part of the interview methodology used.
- What does feminism mean to you? How has this changed over your academic career? How do you reflect your feminist principles in your research and/or pedagogy, both when teaching a Women’s Studies course and when teaching a course in another field?
In the 1980s I was an activist and a feminist, working in the area of sexual violence. At that time, feminism meant taking personal issues and speaking aloud about them, actively contributing to change. I taught an introduction to feminism course for a little over 10 years. This was an amazing opportunity to quite literally introduce young people to feminist issues, facilitating their exploration of issues and identifying their relationship to them. I also taught some social work courses on a sessional basis. Feminism and social work were (and still are) great fits- supporting activism, change, the examination of power, learning about diversity.
- How did you first become involved in feminist scholarship? When in your academic career did you first become aware of feminist issues and how did it affect your research interests? What made you specifically want to teach a Women’s Studies (WMST) course?
As an activist in the late 1970s I worked in the sexual assault centre movement. This work exposed me to feminist issues and drew me to teaching, in particular Women’s Studies, as well as research on sexual assault.
- During your academic career, have there been any feminist issues on which you have changed your opinion? What were they, and what changed your mind?
After teaching sessionally for 10 years, I concentrated my career on student services, not academics. My feminism supported my social work values. I don’t believe my opinions have fundamentally changed, rather I believe my experience and life journey have lent a maturity and breadth to them.
- How do you bring feminist scholarship into other departments or fields outside of Women’s Studies, either when teaching or doing research.
The following questions are intended for participants who have taught Women’s Studies at the University of Calgary for an extended period of time (more than one year, or three or more courses). If you do not fit this criteria, you may still answer these questions if you wish, but they may not be relevant to your specific experiences.
- What were your perceptions of the feminist scholarship being done at the University of Calgary during your time there?
As I was a sessional instructor in the 1980’s my research was informed more by my career, not my teaching. These were early days in Women’s Studies and there was only a single full time professor. The rest of the group were working in the field: birth control, law, social work. So scholarship was in its infancy- however as the field grew, so did the number of professors and students and research.
- What was your favourite thing about teaching Women’s Studies at the University of Calgary?
The energy of the discussion! The opportunity to really delve into issues and explore them thoroughly within the classroom.
- What was it like teaching Women’s Studies at the University of Calgary? How receptive were the students to what you were teaching? What was their level of engagement? How diverse were your classrooms? Were there many men taking Women’s Studies?
In the 1980s the introduction to feminism course was very popular and generally had 50-80 students each semester. Each class had 2 men- sometime very quiet and other times very participatory. As this was during the height of the women’s movement, there was an active Women of Colour Collective on campus, who took the class and encouraged their peers to do the same. Students were very engaged- many of them identified as feminist, but others did not – hence active and engaging discussion in the classroom.
- Did you encounter any conflicts of opinion with students, administration, or other instructors during your time at the University of Calgary? How were they resolved?
There were minor conflicts of opinion, especially when certain students had opposing views and attempted to dominate the discussion. Generally this was handled within class through discussion of boundaries and respect for others. I did not experience other forms of conflict, although I was on the outside as a sessional instructor.
- How did feminist theory evolve during your time teaching Women’s Studies at the University of Calgary? How did this affect your research and/or pedagogy? Are there any feminist topics or issues you wish had received more focus?
Feminist theory in the 1980s was very vibrant, and both personal and political. To a certain extent it was based on lived experience, but the development of Women’s Studies classes motivated students and instructors to become more scholarly and engage in research. In those days, I just wish there were more classes and faculty members.
- Why was Women’s Studies important during the time period that you taught it, especially within Calgary or Alberta? Did this importance change throughout your time here and, if so, how? What kind of connections did the Women’s Studies program have with the community at large?
The 1980s was an activist period in Calgary- the Women of Color Collective, Calgary Birth Control, Sexual Assault Centre, Pornography, Status of Women Action Committee and Women’s Health were significant agencies/movements. I think it was this activism that influenced the courses taught in Women’s Studies. The instructors were the lawyers, social workers and psychologists working on the frontlines.
- To the best of your recollection, what was the formal structure of the Women’s Studies program during your time teaching Women’s Studies courses at the University of Calgary? Where was the program located in the University bureaucracy? Who was in charge and what were their roles? What relationship did the Women’s Studies program have with other faculties and departments?
Women’s Studies in the 1980s was led by [redacted] within the faculty of General Studies. All the other instructors were sessional and primarily young activists and professionals. [redacted] would gather the sessional group at her home in order to connect them with each other. As a sessional instructor I was not privy to relationships with other faculties and departments. I did notice that by the early 1990s there was more emphasis on the scholarly aspect of Women’s Studies and a focus on recruiting academics to teach, so many of this front line group drifted away from teaching.
- To the best of your recollection, what sort of Women’s Studies courses existed during your time at the University of Calgary? How many instructors were involved with the program and how were they assigned to courses?
Introduction to Women’s Studies, Women and the Law, I believe some kind of Women in the Media class as well. The single full time faculty member approached women working in the community to teach sessionally, according to their fields.
- Did the Women’s Studies program face any challenges to its longevity, stability, or existence during your time at the University of Calgary? What were they and how were they overcome?
It was a small program that grew slowly and began engaging more academic instructors.
- Are there any further comments, stories, or experiences, you would like to share about your time as a Women’s Studies instructor at the University of Calgary?
It was an exciting and vibrant opportunity that has fed and nourished my identity as a feminist.