Tracy Meyers

Professor Uses Activism to Engage Students in Social Issues

The empowerment of women and social equity for all people are at the forefront of Dr. Tracy Woodard-Meyers’ mission as a professor, activist, and volunteer.

Prior to arriving at Valdosta State University in 1994 as assistant professor of sociology, she worked with state and federal agencies assisting children and as a marriage and family therapist.

“I always wanted to teach,” said Woodard-Meyers, who received a Doctor of Philosophy from Florida State University, “and I always had an interest in women’s issues and advocating for social justice.”

In 2005, Meyers became interim director of Women’s Studies and first on the agenda was the inclusion of gender to the curriculum.

“We talk about labels; how we put people in boxes within our society…we have to be labeled. This is how our society values people. It is not just women, the pressure that men have in our society to be masculine and women to be feminine and how you are devalued when you do not prescribe to the stereotypical gender roles,” said Meyers. “We are gendering every day; it is so ingrained in us.”

Woodard-Meyers' goal was achieved in 2007 when the program was named Women’s and Gender Studies; today it has more than 60 minors. Meyers continues to work on the development of the program with the goal of offering a bachelor’s degree in women and gender studies.

Woodard-Meyers is proud of the community activism of the program.

Each year the students organize and host events on campus that bring awareness to domestic violence, women’s sexuality, and the avocation for social justice.

“In Women’s and Gender Studies it is more than academics. We consider ourselves ‘activist scholars’ because you cannot have feminism without activism,” said Woodard-Meyers, who was appointed director of Women’s and Gender Studies in 2007. “Not only do the students learn about the inequalities, but they are trying to right the wrongs and work toward social justice.”

In October, Women’s and Gender Studies focuses attention on domestic violence through the distribution of purple ribbons (national symbol for awareness of domestic violence) and the Clothesline Project and Handprint Project.

The Clothesline Project is a visual display that brings attention to violence against women. Throughout the main campus, a clothesline displays individually designed shirts. Each shirt represents a woman's particular experience with domestic violence and abuse.

Woodard-Meyers began the Clothesline Project several years ago as an assignment to students in her sociology classes.

“Students are asked to design a T-shirt in honor of someone they knew that had been a victim of violence,” said Woodard-Meyers, who has served on the board of directors for The Haven, a local shelter for battered women. “The project has been ongoing for more than 10 years. We started with a small display and now have more than 800 shirts.”

The Handprint Project is an opportunity for men on campus to join the dialogue about violence against women. Men are asked to take a pledge not to commit or condone violence and to seal the pledge by placing their painted or cut-out handprint and name on a display board.

“I turned over all activities to the students, which is great because it should be student driven,” said Wooard-Meyers, who served as president of VSU’s Faculty Senate for two years. “That is one of my proudest moments. I have been mentoring these students to become community leaders and campus organizers and they have done a great job.”

In the spring, Women’s and Gender Studies hosts events in recognition of national Women’s History Month and Sexual Violence Awareness Month, in March and April.

The annual production of The Vagina Monologues has grown into one of the most popular student productions on campus.

Based on an Obie Award-winning play written by Even Ensler, The Vagina Monologues is a celebration of female sexuality in all its complexity and mystery. It encourages the audience to think of women as sexual beings who are entitled to express sexual feeling and enjoy sexual experiences free of shame and guilt. It also encourages people to think about the effects of violence against women, not only those personally involved but the lives of those around them.

“The Vagina Monologues celebrates women’s sexuality, and it shows that women are sexual beings,” said Woodard-Meyers. “The cast has grown from seven to 22 and it is all student run. We used to have to beg people to be in the show, and now we have auditions.”

Woodard-Meyers is proud that the show raises awareness on sexual violence against women.

“It has done a great job educating the campus on what women, especially students, experience sexually on our campus,” said Woodard-Meyers.  “I think one thing we have tried to do through our programs is help people understand that there are numerous types and definitions for sexual violence. Everyone thinks of stranger rape as the one true definition for rape, but there are numerous types of rape many of which go unrecognized as sexual violence because of our lack of education.”

The Bandana Project is one of Women’s and Gender Studies' newest projects, which focuses on the issue of workplace sexual violence against women migrant farmworkers in the United States. White bandanas are used as a symbol of the sexual exploitation of women farmworkers because they use their clothes, including bandanas, to protect themselves from sexual harassment and sexual assault in the workplace.

Woodard-Meyers first became aware of the issues of migrant farmworkers and immigration while on a trip to El Paso, Texas.

She has taken VSU students to the U.S.-Mexico border to investigate social inequalities of Hispanic immigrants. As part of VSU’s Quality Enhancement Plan, Woodard-Meyers, along with Drs. Kathryn Schmidt and Shani P. Gray, received funds to engage undergraduate students in research associated with borderland immigration issues. The students interviewed and observed the social construction of race, gender, class, and ethnicity and impact of globalization on the El Paso–Ciudad Juárez border region.

Woodard-Meyers continues to work with local migrant farmworkers through the South Georgia Farmworker Health Project, located in south Lowndes County. She has served on and been actively involved in a number of community agencies including the American Red Cross, where she was recognized for her efforts with shelter coordination during the Hurricane Floyd evacuation in 1999.

She is the recipient of the Centennial Laureate Award, a prestigious alumni honor from Florida State University’s College of Human Services, for her significant sustained contributions in professional work that address the health and development of individuals, families, and communities.