Dr. Irene Hanson Frieze Oral History Interview
click HERE for video

Dublin Core


Dr. Irene Hanson Frieze Oral History Interview
click HERE for video




In a personal interview, Dr. Irene Hanson Frieze speaks with Cameryn Gray about her experience founding the Women's Studies program (now GSWS), her activism at UCLA and Pitt, and her time on the Faculty Senate.


Gray, Cameryn


January 4th and 17th, 2023


Frieze, Irene Hanson


Copyright Undetermined. The copyright and related rights status of this Item has been reviewed by the organization that has made the Item available, but the organization was unable to make a conclusive determination as to the copyright status of the Item. Please refer to the organization that has made the Item available for more information. You are free to use this Item in any way that is permitted by the copyright and related rights legislation that applies to your use. http://rightsstatements.org/vocab/UND/1.0/


United States

Oral History Item Type Metadata

Original Format




Bit Rate/Frequency



Irene Frieze. I use Irene Hansen Frieze as my professional name.

I guess I'm being interviewed because I was one of the founders of the program, one of the three people that actually got

the whole program going, which was called the women's studies program in those days.

So I don't know if you need more of an introduction.

No, that's completely fine.

So that actually segues into my first question, which was, you began your career

at the University on the steering committee to begin the Women's Studies Program.

So can you talk a little bit about your career leading up to this and kind of what it was like to be on campus that semester?

Okay, so I don't know how much detail you want because I did a lot of things.

I was a graduate student at UCLA, and that was a time

late 60s and early 70s was a time of a lot of things happening in the world at that point.

So I was involved in a lot of different things there, and I don't know how much time you want to spend on that.

We can spend a long time talking about that.

So, for example,(00:59)
one of the things I worked on was setting up the Los Angeles Women's Center, which was just set up during that period.

One of the things I was particularly interested in doing is helping-- We offered a lot of classes to people,

things like how to change a tire

and things like that, but we also did more like kind of academic classes.

So I helped develop a course on psychology of women just as a free course for people that were interested.(01:36)
This was long before Zoom or anything like

that existed, so it was an in person kind of class where people would come and we'd talk about issues.

And I learned a lot of things when I was there at the women's center in Los Angeles.

There we saw some fantastic art exhibits,

like-- I'm blocking out her name now, the dinner plate thing, if you're familiar with that.

I don't know. Anyway, there was also fantastic.(02:06)
They took over a house and made it into a big art exhibit and had special rooms.

One of the rooms that was most memorable to me was it was like you were a young

child and everything was huge, so it was like what the world was like to a young person.

So it was a great time to be there in Los Angeles.

Lots of things happening at that time.(02:30)
So I was also active at UCLA itself,

so we used to set up conferences and stuff there, and I had a group of other graduate students, and we worked together

to develop a psychology of women course at UCLA, which didn't exist at that time, and offered it just before I left.

We offered the first class in that, and the group of women there had

an ongoing seminar where we kind of taught ourselves what was known about psychology of women in those days.

We ended up writing a book, publishing one of the first textbooks in that field based on the class.(03:07)
Wow! So it was a pretty active time for me and a wonderful time for me.

I really did not want to leave UCLA because I had these wonderful women and all these things happening.

It was so exciting. But

all the others were getting ready to graduate too, and so I decided I better start looking for a job.

So I looked around at jobs, and a job I saw that just looked fantastic for me was this job at Pitt.

So I applied for it and was hired.(03:36)
So that was great.

To me it was a dream job.

So I was hired in psychology, but part of my duties were to help develop a woman studies program.

And one of the first things that happened there in terms of that is that Psychology decided I should be psychology,

and so they didn't really want to count anything I did in women's studies as part of my academic work.

So that was pretty upsetting.(04:08)
Yeah, absolutely.

But there wasn't much I could do about it.

I mean, I was technically in psychology,

and this was kind of like a secondary appointment, although they didn't even talk about it that way.

They just talked about it as volunteer work, so that was frustrating.

And so my experiences coming from UCLA to Pittsburgh were very mixed in that sense, because(04:37)
on the one hand, there was the excitement of trying to build the program, but on the other hand,

there was this kind of actual hostility, I would say, in psychology about my doing that.

So that was always a problem.

Thank you so much for sharing all of that. Thank you.

