Jane Hibbard Idema Women's and Gender Studies Center


"The Jane Hibbard Idema Women's Studies Center is a true asset - not only as a vehicle for education, leadership, and empowerment for women students of Aquinas College, but to the community at large."

Marie Wilson, White House Project Director and Author,  "Closing the Gap, Why Women Can and Must Help Run the World"

Our Vision
The Jane Hibbard Idema Women's and Gender Studies Center prepares students to become catalysts for change and voices for feminist ideals, both in our society and around the globe.

Our Mission
The Jane Hibbard Idema Women's and Gender Studies Center serves as a community resource for women's and gender issues, promoting awareness of these issues through its programs and curriculum and empowering students and community members to become advocates for gender equality and social justice.

What This Means
We situate “feminist ideals” within an intersectional theoretical framework that sees identities (of gender, race, class, sexuality, ability, etc.) and systems of inequality and privilege (sexism, racism, white supremacy, colonialism, homophobia, ableism, etc.) as mutually constituted and interrelated. Advocating for gender equality and social justice means calling equally for racial justice, economic justice, environmental justice. We stand with those who condemn and speak out against systemic racism, structural violence, and racial injustices. We commit to diversity and anti-racism in our programming, and to our ongoing learning and self-reflexivity to build a just, equitable, and sustainable world.

What We Do
The Jane Hibbard Idema Women's and Gender Studies Center supports its mission through both its programming activities and its academic curriculum.

  • Offers an academic program, the Women's and Gender Studies Minor.
  • Offers a student internship program. For further information, contact the Women’s and Gender Studies Center in AB 263-265
  • Sponsors Aquinas’ only Summer Externship Program
  • Sponsors regular events and lectures
  • Acts as a clearinghouse for information about services available for women. Contact the center for more information.
  • Offers literature, books, and videos about women and gender issues. Available for students to borrow from the Jane Hibbard Idema Women’s and Gender Studies Center Library in AB 263-265
  • Supports women's academic growth at all stages of their lives.
  • Hosts the Gender, Identity and Sexualities Symposium, formerly known as the Resourceful Women Conference, an interdisciplinary academic undergraduate conference on women, gender, and identity.
  • Sponsors the Gender Studies Club, a student organization.
  • Offers innovative, interdisciplinary courses such as the Sister Story Oral History Project 

Our History
The initial interest in developing a Women's Studies program at Aquinas began in the fall of 1980 (Kozal, 1994). At that time, a small group of women - Jane Hibbard Idema, Sister Yvonne Greiner, and Betty Jennings - recognized the need for broadening the curriculum to include topics and concerns that were relevant to women. In part, their observations stemmed from their personal experiences with the Encore Program, which was geared toward returning, non-traditional women students.

Additionally, however, their ideas to develop courses in women's studies coincided with larger educational transformations that were occurring nationally in the United States in response to the second wave of the women's movement. Formal structures for courses in Women's Studies were becoming increasingly visible nationwide.

At Aquinas, the impact of such educational changes was reflected in a move to formalize the structures in which Women's Studies courses were offered. Subsequently, the Women's Studies Cognate was established in 1983 (Kozal, 1994). Its founding involved Sister Yvonne Greiner, Sister Nancy Flumerfelt, and Dr. Michaeleen Kelly. The Women’s Studies Cognate, a voluntary effort of women faculty, hosted many events including guest lectures, films, concerts, and workshops, including Aquinas’ first women’s  film festival, organized by Michaeleen Kelly as director in 1985 (Kelly, 2016).

Once the academic program was established it became important to designate a space where women could come at Aquinas to ask questions, receive guidance, and feel welcome. The Women's Studies Center was established in 1986.

In 2000, Mary Caroline "Twink" Frey and James E. McKay generously contributed an endowment which enables the Center to provide wonderful services and programs to the Aquinas community and the greater Grand Rapids area year after year.

Kozal, Patricia. 1994 (March). "Celebrating 10 Years of Women's Studies at Aquinas." Newsletter.

Our Name
On November 3, 2000, the Jane Hibbard Idema Women's Studies Center was re-named in honor of Jane Hibbard Idema for her work with the Encore for Women Program at Aquinas, which was designed to meet the needs of women returning to school. Jane's early interest in helping women improve the condition of their lives led to her involvement with a small group of women at Aquinas who together established the Women's Studies Center in 1986.

