Women’s Studies Named for Civil Rights Icon

Abolitionist, Suffragist Harriet Tubman Symbolizes Department’s Commitment to Values
By Sala Levin ’10 | Photo illustration by Margaret Hall

When then UMD women’s studies department wanted to rename itself to better reflect its values—antiracism, equity and intellectual freedom, among them—the faculty didn’t have to look beyond the state’s history to find the perfect candidate for the honor.

Harriet Tubman, the famed Underground Railroad “conductor” who first freed herself and then others from slavery, was a Dorchester County native whose descendants include UMD graduates.

“The renaming could not be more salient and compelling as we again confront the enduring structural pandemics of racial unrest, economic injustice and health inequality,” says Ruth Enid Zambrana, professor and interim chair of the Harriet Tubman Department of Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies.

The name change—the first honorific one in UMD’s history—reflects the department’s status as “a national hub of expertise in Black feminist and intersectional thought,” says Zambrana. The department, in conjunction with the Department of African American Studies, offers the country’s sole minor in Black women’s studies.

Ernestine “Tina” Wyatt ’95, Tubman’s great-great-great-grandniece, said the renaming provides an opportunity to highlight Tubman’s many lesser-known achievements: her philanthropy, her work as a scout, nurse and leader of soldiers during a Civil War raid to free slaves, and her fight for women’s suffrage.

A revised curriculum includes expanded courses on contemporary issues around gender, race, ethnicity, class, sexuality and disability, and material on Tubman’s life will be incorporated into classes.


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