Yeah, the other thing, just aside.(05:00)
Is that I don't know if you know how people used to dress in the late 60s and

70s, but we had long hair, which I still have, but now I keep it all tied up on top of my head.

And we used to wear these kind of long, flowing dresses and stuff, sandals.

So when I first came, that's how I would dress, and people would just stare at me on the street.

Pittsburgh was just not the same as Los Angeles at that time, and the attitudes were quite different.

So I had to feel like, how am I going to fit in to this environment? Absolutely.

Did you notice more of a change in the way(05:36)
that people kind of perceived or treated you among the faculty or the students?

Which ones did you feel like kind of looked at you on the street more?

Oh, everybody did. Everybody?

Yeah, everybody did.

I wasn't like a normal Pittsburgh person at that time.

Now I've spent more of my life(05:55)
in Pittsburgh than I did in Los Angeles, so that's where I was born and grew up, is in Los Angeles.

So Pittsburgh feels like home to me, but at that time, it definitely was not home to me.

I really felt alien, an alien kind of creature in here. Absolutely.

I mean, you've definitely gotten to see it change, at least.

I mean, in my opinion.

Absolutely. Yeah.(06:16)
It's a very different place now than it was then.

So you were the director, actually, of the Women's Studies program from 1984 to 89, is that correct?

Yeah. So I was involved.

So we had what was called a steering

committee, and Mary Briscoe was the first director, but the three of us really kind of worked

on figuring out how the program should be set up, how are we going to set this up, what are we going to do?(06:46)
And at that time, again, as I mentioned,

there was a fair amount of hostility across the university about this having been set up.

So it was set up really as a kind of demand from the Faculty Senate, which is the faculty organization.

I don't know if you're familiar with the Faculty Senate.

Students were involved.

There were students that were very active in both.(07:09)
Like, we were interviewed-- when we came in to interview for the job, there were students that were interviewing us,

but that didn't feel strange to me because the students were very active at UCLA, too.

So I just kind of thought of that as normal, but I think it was not normal

because that did not happen with other faculty searches, as I discovered later at that time.

Nowadays it's more common, but at that time, it was not common in other things.

And there were a lot of graduate students teaching courses for the program before the program existed.(07:43)
They were very active as well.

So we had undergraduates and graduate students.

Everybody was on this steering committee that was interested and we just kind of had to figure out what we're going to do.

Because we came in, there was a set of classes that existed

already, but many of them were being taught by graduate students who were about to leave and go off to their careers.

So we knew we were going to lose those classes,(08:10)
but we didn't really kind of know how we're going to get courses and what that's going to mean and so on.

How are we going to get people to take the courses to be interested in these courses?

So the first thing we did was develop

courses in our own department as well as teaching an Introduction to Women's Studies.(08:33)
The three of us co taught that course.

We also were developing like I developed a Psychology of women course in Psychology

and Maureen developed a Women's History course and Marie Briscoe had a Women in Literature course.

So we developed these courses in our own departments as well as working on the program.

But we were very concerned because, again, this is a period of time when

the administration really was not awfully friendly and we had very minimal we had like one(09:01)
little room that was the program room

and we had like a part time staff person that worked for us.

But our resources were very minimal, our budget was pitiful, was almost nothing.

So we were really worried about how this program is going to survive.

So what we decided is that what we really

needed to do at that point in time was to make the program(09:32)
feel credible to the administration so

they wouldn't just kill us, which has happened with a number of programs around the country.

So we tried to really work on the academic component of the program and build that up and find people to teach

courses and get people interested in the courses and figure out ways that people will want to take the courses.

One reason we developed these courses

in the department-- so there was a-- I think it was called Africana American Studies at that point.(10:06)
I'm not sure what it's-- I believe it's still the same thing, actually It changed back and forth.

At one point it was Black studies.

I don't remember exactly how that all worked, but they had a very different model.

So they set themselves very early as a department and we could see what was happening

there is that nobody was taking their courses, because why would they come and take

courses in a different department when they had to do their major and take all the courses in the major?

And we didn't even have a minor at that point or a certificate at that point.

We had to get that approved and developed and all of that.

So there was no real incentive except just pure interest for people to take(10:51)
a Women's Studies course,

So that's why we were trying to develop these courses in departments because they would count for credit in that department.

So we worked a lot on those kinds of issues over the years.

By the time I became director, I feel like we had achieved that.

They Saw us as a legitimate program at that point.

And there were some administrators who were friendly to us.

