Inside USD

Late Professor, Gender Studies Advocate’s Presence Still Inspires

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

The 18th annual Women’s Center and Women’s and Genders Studies’ banquet takes place tonight, May 7. This end-of-the-year banquet is a thank you for all the work done by students and staff. Kudos will flow freely during the dinner and awards program and prior to that, there’s a 60-minute presentation of Women’s and Gender Studies capstone research posters.

The banquet is a signature event. It’s one that Linda Alice May Perry (pictured, at right, in the center), a veteran USD Communication Studies professor, department administrator and director of gender studies always cherished. The event made her smile and gave her a great sense of pride seeing young women, future leaders, in her midst.

On Nov. 28, 2012, however, Perry passed away. It happened peacefully at her home, one week after she celebrated Thanksgiving and her birthday with family and friends. Tributes poured in from colleagues, teachers she mentored and Communication Studies students she taught.

Perry’s many accomplishments — she was the co-creator of the Communication Studies program that today is the largest major in the College of Arts and Sciences and was founder and co-director of the Gender Studies program — were shared at the USD Women of Impact luncheon in early December.

“Dr. Perry thoroughly integrated her research and teaching long before the ‘teacher-scholar’ model became the standard practice. Her books, chapters, articles and papers in the research areas of interpersonal and gender communication enriched the lives of her students,” College of Arts and Sciences Associate Dean Carole Huston said at the Women of Impact event. “Dr. Perry was an important voice in our discipline and a role model for our students.”

When Perry retired from USD in 1998, the Linda A.M. Perry Award for Outstanding Achievement was born. When it is awarded at the banquet tonight, this will mark the first time that the deserving female student recipient won’t get to share this proud moment with the award’s namesake.

“Linda was all about the value of the work that students were doing,” said USD English Professor Cynthia Caywood, a longtime colleague and the former co-director of the Gender Studies program with Perry. “Even in the midst of her real debilitating illness, Linda always made attending the banquet one of her greatest priorities. She wanted to meet, to see and honor the young women who were moving through the Women’s Center and the Women’s and Gender Studies programs. She believed in these young women, that they could go out into the world and make a difference in everyone’s lives, but women in particular.”

Huston said Perry, then department chair of Communication Studies, was a great mentor when she was hired in 1989.

“For the first few years, she steered me through our department and got me involved in an organization she was president of, co-chaired and set-up conferences for called the Organization for the Study of Communication, Language and Gender. She was amazingly well connected. She was a visionary. She had the idea that USD needed to be at the forefront of gender issues.”

Perry did her share to lobby the university. She wanted gender studies to become a major, Caywood said, a request that remains on the wish list of current Women’s and Gender Studies Director and Associate Professor of Philosophy, Lori Watson.

Said Huston: “Linda institutionalized the presence of gender issues at USD, to the point that it was not dismissible. It’s remained at the forefront and it has been supported, both on the academic side with the Women’s and Gender Studies program and the Student Affairs’ side with the Women’s Center and Rainbow Educators and others. There is so much more gender representation on campus now.”

Perry’s push for gender studies followed the creation of similar programs at other Southern California academic institutions.

“She truly believed USD would be a better place by having a Women’s and Gender Studies program and a Women’s Center,” Caywood said. “I think she saw both as an alternative to the more social and, oftentimes, more frivolous ways that women defined themselves on campus.”

Caywood spoke glowingly of Perry’s balanced personality. Her fight for more gender studies education was evident, but so, too, was her light-hearted approach.

“She was capable of being direct and fierce when something was wrong, but she had a great capacity, when faced with the difficulty of accomplishing something, to see the absurdity of either her reaction or reaction of the people who opposed her. She kept moving forward. She could laugh at herself or the situation. She didn’t get discouraged. She wasn’t resentful and she didn’t hold grudges. She’d find the humor in it, channel it and come back and try again.”

Caywood believes Erin Lovette-Colyer, director of the Women’s Center, shares Perry’s personality traits — a sense of humor combined with a dedication to high standards. She believes Lovette-Colyer and Watson both have USD’s female students’ best interests at heart.

“She was excited about the work Erin and Lori had done,” Caywood said. “They’re young, passionate women who bring new energy and prominence and humanity to their programs. What I hope and what I think Erin and Lori can carry forward is an enormous amount of respect for students who have either given their time to the Women’s Center or chosen to minor in Women and Gender Studies and participate in its capstone course.”

Tonight’s banquet won’t have Perry’s physical presence, but her spirit will certainly be in the hearts and minds of all in the room.

— Ryan T. Blystone

Donations can be made to the Linda A.M. Perry Scholarship Memorial fund at the University of San Diego by contacting Valerie Attisha, director of development in the College of Arts and Sciences, at 619-260-6890 or by email at vattisha@sandiego.edu

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