By Kristine Ashton Gunnell, PhD
Founded in September 1984, the UCLA Center for the Study of Women (CSW) fosters individual and collaborative research on gender, sexuality, and women’s issues across the disciplines. Internationally recognized, CSW has created a robust intellectual community that includes 200 faculty from 34 departments and 10 professional schools, graduate and undergraduate students, and independent scholars through its Research Affiliates program.1 CSW hosts major research projects, administers grants, and sponsors conferences, seminars, and other forums to disseminate research. From the beginning, CSW recognized the variety of circumstances that shape the lived experiences of scholars committed to researching gender issues. Tight job markets, family commitments, advocacy work, or other circumstances may hinder scholars’ efforts to obtain tenure-track positions, along with access to research material and funds that a well-resourced institution can provide. In 1985, CSW established an affiliated scholars program, expanding the center’s reach beyond the university walls by incorporating local independent scholars into its intellectual community. While the name of the program has changed over the years, the Research Affiliates program demonstrates CSW’s 35-year commitment to research parity by offering independent scholars an institutional home, access to library resources, and opportunities to participate in the center’s cutting-edge programs.
The diversity of the affiliates reflects CSW’s interdisciplinary nature, including anthropologists, historians, poets, archaeologists, activists, legal scholars, and filmmakers, among others. In addition to pursuing their own research, these scholars have, at various times throughout the program’s history, taught courses, written grants, and helped organize conferences, lecture series, and other programs. The program welcomed both established and emerging scholars. Barbara “Penny” Kanner, Mitzi Myers, and Emily Abel served as the center’s first research associates in 1985, while Linda Kelly Alkana, Lynne Kimiko Miyake, Janet Farrell Brodie, Nayereh Tohidi, Sondra Hale, and Kathy A. Perkins were appointed as Affiliated Scholars in 1987-1988, the first year records are available.2 The Research Associate and Affiliated Scholar programs remained distinct during the center’s first decade, although Research Associates’ titles were changed to “Research Scholar” in 1990. CSW combined the programs in 1995, and affiliates were called Research Scholars until 2015, when program revisions spurred the introduction of a new title, Research Affiliate.
Regardless of title, affiliation with the center provided these scholars with necessary tools to continue their research and develop their careers. One Research Scholar commented that the designation has been “an indispensable support to my scholarship and academic activities, by giving me access to the UCLA libraries and providing me with an institutional affiliation which lends professional legitimacy.”3 Others highlighted the importance of supportive intellectual community and the benefits of interacting with top scholars through CSW’s programs. While limited resources precluded CSW’s ability to offer stipends or office space, access to the university’s library resources proved essential to scholars’ ability to continue their work. Mitzi Myers researched UCLA’s Children’s Literature Collection, while Miriam Robbins Dexter analyzed Indo-European historic texts housed at the Young Research Library. Other scholars relied on the libraries’ robust collection of scholarly literature: books, journals, and research databases. Many scholars proved to be highly productive during their tenure at the center. In 1997-1998, fifteen Research Scholars published twenty-seven books or articles, and another completed a film.4
CSW Research Scholars sought to create community among themselves and develop relationships with UCLA faculty affiliated with the center. In the early 1990s, eight to ten Research Scholars participated in CSW’s program each year, while by 2007, nearly forty scholars belonged to the program.5 Penny Kanner donated funds to sponsor a luncheon for the Research Scholars each fall, and the scholars hosted a series of informal gatherings to give the scholars an opportunity to present their research. Over the years, CSW invited a few Research Scholars to participate in the center’s Feminist Research Seminar and Meet the Authors Lecture Series with university faculty. Beginning in 2002, Research Scholars could apply for the Tillie Olsen Award, a grant specifically for CSW Research Scholars to support conference travel or the purchase of specialized research materials. A Research Scholar since 1996, Patricia Zukow-Goldring funded the grants awarded to three scholars each year. “Grateful for the many benefits and privileges that my affiliation with CSW has afforded,” Zukow-Goldring’s generosity made it possible for others to advance their research.6
In an evaluation of CSW’s Annual Reports, Research Scholars consistently expressed their appreciation for opportunities CSW affiliation provided, but geography, time constraints, and the nuances of academic politics complicated their ability to feel fully included in the center. During CSW’s Five-Year Review in 1993, affiliated scholars expressed a “sense of separateness” from the center’s faculty.7 Some barriers arise from the realities of working as independent scholars and contingent faculty. Few have the luxury of living close to UCLA, and if they are teaching at one or more campuses elsewhere in the Los Angeles Basin, scholars’ opportunities to interact with CSW faculty and earn their respect may be limited. At the same time, faculty workloads leave little time for additional mentoring. Ten years later, the external review committee complimented CSW for its support of independent scholars, noting that “they and their work make a serious contribution to CSW and CSW plays a vital role in the scholars’ research work.”8 The review committee encouraged CSW to take greater advantage of these resources, perhaps in mentoring graduate students, program planning, or fundraising efforts. In the reports, Research Scholars expressed desires to be more involved, but effective collaboration takes time and resources, which all too often, remained in short supply for both CSW faculty and Research Scholars. Even so, CSW fostered community within the program by providing venues for sharing Research Scholars’ work, offering opportunities for scholars to extend their professional networks, and providing a lifeline of library access to prevent, as another Research Scholar put it, being pushed into “academic oblivion.”9
The commercialization of academic publishing over the last decade has produced mounting challenges for independent scholars, recent graduates, and faculty at under-resourced colleges and universities. Current research is often placed behind digital paywalls and is only accessible to libraries who can afford the subscription costs. Occasionally, those outside well-resourced universities can pay for access (at $30+ a download for each article), but those costs add up quickly, and under-resourced scholars are forced to ask former colleagues to download sources for them or simply go without. Although alumni may receive truncated access to some databases, institutional contracts limit access to faculty, staff, or students.10 Holding a “Visiting Scholar” title without salary, CSW Research Scholars found themselves outside all of these categories. In a 2015 audit by UC administrators, it was determined that Research Scholars do not qualify for the “Visiting Scholar” title, and despite CSW’s advocacy on their behalf, Research Scholars lost that title, and with it, access to UCLA’s electronic resources. This action required CSW to revise the program, creating a smaller group of Research Affiliates. While the barriers to providing access to research databases were insurmountable at the time, CSW secured a Memorandum of Understanding with the UCLA Library to maintain affiliates’ ability to check out and renew books. CSW also provides affiliates with access to computer resources in its offices, a number of parking passes to facilitate their attendance at center events, and encouragement to participate in CSW’s intellectual community.