Many of them were still not friendly, but some administrators were friendly.

So I was really feeling at that point that what we needed to do was to do more outreach, reach out to the community,

and get community people more kind of engaged in some of these issues that we were dealing with.

Yeah, absolutely.

I guess so that kind of leads into a separate question I had,

where by the time you became the director in 1984, did you see that as a continuation of what you were doing,

or did you see it as, like, an opportunity to maybe make some changes that you had been pushing for for a while?

Did you feel like you had more power in this position to make changes that you wanted to make in the program?

The director, at that point, it wasn't even the director we called her the coordinator

really didn't have a lot of power because the steering committee really made all the decisions.(12:14)

So I think the steering committee was more powerful then than it is now.


So I've been kind of pushing for this, and I don't remember the details now of exactly how this happened,

but I think I made it clear that if I became director, these are the things I would want to work on.

People kind of said, if you want to work on it, great.(12:37)
Please work on it.

One of the things we developed, and we may have even I can't remember exactly when we started this,

but we started offering these teaching conferences for faculty all over the area, all over the region.

So there were courses being developed at Duquesne, for example.

I don't think there were any at CMU, but there were some at Duquesne

in particular, some at Carlow, I think, but also at other schools all around the whole region.

So we call it the Tristate teaching conference. Okay.

And we started inviting faculty from all these other colleges(13:15)
who had no program of their own.

So these would be individual faculty that were teaching these courses without any support at all.

And so we invited them and we would have workshops about all of us, for example,

teaching psychology courses, or everybody teaching women in literature courses, and they would get together

and share a syllabi and talk about resources and kind of what subject areas we were thinking.

So it was kind of trying to expand into the academic community around and do what we could.

We saw ourselves as kind of a center,(13:53)
as the biggest program at that point, and that we could serve that kind of leadership role in doing that.


So those programs continued for many years, although it was interesting because one

of the people that worked with me on it was one of my graduate students at that time, Maurie McHugh,

and she eventually started teaching at Indiana University of Pennsylvania in Women's Studies.

Okay. And she kind of started taking over

running those programs after a while, so it kind of passed on, but we kept doing those programs.

And she was active in the steering committee as well when she was a graduate student at Pitt.

The other thing I started to do was to set up conferences, like with the YMCA.(14:42)

So these would deal with and we would

coordinate with the YMCA, and these would deal with women's issues, like women's mental health, for example.

We would have a whole day workshop

on that and have speakers come in and talk about that and tried to reach out to the community.

Yeah, absolutely.

So we did several of those kinds of workshops over the years that I was director.

I mean, in my research, I saw some advertisements for some workshops like that.

And I just that was my my initiative of trying to do that.

The other thing we did is we actually had a grant to build a program for women in engineering at Pitt.


So I worked with some faculty

in engineering to do that, to try to bring more women into engineering,

because I think there was one at that time, and we both worked on that together.

So, as I say, I think one of my things that I felt was one of my goals as director was just reach out to bring

others into the program and to share what we had learned and so on with other people.

I think that's a really great initiative. I mean, as somebody who's

in the department at the moment, I would say that we're starting to work on outreach.

But when I came in last year, it did feel very insular,

and so I'm really happy to see that that's kind of something that we're trying to at least start up again or continue on.(16:11)
That would be great if that could happen. Yeah.

I mean, we're starting to a little bit like step by step, we're holding more public events

and trying to invite more students, because I think that through students is how you reach the rest of the community.

And so I'm happy to be a part of that,

and I'm glad that that's something that we're really starting to take the initiative on again.

That sounds great.


So based on your really impressive career, I mean, I read your CV that was very impressive.

I can see how dedicated you are,

not only to academics, but to activism within your community and in the school like at Pitt

from your answers, I can kind of tell, but how politically active were you on campus during your career?

And did you ever have any specific clashes with administration that really stuck out to you?

There were people in my department that were very hostile towards me, overtly hostile.

And at one point, this guy that kind of got power(17:14)
for complicated reasons just decided that I shouldn't be part of the graduate program.

And he got the other people to agree.

So they pushed me out of the ability to

offer graduate training in social psychology where I had been for years, the whole time I'd been there,

which was devastating to me because I really loved working with graduate students.

It was one of the things I really have always enjoyed.

So I did fight that as best I could, although nobody was supportive.

And they finally agreed I could bring in graduate students as like, independent study students.

