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Gwen Bergner named West Virginia University’s Second Harriet E. Lyon Professor

Gwen Bergner named West Virginia University’s Second Harriet E. Lyon Professor 

Gwen Bergner, an associate professor of English in the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences, has been named West Virginia University’s Harriet E. Lyon Professor in Women’s and Gender Studies.

“I am incredibly honored and grateful to have been chosen as WVU’s second-ever Lyon Professor,” said Bergner. “The Professorship will allow me to place women’s concerns, ideas, perspectives and interests at the center of my teaching and service while also contributing to WVU students’ transformative experiences within the discipline.”

The Harriet E. Lyon Professorship in Women’s and Gender Studies was created to support faculty members’ teaching and research across the University while enhancing curriculum in women’s and gender studies. Bergner will serve a 2-3 -year appointment as Lyon Professor, during which she will teach and conduct research as part of the Center for Women's and Gender Studies.

“I am thrilled that Gwen Bergner has been selected as the Harriet E. Lyon Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies,” said Sharon Bird, professor and Director of Women's and Gender Studies. “Throughout Dr. Bergner’s career, she has applied an intersectional lens in her teaching and research, exploring issues of race, gender, sex, human rights and social justice in transnational contexts. The Center for Women’s and Gender Studies is especially excited about her plans to bring her spoken word project to our bi-annual Undergraduate Research Showcase.”

As the Lyon Professor, Bergner plans to amplify student voices on issues relating to women and gender through a spoken word project called “The Opinion Project: Next Gen Voices”. 

The project is based on an assignment Bergner uses in her literature courses to help students take ownership of concepts and methods by applying them to a topic they are passionate about. Students connect a personal interest or experience to course texts, concepts and ideas, and they present on the topic in the form of an essay or poem that is read aloud to their audience.

“As students stand before the class, they find their voice, visibly rising up with a newfound sense that their perspective matters,” said Bergner. “They connect their experiences to larger social and political frameworks in candid, creative, passionate and articulate ways. And they love listening to each other; they are transfixed!”

“The Opinion Project” aims to take students’ voices beyond a single classroom. To do this, Bergner will help students record and publish their pieces as Op-eds in local print or online publications, blog posts and social media videos.

“I hope this project shows the next generation of U.S. citizens, our students, that they can make sense of their own lives through thoughtful and informed social and political engagement rather than experience confusion, withdrawal, helplessness or apathy,” she said. “They are truly a resource, and I am counting on their sense of justice and equality to carry us all forward.”

Bergner will also work on a book project as part of her Lyon Professorship. The book focuses on Americans’ writing about Haitian “voodoo” and zombies during the U.S. occupation of Haiti from 1915-1934. The book aims to cut through the sensationalism, exploitation and distortions in these accounts of Haiti and the religion of Vodou, and to consider the previously ignored roles of Haitian women who are featured in the texts. 

“For this project, I plan to conduct interviews with people in the US, travel to several archives, and possibly to Haiti for fieldwork and interviews,” she said. “I couldn’t do this work without the time and funding provided by the Lyon Professorship.”

Lisa DeFrank-Cole, director of the Leadership Studies Program at Eberly College, was named the inaugural Lyon Professor in 2019. During her appointment, she facilitated nationally known speakers on gender-related topics, taught a new course on women and leadership, and completed six scholarly writing projects, including “A research agenda for gender and leadership” (Edward Elgar Publishing, in press); “Gender and leadership: What it is, what it was, and where it’s going” (Edward Elgar Publishing, in press); “Disrupting and Dismantling Invisible Systems of Exclusion” (Edward Elgar Publishing, in press); “ReCentering the Studio: Ballet Leadership and Learning Through Intersectional and Anti-Racist Approaches” (Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group, in press); “You cannot be what you cannot see: Supporting women’s leadership development in higher education” ( Consulting Psychology Journal, 2022); and “Women and leadership: Journey toward equity" (SAGE, 2022).

DeFrank-Cole also completed an eight-month training program to become a leadership coach during her Lyon Professorship.

The Lyon Professorship is named in honor of Harriet E. Lyon, the first woman to graduate from WVU. It was endowed in honor of Judith Gold Stitzel, founding director of the WVU Center for Women’s and Gender Studies through donor support.

“The Eberly College is grateful for the support of Judith Stitzel and many other generous donors who have supported the Lyon Professorship and very proud of the Center for Women’s and Gender Studies which this professorship enhances,” said Greg Dunaway, Dean of Eberly College of Arts and Sciences. “I am delighted that Professor Bergner has been selected as the next Lyon Professor. Her contributions will have an amazing impact on our students and for Women’s and Gender Studies.”