Meet Dr. Chris Linder
By: Aashka Dave
The Georgia Feminist shirts caused a conversation.
Sold for the first time during Spring 2014, the shirts became a campus-wide nod to the need for women’s resources at the University of Georgia.
Spurred on by the SGA-sponsored group Dawgs for a Women’s Center at UGA (today the independent student organization WORC), the university responded to this conversation in a number of ways.
In Fall 2014, the University unveiled a new website, women.uga.edu, dedicated to aggregating all women’s resources currently present at the University of Georgia in the same place. This website became the public face of a new committee as well: the Women’s Resources Coordinating Committee.
This is where Dr. Chris Linder comes in.
Originally from Missouri, Dr. Linder arrived at the University of Georgia having also served as the director of the Office of Women’s Programs and Studies at Colorado State University. Her research focuses on college women’s experiences on campus environments as well, making her a natural candidate for a position as chair of the WRCC.
The WRCC is focused on examining the state of women’s resources receive at UGA, and determining the steps necessary to ensure that the University of Georgia provides a supportive environment for students.
Over the course of the next few years, Dr. Linder and the coordinating committee will take the results of a campus climate survey conducted by the Office of Institutional Diversity and examine them in order to determine what resources women — and other underrepresented groups — at UGA need in order to feel supported at the university.
In doing so, Dr. Linder hopes to maintain a note of inclusivity among the university community. If the results of the campus climate survey support the need for a women’s center at UGA, inclusivity would be a major priority:
“One of the biggest pieces of our history that we need to pay attention to as feminists is that our feminist history isn’t stellar when it comes to inclusion. We haven’t done the best job of including women of color, we have done the best job of including trans people,” Dr. Linder said. “And so for me I think it would be really, really important from the beginning to make sure that it was inclusive of multiple kinds of women’s experiences.”
Below follows a transcription of our interview with Dr. Linder:
How did you get involved in the women’s resources movement at UGA?
Obviously being involved with women’s [issues] is really important to me because my prior work experience in student affairs was as a director of a women’s center, and my research interests are about — one of my research interests — is related to college women’s experiences with campus environments [and] specifically trying to understand how college women make sense of the multiple messages they get. [The] staff and the division of student affairs knows that about me, [and] TW Cauthen is actually the person who called and asked if I would be interested in getting involved.
What is your opinion of the University of Georgia’s commitment to women’s resources as opposed to its peer and aspirational universities?
That’s hard to comment on since I’m so new to Georgia, and so I’m not familiar with the peer and [aspirational] ones, but in terms of what UGA’s doing, I think that this is an excellent step in the right directions.
I know we have great resources on campus, so I think this initiative is just a good way to sort of identify where all of those are, and let people know about them, and then figure out where all the gaps in those services are, and then do what we need to fill them.
I think it’s a good start. I certainly don’t think it’s an endpoint, but it’s a start.
Where would you like to see the University of Georgia in regards to women’s resources and gender equality in the next few years?
I would like to see us continue to do what we’re doing in terms of gathering the resources, but taking it a step beyond that and starting to address [some] pieces where we’re not doing a good job. I feel like for me it’s too early for me to know what those places are yet. I’m not sure where our holes in women’s services are. The campus climate study will be a really important component of that, so in three years I would like to see us have some pieces from the campus climate study identified, and some really concrete steps toward addressing whatever shows up.
Can you elaborate on the campus climate study?
I don’t know anything about it. I just know that UGA’s going to be doing it, and that I believe it’s going to be coordinated through the Office of Institutional Diversity, so they’d probably be the best people to talk to about it.
If a women’s center were to exist at the University of Georgia, what would its role be? How would you see it participating in the university community?
I think a women’s center is a home on campus for students who are interested in doing leadership and activism related to gender issues. If I got to wave my magic wand and start a women’s center, I think I would frame it as a women and gender center to make sure it was inclusive.
One of the biggest pieces of our history that we need to pay attention to as feminists is that our feminist history isn’t stellar when it comes to inclusion. We haven’t done the best job of including women of color, we have done the best job of including trans people. [I] think it would be really, really important from the beginning to make sure that it was inclusive of multiple kinds of women’s experiences.
So I think that would be one aspect of [a women’s center]. It certainly provides a home and a place for students to go to talk to each other about their concerns related to women and gender issues, and then to actually do something about it.
I think it would also have Student Affairs staff there to support the students in very similar ways that the Multicultural Services and Programs and the LGBT Resource Center functions now. I think those are very important parts of [how a women’s center would work].
As chair of the women’s resources coordinating committee, how has the university’s launch of women.uga.edu been perceived by students, and have you heard much about the initiative?
I haven’t heard a ton. When [the website] first went out — I’m the person who checks the email accounts associated with it — we got a lot of response pretty quickly, saying “Oh this is great! I’d love to be involved!” And so, as the committee moves forward I think that we’ll be able to reach out to those folks and talk about ways that they can get involved. But a lot of these people actually were staff, so it’ll be interesting to see how we move forward [and how] students get involved.