Okay but that's really not a good graduate training model at all.

It's a terrible model.

And there were a few students who it made sense for that I did have over the years, but very, very few after that.

So at that point, I was devastated.

I was really upset.

And so I started to look outside(18:11)
the department for things that I could be involved with because I couldn't stand being in the department.

People were so mean to me and so hostile.

I couldn't there was a period of time when I kind of walked down the hall and people would turn the other way.(18:26)
I mean, literally, people would not talk to me, which is horrible.

So a friend of mine persuaded me to apply for a Fulbright, which I did.

I went and was in Eastern Europe for a while and did some research over there.

But the other thing I decided to do is to get more involved in the Senate, the Faculty Senate.

So I'd always been kind of involved

with some of the Senate committees, but I decided to run for Senate office, and I got elected.(18:58)

so I actually became a Senate officer for many years and was president for a year of the Faculty Senate.

So that's the group which the union is kind of taking over now.

But that was the only group that was

the voice of the faculty that could speak to the administration and speak to them directly.

So when you asked did I ever have a clash with the administration?

Yes, I constantly had clashes with the administration.

So one of the things you mentioned somewhere was about the

the health benefits,(19:35)
the health insurance benefits for not just faculty, but also staff.

That was one of the first issues we got involved with.

So the faculty senate was very active on that particular issue,

and even to the point where I was vice president at that time, but even to the point where we met

with some people from the board of directors to see if we could get them to change some of their policies.

and then there were all these protests and stuff around the chancellor's house and that kind of thing.

But faculty as well as students were involved with that.

Yes, absolutely.

So that was one of our first big clashes, but there were a whole series of them after that.

One of the things I also got very involved with.

So one of the first things I did as an officer was every year there's a Senate plenary, which is a big university wide

conference one day where we bring in speakers and have a day long thing with speakers and so on.

So it was on women,(20:36)
and the situation of women at Pitt was the topic, and they let me do that as a new officer coming in.

I could set that up.

So we did.

We had this great attendance and all kinds of people talking about things.

And in the process of doing that, we set up these little

committees that were doing, like, little workshops independent of this plenary day.

And those committees continued on.

We set up a mentoring committee, actually, that worked with staff because we heard that as a need.(21:11)
And another committee that kind of grew out of that is the situation

for the faculty that were hired that did not have tenure were not in the tenure stream.

So these are the faculty some people refer

to as adjuncts, but many of them are full time people, but they're never in the tenure stream.

They're primarily teaching faculty.

Now, they have a different name, but at that time, they were called non tenure stream faculty.(21:40)
So I chaired a committee for several years

that developed a whole set of requests in terms of these faculty that they should have.

For example,

before that, they rarely were able to participate in any kind of faculty meetings


So we advocated for them being invited to faculty meets, especially since a lot(22:02)
of these faculty meets were talking about curriculum, and these are people teaching, but they weren't invited to the meetings.

It was just so blatantly unfair.

Right, yeah, absolutely.

As I say,

we worked on these recommendations that we bring to the administration through the Senate Council and through the assembly.

And fortunately, at that time,(22:26)
And fortunately, at that time,

Patty Beeson was the provost, and she was actually pretty responsive and really receptive to this.

Okay, so she accepted these recommendations.

That's wonderful. Yeah. So there were a whole set

of recommendations we made to try to make the climate better for these(22:49)
faculty that we succeeded in doing.

Now, unfortunately, some of the things we

recommended that were supposed to have been implemented never did get implemented, which is annoying.

And part of that, I think,

is because when the new provost came in, she just wasn't as interested in these issues as Patty was.


I mean, I do think we see a pattern of being promised things and then not getting them.

Yes, you've probably experienced that as well.(23:17)

I did have a lot of clashes with the administration as I say I kind of moved my activism in those directions.

The other thing we used to have, especially when Patty was provost, is that every year there would be a report

on the situation for women faculty at the university, and we'd see actual data and numbers about

how many people were being hired, women were being hired, different departments and so on.

They've stopped doing that.(23:49)
Yes, they have.

I was going to say, I haven't heard of this.


Yeah, things kind of got worse, I think, under this provost that we have.

So kind of throwing a curveball question wise here, because I didn't write this one down.

It just kind of just popped into my head.(24:10)
But you had a pretty not sudden but you

had a shift from being a grad student activist to being someone who is on the faculty as an activist.

