Dr. Anne Ferguson will retire this year from her position as co-Director of the Center for Gender in Global Context (GenCen) and from the Department of Anthropology where she has been a professor since 1993. She leaves a remarkable legacy at MSU, including the creation of GenCen and the Gender Justice and Environmental Change (GJEC) graduate specialization.
Dr. Ferguson’s research and teaching have focused largely on land and water issues, tenure, governance, and social inequalities including gender. An interest in gender emerged in part from her personal experience. When she attended graduate school at MSU in the 1970s, she faced barriers that discriminated against women, such as being disqualified for in-state tuition because of her marital status and denied assistantships on the grounds that she ‘might get pregnant.’ After switching both her program and research focus—in part to accommodate these difficulties—she earned her Ph.D. in anthropology with a focus on Latin America.
While still in school, Dr. Ferguson took a position with DAI (Development Association Incorporated, a consulting firm in Washington, DC) as the gender specialist for a large maize project in what was then Zaire. After two years of this work, she returned to MSU to finish her PhD and accepted a job with the USAID-funded Bean/Cowpea Collaborative Research Support Program (CRSP) as their gender specialist. She spent 15 years with the project, carrying out research on legume production in Latin America and Africa and helping universities abroad integrate gender into their agricultural research programs.
Through CRSP she became involved in Southern and Eastern Africa, and eventually Malawi. Dr. Ferguson’s research continues to focus on Malawi 30 years later, where she works with the numerous colleagues and friends she has made there. “Besides my dissertation, I have never done a stand-alone project,” she says. “I have always had collaborators in all the countries where I worked.”
Although her tenure home is Anthropology, much of Dr. Ferguson’s work has involved programs elsewhere on campus. Following her work with CRSP, she became the fourth director of Women and International Development Program (WID), where she worked with Rob Glew (CASID) to jointly obtain a Title VI grant from the Department of Education. The grant is largely used to fund graduate students interested in gender and development learn the language pertinent to their research. While running WID, Dr. Ferguson created the GJEC specialization with Dr. Tracy Dobson (Fisheries and Wildlife). This unique program brings together graduate students from a variety of disciplines and equips them to incorporate gender into research on environmental issues.
In 2006, Dr. Ferguson worked with Dr. Lisa Fine (History) to create GenCen by combining the then-defunct women’s studies major and WID. GenCen continues to be one of the most innovative gender centers in the US because, unlike a traditional department, GenCen is housed within International Studies and Programs (ISP) and has over 200 affiliated faculty. This structure allows GenCen to engage both domestic and international issues while reaching across colleges and disciplines, constantly refreshing the curriculum with new faculty.
Through GenCen, Dr. Ferguson has been involved in integrating a gender dimension into multiple large grants within the colleges of Agriculture and Natural Resources and Social Science, helping to ensure that MSU’s activities promote equality. She has also been deeply involved in strategic partnership coordination, which includes over 40 faculty currently engaged in research in Malawi, the largest number of any US university. In recent years, Dr. Ferguson has also taken on a leadership role in ISP, first as Interim Associate Dean of Research and now as Interim Senior Associate Dean for Strategic Engagement.
Dr. Ferguson and Dr. Lisa Fine were also honored this spring at the Lavender Reception and Mosaic Awards as recipients of the 2016 Beverwyk Award (read more). The award acknowledges the GenCen directors for the creation of the LBGTQ+ Studies minor, which became available in 2015. Deanna Hurlbert, Director of the LBGT Resource Center, writes: “Lisa and Anne have been relentless advocates for sexuality and gender scholarship at Michigan State University and demonstrated brilliant administrative leadership as the architects of LGBTQ+ Studies. As of this school year, 68 students are working towards earning the LGBTQ+ Studies minor. In addition, the GenCen regularly offers 23 courses with significant LGBTQ content that are accessible to all students. Anne and Lisa have not just expanded the academic portfolio of this University, but have validated the humanity, the history, and the future of people marginalized by their sexuality or gender.”
Although much of Dr. Ferguson’s work has taken place outside of the Department, she has been very active on graduate student committees, serving 15-20 at any given time for most of her career. She considers training students to be one the most important aspect of her work, as students become the next generation of scholars. Her students have gone on to succeed in a variety of applied and university positions, and continue to stay in touch with her.
This article appears in our Spring 2016 newsletter. Read the entire newsletter here.