May 7, 2010

Giving Her Students a Gift of Independence: Jill Wood

View all Women’s Health Heroes. Voting closes May 14. Background info here

Entrants: Nikki Hatza and Farnaz Farhi
Nominee: Jill Wood, Senior Lecturer in Women’s Studies at Penn State University

As our undergraduate educations draw to a close, and we reflect back upon the classes and people who have most influenced our lives, one professor stands out in particular.

Dr. Jill Wood, a senior lecturer in the Women’s Studies department at Penn State, is far more than the professor whose Introduction to Women’s Studies class inspired us to major in the area. Jill has empowered us, through her classes, her mentoring and her friendship, to be in control of our bodies and our lives.

Taught from an open-minded, inviting, and yet unapologetically feminist perspective, Jill’s eye-opening courses on women’s health and critical issues of reproduction have given us the tools we need to remove our blinders and see the ways in which society has objectified, over-sexualized, commodified and exploited women’s bodies — our bodies. In doing so, she has shown us the strength in understanding the power dynamics of our bodies as women, and has empowered us to take control of our lives through this knowledge of ourselves.

As starry-eyed, young freshmen in Jill’s Introduction to Women’s Studies course, (though today we are embarrassed to admit it) we had never even heard of home birth or midwives, while Diva Cups and home-made eco-friendly sanitary pads were foreign to us as well. Growing up in mainstream American society, we had never imagined an alternative to the institutionalized, medicalized vision of birth.

Learning about the cascade of interventions and disempowerment associated with medicalized hospital birth shook our foundations. We distinctly remember asking ourselves, if we had never heard of home births, what else is there that we don’t know? And what about all the other young women who won’t take this class with Jill and gain this integral knowledge of women’s health? We were at once captivated, shocked and inspired — driven to share the knowledge Jill gave us with the other women in our lives: friends, mothers and sisters alike.

This class was just the beginning. We dove into Women’s Studies, signing up for all of Jill’s higher-level women’s health courses. As we discussed politics of reproduction, issues of infertility and alternatives to medicalized birth, our understandings of women’s health within the context of our own lives grew exponentially. Informed with knowledge and empowered with a sense of agency, we took on the challenge of sharing this knowledge with fellow women at Penn State through activism projects that extended far beyond Jill’s classes and had lasting effects on our communities and ourselves.

Jill’s teaching style, a true embodiment of the democratic and open-minded nature of feminist pedagogies, has provided a unique and multi-dimensional educational experience. With her courses centered on the true stories of real women, Jill has invited us to reflect upon our own experiences. Connecting with our peers in understanding our own struggles with our bodies and our lives has validated our experiences as women. By highlighting women’s stories within an academic setting, presenting facts and encouraging students to reach their own conclusions and understanding, Jill has given us, her female students, a gift of independence in a way that our society has systematically failed to do.

Jill has shared her stories with us and has guided us as an academic and personal mentor, supporting us as we grew from uninformed freshman to educated, critically thinking, and driven young feminist women. Her influence on our lives is invaluable, and will be deeply reflected as we step forth into the word, armed with the information that will empower us to understand our bodies, our health and our lives.

As we carry her lessons with us, Jill’s dedication to women through her feminist women’s health teachings will span generations and touch many lives in tremendous ways. Our nomination for Jill Wood is in thanks to her, for giving us the knowledge we needed to control our bodies and live our lives.


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