After 2000, under the leadership of Dr. Susan Haworth-Hoeppner, the Center brought highly visible programming and nationally- and internationally-recognized speakers to West Michigan, often in coordination with the West Michigan Women's Studies Council (WMWSC). This lecture series supported the WMWSC’s mission of “transforming the West Michigan Community through feminist ideals and practices” in order to “increase awareness of gender issues and to share ideas and work together on community projects that enhance the lives of women in West Michigan.” The initial Council included members from Aquinas College, Calvin College (now Calvin University), Davenport University, Grand Rapids Community College, Grand Valley State University, and Hope College, including three Aquinas faculty members: Dr. Susan Haworth-Hoeppener, Dr. Michelle DeRose, and, serving as archivist, Dr. Rebecca Coogan. 

The WMWSC’s lecture series was endorsed and sponsored by the Nokomis Foundation, which was established by Twink Frey to sponsor a series focused on issues concerning women and girls. The lecture series brought world-renowned speakers to Grand Rapids, including Margaret Atwood, Judy Chicago, Margaret Cho, Eve Ensler, Barbara Ehrenreich, and Molly Ivins, Vandana Shiva, and more. As the WMWSC’s 2005 mission declared, the speaker series supported “the feminist transformation of West Michigan through encouraging and equipping women for leadership through exposure to model women and ideas.” The WMWSC speaker series notably achieved a community-wide conversation, as community member reactions to speakers–both positive and negative–were regularly printed in Grand Rapids newspapers. 

Although the West Michigan Women’s Studies Council and the Nokomis Foundation are no longer active, their activist work still lives on. The idea of a feminist lecture series continues with JHIWGSC programming. The Center continued the tradition of bringing well-recognized speakers on women’s and gender issues to campus through the first decades of the twenty-first century. When the Resourceful Women Conference began at Aquinas College in 2001-2002, Dr. Alex Canady, the first Black female neurosurgeon practicing in the U.S., was the featured speaker. Today, the Resourceful Women Conference has evolved into the annual Gender, Identity, and Sexualities Symposium, where students present their research, creative, and academic projects through a gender lens. Additionally, the JHIWGSC programming includes a monthly HerStory Speaker presentation to hear the stories of women in leadership at Aquinas and in our greater community. 

The legacy of the WMWSC also lives on today in Women’s Studies programs, commonly called “Women’s and Gender Studies” or “Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies,” throughout the country. At Aquinas in 2023, following college-wide revisions to the curriculum, the Center’s name changed to reflect the revision of the academic program of Women’s Studies to Women’s and Gender Studies, a shift to greater currency and relevance in the field. Looking forward, the Jane Hibbard Idema Women’s and Gender Studies Center continues to empower a new generation of students.

Our Supporters
The Jane Hibbard Idema Women's and Gender Studies Center's accomplishments would be impossible without the help of the following:

The Mary Caroline "Twink" Frey and James E. McKay Endowment Fund
Community Liaisons

  • Margaret Idema
  • Kelli Langan-Pfister
  • Kathleen Ley Bruinsma
  • Ellyse (Vanderkamp) Hall ’16

Women’s and Gender Studies Curriculum Committee

  • Amy Dunham Strand (Women’s Studies, Co-Chair)
  • Rebecca Coogan (English)
  • J. Satya Lendrum (Sociology)
  • Julie Schatz-Stevens (Psychology)

Women's and Gender Studies Programming Board

  • Amy Dunham Strand (Women’s Studies, Chair)
  • Mel Beachneau (Student)
  • Lynn Atkins-Rykert (Business, Graduate Programs)
  • Brigid Avery (Advantage Center)
  • Hannah Bechtold (International Programs)
  • Esperanza Garcia (Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity)
  • Michael Ingram (Campus Ministry)
  • J. Satya Lendrum (Sociology)
  • Alicia Lloyd (Dean of Students)
  • Esme Ruiz (Student Activities and Orientation)
  • Nisha Van Laar (International Programs)
  • Molly Wilson (Psychology)
  • Kayla Willard (Student)

Gender, Identity, and Sexualities Symposium Committee (2024)

  • Amy Dunham Strand (Women’s and Gender Studies, Chair)
  • Penny Avery (Communication)
  • Rebecca Coogan (English) 
  • Jennifer Dawson (English)
  • Rebecca Humphrey (Biology)
  • Bethany Kilcrease (History)
  • J. Satya Lendrum (Sociology)
  • Molly Wilson (Psychology)

Gifts to the Center support the Jane Hibbard Idema Women's and Gender Studies Center programming efforts. To donate to the Center, visit the Office of Institutional Advancement and designate “Women’s & Gender Studies Center” on the dropdown menu.