So did you have any perspective shifts in that change?

Did you kind of see your student activist

in a different light as someone who was taking activism from the standpoint of someone on the faculty?

Or did you find that your perspective didn't change very much?(24:36)
I don't feel like it changed very much.

Again, in those early years, we had a lot of students on the steering

committee, and this was the committee that ran the program, so they had an equal vote to everybody else.

So I felt like I was actually actively encouraging.

Like Maureen, for example, went on and took over this particular conference.

Yeah, absolutely. Yeah.(25:02)
We were doing some several national conferences for what's called the Association for Women in Psychology.

We did Pittsburgh conferences there, and I had a whole bunch of graduate students that helped run those

conferences, and they were very active in that I felt like I just saw them as colleagues.

They were kind of like me and yeah, we were all working on these things together.


So in 2014, the program name was changed.(25:35)
This is something I definitely wanted to touch on.

It was changed from women's studies to gender.

Sexuality and Women's Studies.

And you were vocal in one article, I believe, for The New York Times, that you were slightly averse to that change.

So do you want to kind of elaborate on that a little bit?

We're trying to contextualize the history of the entire program.

So of the three of us, I was the only one that kind of remained with the program.

The other two went on to do other things and kind of dropped out of the program.

But I stayed active in the program through most of my period at Pitt.

But I felt like over time, the program was becoming more and more humanities focused.

There were fewer and fewer people in anything other than humanities,

and I felt more and more kind of being pushed out that people didn't seem to think what I

had to say was important, and they didn't, in my point of view, at one point, we had a discussion about the terms.

And I go back now, this is

like around 2010, maybe, the definitions of the terms sex and gender.

And in my mind, those terms mean very different things.


But the other members of the steering committee told me there's absolutely no

difference in those two terms, that they should just be considered all the same thing.


So when they started talking about

changing the name of the program, they said, well, we should be the gender and Sexuality program.

That includes women, of course.

But in my mind, it didn't.

It was not the same thing, not having a focus on women.

It was a much different focus.

And there was a kind of thing like

that that happened in psychology, where at one point we were teaching psychology of women

and we were forced to change the course to psychology of gender because that was seen as more inclusive.

Right. But in my mind, it became a very different course.

Yeah, of course.(27:52)
So I didn't see them as the same thing. Okay.

And another time, I remember talking to people about the sexuality course that was being

developed in women's still at that time, women's studies, and there was no mention of pregnancy.

And for my point of view, pregnancy is such a fundamental issue for women sexuality.


can't ignore that.

But it wasn't even part of the course. Okay.

I just felt like, I don't belong here anymore.

These people are so different from me.

I stayed in the steering committee long

enough because when they wanted to change the name, they wanted to drop women altogether.

Right. And I really thought very strongly that we should at least keep the name in there.

And so they reluctantly added it at the end of the list, where most programs around the country,

although they've added sexuality and gender to their names, they still have women first.

Pitt was one of the exceptions to put women last.


So I wasn't happy about that either.

So at that point, I just withdrew from the program.

I just felt like I no longer belong there.

It wasn't my program anymore. Right.

So thank you so much for meeting with me again.

I'm just going to jump right in because I know we both have places to be.

So you came to the university three years after the memorable Black Action Society protest.

You worked through the Roe v.

Wade decision, the fight for civil rights, the hunger strike in relation to Pitts,

refusal to provide health insurance to same sex partners of the faculty, and so much more.

So what forms of activism do you think facilitated the most change through your experience at Pitt?

Okay, so there's one question about Pitt

and then a more broad question about activism in general and what happens when people are activists.

So from my point of view, activism doesn't always go well.(29:58)
And the big thing for us that was really shocking and upsetting during that early period in my career was Kent State.

So I don't know if you're familiar with that situation,

but this was where some students were protesting at Kent State and they were shot by the campus police.

So this was pretty shocking to people and the idea that students could actually die from protesting,

so that took us back and made people

a little more unsure about what they really could protest about.

So that was definitely something that I thought about.

And I mean, obviously that's going on today in the world.

We see that all over Iran people are being arrested.

China, they're arrested, Turkeye,

Hong Kong, all kinds of places people are being arrested and sometimes killed for being in these protests.

So I think people have to take this very seriously when they feel like they want to take that risk and when they don't.

And I think there's kind of often this kind of naive idea that somehow people just understand how the activists feel,

that they'll understand and go along with it and it'll be okay and they'll be successful.