And I don’t know if maybe Megan [Ernst, Student Government Association Chief of Staff and student liaison to the Women’s Resource Coordinating Committee] is getting more feedback from students, since she’s the SGA representative, but I haven’t heard a ton from students.
If students were to express interest in getting involved, say this semester, how would you suggest they go about doing that?
I don’t know at this point. I actually would probably refer them to you all — WORC UGA and the WSSO [Women’s Studies Student Organization] at this point — and I would keep their name on a list, and as soon as there were opportunities form the coordinating body associated with the women’s resources initiative, I would let them know. But as of right now, I would refer them to those two places.
What are the coordinating body’s aims for this year?
[At] this point we’re just waiting for the campus climate study so we can identify what those gaps [in current services] are so we can start making progress and addressing those gaps.
What is the role that feminism and gender equality play in your own life?
Huge. Huge role.
I think that feminism and gender equality have influenced almost every aspect of my life. Form the way that I go about teaching, to the way that I go about doing my research, to the way I go about engaging in scholarly activism [and] then also just personally making sure that I’m living those feminist values.
And to me— again, like I talked about before — that goes back to being inclusive on many different levels. [For] me feminism isn’t just about gender, it’s about the intersection of those oppressions. So really focusing on creating and maintaining safe learning environments for everybody [is important to me]. [Women] are a big component of that, but it doesn’t just stop at women; we need to pay attention to issues around racism and homophobia and classism and all kinds of different things.
There’s been a spate of feminist literature lately. What’s your opinion on the popularization of that sort of literature?
Oh! I have lots of opinions about that. I don’t think it’s critical enough. I think it’s doing the same thing that we’ve been critiquing feminism of for years, and that it really focuses on one way of being a woman. I think specifically the “Lean In” Sheryl Sandberg and the one about Superwomen don’t do a really good job of focusing on structural inequities; they make it sound like if women just tried harder at this, this, and this; then they’d be successful. [So] feels like they put a lot of responsibilities on individuals rather than looking at the collective, and also thinking about the structural barriers that exist. I also think that it makes the assumption that all women want to be leaders in business, but I don’t think that’s necessarily the case either — [nor is it the case in] academia. So it doesn’t give a lot of room for different kinds of feminist leadership.
The flipside of that is that in some ways it’s good that these issues are getting more mainstream attention. [I] just think it’s problematic when that mainstream attention is a very individualistic as opposed to collective kind of conversation.
That being said, are there any specific books or articles or people that you’d recommend that students at UGA just interested in feminism read or look into?
It certainly depends on their interests, but for me, certainly the most influential in my experience has been bell hooks. So [it’s probably] because I’m faculty [that] I really resonate with what I call her “teaching trilogy”, which is her “Teaching to Transgress,” “Teaching to Community,” and “Teaching to Critical Thinking.” [Each] of those has really informed the ways that I think about managing my classrooms and my scholarship. The other ones that were really life-changing for me early in my life [were] her three books about love. Each of those talks about the importance of sort of navigating [and] maintaining who you are when you’re in a relationship with other people, and certainly part of it is about romantic relationships, but another part of it is about making sure that you’re — I mean her whole philosophy about social justice is about approaching it from a place of love and compassion [for] me those are really instrumental in my own development.
If you were talking to a UGA student and they’re getting more interested in gender equality or feminism, what would be a good place for them to start?
Again, I would refer them to the two student groups that I am the most familiar with, so the WSSO and WORC — the group that started from SGA. Those would be the two places I would direct them. If they have more specific interests — so say maybe they came in and they were interested in interpersonal violence, I would direct them to the RSVP office. I know a lot of colleges have gender-related programming, like the Terry College of Business has a Women in Business organization. I think I would probe a little bit and try to get a few more specifics to help direct them in places that would be relevant for whatever they’re interested in next.
In terms of a student looking to just get more involved at the university, or just to make the most out of their university experience, is there any advice you would have for them?
Getting involved is one of the pieces of advice. Figuring out what makes them tick: what are they passionate about, what are they excited about? Because there are so many things that people can be involved with on campus. Obviously there are 300 or 600 or whatever many student organizations. There are so many! But then I think also a part that’s often overlooked is the piece related to the out-of-classroom involvement related to whatever their academic major is. [There’s] always opportunity to either be doing research with faculty or getting involved with some college organization that allows students to bring together what they’re doing in class and what they want to do after college, and different ways they could be doing things in college to be ready after they graduate.
Those are two really big ways. And then I think it’s really important to just make the time that you have while you’re here to meet other people. It’s pretty rare to have this many people concentrated in this small of a space with so much — the word diversity is so cliché, but such a variety of types of people here — and so I think being really intentional about that is an important step.
This interview was conducted during the Fall 2014 semester. Every effort was made to publish only timely content. If you have questions, please contact WORC UGA at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Photos courtesy of Dr. Linder)