UMD Renames Women’s Studies Department to Honor Harriet Tubman

A statue of Harriet Tubman gazes into the Old House Chamber at the Maryland State House. Photo by Danielle E. Gaines.

Renaming the Department of Women’s studies is one of several steps that University of Maryland officials say they’re taking in an effort to make the campus more inclusive.

The new name?

The Harriet Tubman Department of Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies.

“The original name Women’s Studies did not capture the breadth of the field today and so this name really helps incorporate all of the many programs, activities and commitments of the department,” said Bonnie Thornton Dill, dean of the College of Arts and Humanities at the University of Maryland.

She said she hopes the name change helps to bring awareness to Tubman’s contribution locally and nationally.

“She was born in Maryland and shaped much of the state’s history and as a flagship institution taking her name represents a kind of acknowledgement to how she contributed to changing the society,” Dill said.

The university had been working on the name change and its meaning for the past two years, Dill said, adding that it’s more than just a new name in a catalog.

“We really see the incorporation of her life and work into the curriculum, programming and services impact that will impact not just this department but the campus as a whole,” Dill said.

New university President Darryl J. Pines hailed the change in a letter to the campus community.

“The department is widely acclaimed for its unique concentration in Black feminist thought and intersectionality, and it is the only department in the nation that offers a Black women’s studies minor, jointly with the Department of African American Studies,” he wrote. “Historically, Black women have played a brave and critical role in social justice. Harriet Tubman’s life and her dedication to freedom and equality speaks directly to the department’s mission, now and in the years ahead.”

Additionally, the university announced a new program coordinator for immigrant and undocumented student life, a task force on community policing, and the addition of the common application for prospective students.

Pines wrote that these and other administrative actions “mark meaningful progress toward realizing our vision of a truly inclusive campus. Our work is not done.”

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