But that's not always true.

And I think in some ways we've been kind of spoiled in the US.

Because it is often true that we can protest.

Whether we have an effect or not, it's another question.

But we don't hear a lot of cases of people being shot, but there are some certainly.


my view is always that sometimes activism is not the most effective way to get things done.

So I've always tried to work inside the system and I've done that particularly through my Senate activities.

I did it in my own department but really got penalized for that.

So again, there are penalties for doing that.

So it led to a lot of problems for me in my department.

But once I became a Senate officer, one of the wonderful things about that is

that we would have these meetings, these private meetings with the Senate officers and the senior administration.

So we got to talk directly with them about

issues that were coming up and try to persuade them to make changes and it sometimes worked.

So you were talking about all the student activism with the issue of the same sex benefits that was coming up.

But I think I mentioned to you last time we talked that there was also stuff going on with the Senate at that point.

We were meeting with the administration and trying to talk to them about it(32:50)
and they talked to us openly about why they were so resistant and I think kind of started to feel a little guilty about it.

And I think that's the key is persuasion.

So because that's a much more recent event and example of activism,

especially like at Pitt, even though it doesn't pertain to just students and you were so a part of it.

Can you talk a little bit more on that specific event in activism and what role you played in that?

Because I feel like a lot of the coverage we do see is of a few activists who were able to talk to news,

but you don't really hear very much about it, especially people who are working within the system.

So if you could expand on that a little more, I think that'd be really great.

Well, so the first thing we tried,

I was president and I was vice president, so I had different positions, but I was an officer for a long time.

I was an officer for seven years.

So I kind of got to know some of the senior administration fairly well at that point.

But when I first came on in my first year,

when I was first vice president, we tried meeting with the board of directors, the head of the board

of directors at Pitt first to try to persuade him that we should do something about this.

And that was not effective.

I mean, we had a long conversation about

it and he listened to us, but he didn't make any commitments and didn't make any changes.

So that was an example of a failed attempt to work inside the system.

But we then turned to talking more and more.

Nordenberg was chancellor at that time.

We talked more and more with him and kind of, I think, made him feel bad about it, made him feel guilty about it.

And I think then he tried to make changes and then when the students came in and there became all that publicity,

I think that kind of pushed him over the edge, saying there's enough positive support here.

The big issue was the state legislatures.

I don't know how much you know about this, but they were really terrified that they would cut Pitt's funding

because there were some state legislators that were totally against this and they would have battles

in Harrisburg about it, criticizing Pitt for even thinking about this kind of stuff.

But I think once it seemed like there was(35:10)
enough public opinion of supporting it, they decided to go ahead and make the change.

So I think the student activism helped, but I think our internal kind of talking

to him and kind of arguing about why this was so important to do really made a difference too.

Yeah, absolutely.

And I think it's really interesting that you highlight that a lot of this work was being done behind the scenes before.

There was that really big catalyst that caused the hunger strikes and the things that really grabbed the media.

But it's interesting to see how these things can work together,

because if you guys maybe hadn't started talking to Nordenberg beforehand, this wouldn't be on his mind already,

and he would be feeling that pressure from before the students were able to really make that really big difference.

And it wasn't just students who are participating in the hunger strike that's just.

As I said, the part that our project tries to emphasize.

Yeah, we can give you another example of insider activism that was successful.

So at one point, this was before the term sustainability was really popular.

So we talked about it as recycling in those days.

And so I set up a Senate ad hoc committee on recycling.

And we started meeting with people all

over campus about the importance of recycling and doing other kinds of things for the environment.

And at one point I kind of realized

that until we could get the administration to help us make these things happen, they were never going to happen.

So it's again, this insider thing.

So at that point, I knew fairly well, because of my Senate connections,

the guy who was in charge of facilities and I'm blocking on his name, I'm trying to remember his name.

I'm blocking on his name now.

But anyway, we knew each other by first name, so I knew him.

So we set up a meeting.

I can't remember who else was there, but it was kind of my idea to organize this meeting.

We set up a meeting with him

and just had a talk about how important it was to do things for the environment at Pitt.

And then he started saying, well, we are doing X, Y and Z.(37:17)
And I said, well, that's great, but we need to publicize that,

that we're doing those things and kind of own them and show that they're important to Pitt.