Research parity for independent scholars continues to be a persistent challenge within academia, magnified by the commercialization of academic publishing and the instability of the academic job market. Committed to producing and sharing knowledge, illuminating the needs for continued social justice efforts, and simply wanting the freedom to do more of what they love, many scholars refuse to give up. But they need allies and advocates committed to assisting vulnerable, and often marginalized, members of the scholarly community. For thirty-five years, the UCLA Center for the Study of Women has been striving to create an inclusive intellectual community. Despite the structural barriers which continue to exist, my hope is that it will continue to be a leader among the many communities it serves, advocating for gender equality, social justice feminism, and research parity.
Kristine Ashton Gunnell completed her PhD at Claremont Graduate University and specializes in Women and Gender in the American West. She studies the history of the United States, in particular, the role of religious women in public and private life. She is writing a history of the Daughters of Charity Foundation and Systemic Change, the sisters’ holistic approach to addressing interrelated dimensions of poverty, promoting human development, and advancing economic opportunity. She is a CSW Research Affiliate and received a Tillie Olsen Research Grant from CSW in 2019.
- Rachel Lee, “Annual Report, July 1, 2019-June 30, 2020” (UCLA Center for the Study of Women, 2020), 5, https://csw.ucla.edu/publications/csw-annual-reports/.
- Karen E. Rowe, “Annual Report, October 1, 1984-June 30, 1986” (UCLA Center for the Study of Women, November 18, 1986), 22, https://csw.ucla.edu/publications/csw-annual-reports/; Karen E. Rowe, “Annual Report, July 1, 1986-June 30, 1987” (UCLA Center for the Study of Women, October 15, 1987), 93, https://csw.ucla.edu/publications/csw-annual-reports/.
- Kathleen McHugh, “Annual Report, July 1, 2012-June 30, 2013” (UCLA Center for the Study of Women, 2013), 89, https://csw.ucla.edu/publications/csw-annual-reports/.
- Sandra Harding, “Annual Report, July 1, 1997-June 30, 1998” (UCLA Center for the Study of Women, 1998), 6, https://csw.ucla.edu/publications/csw-annual-reports/.
- Kathryn Norberg, “Annual Report, July 1, 1992-June 30, 1993” (UCLA Center for the Study of Women, 1993), 13, https://csw.ucla.edu/publications/csw-annual-reports/; Kathleen McHugh, “Annual Report, July 1, 2006-June 30, 2007” (UCLA Center for the Study of Women, 2007), 17, https://csw.ucla.edu/publications/csw-annual-reports/.
- McHugh, “Annual Report, July 1, 2012-June 30, 2013,” 89; Miriam Silverberg, “Annual Report, July 1, 2002-June 30, 2003” (UCLA Center for the Study of Women, 2003), 27, https://csw.ucla.edu/publications/csw-annual-reports/.
- Deborah Koniak Griffin and M. Belinda Tucker, “Five Year Review, UCLA Center for the Study of Women, May 1993. Appendix XIII-C,” in Annual Report, July 1, 1992-June 30, 1993, by Kathryn Norberg (UCLA Center for the Study of Women, 1993), 190, https://csw.ucla.edu/publications/csw-annual-reports/.
- “Fifteen Year Review, Appendix 1,” in Annual Report, July 1, 2005-June 30, 2006, by Kathleen McHugh (UCLA Center for the Study of Women, 2006), 31, https://csw.ucla.edu/publications/csw-annual-reports/.
- Kathleen Sheldon and Sandra Trudgen Dawson, “Independent Scholars, Feminist Research and Diminishing Support,” CCWH Newsletter 46, no. 4 (December 2015): 6–7.
- Becky Nicolaides, “Locked Out: Research Access as a Challenge for the Discipline,” Perspectives, September 2018, https://www.historians.org/publications-and-directories/perspectives-on-history/september-2018/locked-out-research-access-as-a-challenge-for-the-discipline.