GWS Spotlight

Graduate Student Spotlight on Kate Irwin

9/14/2014  8:00 am



Katie Irwin is a Doctoral Student in the Department of Communication, and a Gender and Women's Studies Graduate Minor. She can be contacted by students interested in joining GWS at Follow Katie on Twitter at @katieirwin


Why are you minoring in GWS?

Before I officially began my doctoral program in Communication, I knew I wanted to be a Gender and Women’s Studies Graduate Minor. Broadly speaking, my research has mostly cohered around women, politics, and power, and has typically been situated in the early 20th century U.S. context. I have always been drawn to history’s “lesser-knowns,” and the graduate minor inspires me to pursue my passion for recovering women’s voices and narratives and understanding how they contribute to U.S. rhetorical and political histories. GWS encourages me to examine how gender and gendered identities get constructed, contested, perpetuated, disciplined, and transformed; moreover, it requires that I also consider how gender participates in intersecting systems of power (race, sexuality, class, ability, nationality, and so on) and how those intersections manifest in people’s lives. My training in GWS has provided me with critical perspectives that complement my training in rhetorical studies and that I can draw upon in my research, pedagogy, and personal life.


What are your academic and/or career interests?

My research focuses on the rhetorical practices of rural women as they engaged 1920s U.S. reform efforts. I find this time period intriguing because politicians and public intellectuals had declared that a “rural problem” had penetrated the nation, and they struggled to figure out how to help rural people and their practices transition into the modern industrial age. Some of these folks, most notably President Theodore Roosevelt, cited rural women as the population that required the most attention during this transition. My dissertation will examine how these women negotiated, legitimized, and compromised their identities and practices as they confronted the government’s reform agenda and participated in three different rhetorical spaces: a women’s agricultural periodical, a four-day conference, and rural women’s clubs. As I move ahead with developing the project and engaging with the materials, I’m interested in thinking about what these materials might reveal regarding women’s political activism, civic responsibility, and rhetorical agency.


What have you enjoyed the most about GWS?

My favorite part about being a member of the GWS community is connecting with graduate students and faculty from other departments and campus units. I have grown as a scholar, and more generally, as a person, by hearing the different experiences and approaches to scholarship that they bring to the table. The relationships I’ve built within GWS are so important to me and have greatly enriched my time at the university. And, I really enjoy all of the opportunities that GWS provides for people to gather and discuss topical issues.


What has been your favorite class in GWS and why?

Looking back, I’d say that GWS 550: Feminist Theories in the Humanities was my favorite GWS class. I took the class during the Fall 2012 semester when it was taught by Professor Samantha Frost. There were about 15 of us in the class – quite large for a graduate seminar! – and we read a book every week for 16 weeks. I enjoyed this class because the content covered a wide variety of challenging ideas, and Sam helped us struggle through them and make sense of the material every Tuesday from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. She taught us how to identify when an argument fell apart; more importantly, I think, she taught us how to be critical in a manner that was sharp yet graceful. This beautiful community emerged out of that seminar room in the old building on 6th Street. I miss that class and getting to see everyone in it every week.


How did you spend your summer break?

I experienced a few milestones this summer: I held a pre-prospectus meeting with my dissertation committee, I began my Ph.D. exams, and I took my first dissertation-related archival research trip. I also spent two months developing an online version of CMN 340: Visual Politics (the class I currently teach) for Summer 2015. And, I attended a few great talks at the Women’s Resources Center on campus. All of that kept me plenty busy, but I had some downtime, too (see below!).


What do you do outside of class? 

I am happiest when I am outside, so when I’m not on campus or working from home, you can usually find me doing a few things: running, hiking, kayaking, and pretty much anything active. Of course, I love spending time with friends, and I have a sassy cat who often demands much of my attention. I only get to see my family 2-3 times a year, so I spend a lot of time talking with them on the phone every week. Around town, I often spend time at the Champaign Public Library and Urbana’s Market at the Square. I also volunteer at Courage Connection, a really excellent local organization that provides a variety of services to women and children who are experiencing homelessness and/or domestic violence.


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