And we had this long conversation about it and he had trouble kind of disagreeing with me that it was a good thing to do.

And then what happened after that is

that he then talked to the facilities people and they started incorporating that in their thinking.

So once he was supportive,

obviously the facilities guy was also supportive, but he hadn't been able to say it before.

But once his boss said it was good, then he could say it was good.

And he now was like the head sustainability person.

His successor.

It wasn't the same person, but his successor is now the head sustainability person at Pitt.

But I feel like it was our insider stuff that really kind of got that set off.

Yeah, absolutely.

I mean, it kind of segues into the second

part of my question of, like, do you think that the activism that you saw on campus directly related to students

and faculty and staff was more effective than off campus activism, which can maybe not be heard as often?

Or do you think more attention was often granted to one sort of activism?

Well, if we're talking about things happening at Pitt, then I think it's things happening at Pitt that were important.

I don't think the Pitt administration cares. They try to have good publicity.

That's always important to them.

But I don't think people saying Pitt should

do X, Y or Z really has much effect unless they have some reason to think that they need to work on this.

So it's more I think the students certainly have an effect on that.

Yeah, absolutely.

So do you think because you've just been through so many years of Pitt history,

do you think it's harder to be an activist today than when you began your career in '72?

There are just so many different ways to be an activist,

and a lot of people have a lot of different issues that they know they should be focusing on.

So do you think that things were more straightforward in the 70s?

Do you think nothing's changed and it's just because I'm living in this time that I find it harder?(39:22)
What's your perspective on how things well.

If anything, I think it's easier because there's more of it going on.

As I say, people were fearful, people were getting shot, remember, killed.

That was very vivid for me.

It still is.

So knowing that could happen, knowing that was a possibility.

I also remember just going way back now in Los Angeles before,

when I was still a student, I participated in some anti war rallies, and we would march down on the street

and stuff, and there were FBI guys there taking pictures of every single one of us as we walked by.

That can have real world consequences if you have an FBI file, so I probably do.

So I think we were more aware

of the dangers, and it was actually a little more scary at that point than it is now.

Now there's so much activism.

So that generation,

it's the baby boomers and the ones before that that started all this activism in the 60s.

So they kind of they're more sympathetic.

So the the people that run things now, I think, are more sympathetic to it than they were back then in the 60s.

So I think it's actually easier now to be an activist. Yeah.

Thank you so much for your insight.

Yeah, I think activism is definitely more accessible now.

I think more people can be an activist, especially in the areas that they're passionate about.

I just think there's so much that a lot of it is oftentimes empty, just like a post online.

It's easier to feel as if you're doing

important work when there's other important things that we should be focusing on.

So I guess what I'm thinking is it's harder

to effectively be an activist, but it's definitely safer and more accessible for people now.

So I guess there's pros and cons, no matter what way you look at it.

Keep in mind, also, we're starting to elect activists to Congress.


So it's obviously becoming socially acceptable to be an activist, that was not as true in the 60s.

Yeah, absolutely.

So for my last question, which I mean, you can take this on for as long as you want, as many stories as you have.

But we always like to ask if there are any moments of history or activism.(41:42)
In Pitt's history or in your own life that you feel are lost to time.

Or just like even small stories or like big protests that you think people don't remember or talk about very much.

Well, again, the things I would know most about is the stuff from the inside.

And I was telling you some of those stories.

Another example of a really small kind of thing that I thought was important at the time.

So at one point we used to have all these

food trucks that would park outside of Hillman Library and people would kind of get food.

And at that point they had a big parking lot there, but they also had a little

grassy area and a place people could eat stuff, and particularly students and low level staff would go there.

And they were talking about saying, we're going to get rid of all those food trucks.

They're embarrassing, we don't want them there.

And again, I strongly argued that those things were very important.

They were saying how why would anybody ever eat there?

There's not good food.

And I kept pointing out how they were so important to people.

They'd have long lines of people eating there.

So they were obviously very popular and they were saying, well,

we're going to be digging up this area to build this new what's now Schenley Plaza, so we got to get rid of them.

And I was saying, well, can't you move them somewhere else?

And I actually talked them into doing that. Unfortunately,

now people don't go to those food courts anywhere because they're so those food trucks because they're kind of out

of place and far away and there's more options in the student union and stuff like that.

But again, at the time I felt like, hey, that was a big success.

That had no publicity.

I don't think anybody even understood that whole issue being talked about.

All they knew was the trucks moved from one place to another.

That's all people knew. Absolutely.

I mean, I think there's probably so many things that happen on the inside that we

don't even think twice about because for us it's just like a change of scenery or just like a slight shift.

But yeah, I think absolutely it's so

important to have people on the inside who are even working towards small changes like that.

So thank you for your years of service to Pitt. Thank you.

Yeah, absolutely.(43:57)
I mean, just from talking to you these two times, I can see that you've made so many

different changes and you've made such a difference on like a really large scale and on a very small scale.

I've tried. Yeah, I certainly tried.

Let me tell you one other story.


So Patty Beeson, who eventually became provost, I don't know if you remember her at all or know her at all.

She was working in arts and sciences in working for the dean there.

She was in charge of graduate studies.

And I remember there was a meeting we had I think this was before I became a senate

officer, but I was part of a committee that was dealing with some of this stuff, senate committee.

And we had a meeting with the dean

that she was invited to talking about the lack of women in leadership positions at that time.

Very few women department chairs, deans, anything, almost none.

And the dean at that point said, oh, well, women don't care.

Women don't want leadership positions.

They don't like being leaders.(45:02)
And Patty and I looked at each other and shook our heads.

So there was this immediate and I hadn't really known Patty well before then.

She was a faculty member in economics, and we kind of casting on each other, but I didn't really know her.

But we exchanged that look together, and that created this instant bond between us.

And she interestingly enough, very soon after that,

applied to work in the provost office and got a position in the provost office, working in the provost office.

And one of the assignments they were giving her is a committee called PACWC.

I think I mentioned that last time, PACWC committee.

So she was in charge of that.

Again, I just talked with her kind of casually saying PACWC could do a lot

of things, and one of the things they started doing and that Patty really kind of pushed,

but I think even the person before her, Elizabeth Baron Jay, was also doing some of this.

We could publicize more about women faculty being hired, about how many promotions women are getting versus men.

How about salaries?

What are the salaries of women faculty versus men faculty?

And I got her interested in that,

and they started publishing reports(46:19)
and giving reports on that material every year.

And Patty was eventually promoted to provost.

She became provost, and she continued to do that kind

of stuff, and now it's suddenly all disappeared since she's left.

It's all disappeared.

It's all gone. Yeah.

I mean, I think people are starting to shift their ideas towards thinking

that now that we have more women included in these spaces, we need to stop keeping track.

But there is still a wage gap.

There are still inequalities within, especially the academic world, but in every line of work.

And so I think it's really important

that these numbers are still being published and that people are still aware of this and thinking of it,

because just because the problem has gotten better, it doesn't mean that it's over.

Right, exactly. That's how I feel. Exactly.

It's so disappointing to me that they're not doing those reports anymore. Yeah.

I mean, I wish there was a demand for us(47:18)
to kind of bring that back, and I'll probably talk to a few people about that, because I would be interested

to know what the numbers are and if maybe we have them but they're just not published.

Because I'm sure that's the case, because we've been seeing some repeated

acts of the university having certain knowledge and just choosing not to publish it or report it publicly.

Right. And so even if we could start on a basic

level of just statistics of who works here and how much money they're making so we can explore these inequalities,

maybe we can push towards more public documentation of things that students would want to know.



Thank you so much for that story.

It's always stories like that that only

you and maybe this one other person know that are just so important to show the way that bonds have been formed and the way

that people have pushed each other and supported each other to help us all get to the point where we are now.

We're like, we're reaching the 50th anniversary of this program.

It's evolved, it's changed, and we're still working towards different aspects of change.

So thank you. Sure.


Gray, Cameryn


Frieze, Irene Hanson


Pittsburgh, PA

Time Summary

0:00-5:30 Before Pitt, UCLA Activism
5:30-18:10 Founding of Women's Studies
18:00-25:30 Faculty Senate
25:30-29:10 The Shift From Women's Studies to GSWS
29:10-END General Discussion of Activism and Faculty Activism



Gray, Cameryn, Dr. Irene Hanson Frieze Oral History Interviewclick HERE for video, January 4th and 17th, 2023

Cite As

Gray, Cameryn , “Dr. Irene Hanson Frieze Oral History Interviewclick HERE for video,” Pitt Gender, Sexuality, and Women's Studies Digital Archive, accessed June 19, 2024, https://pittgsws.omeka.net/items/show/189.