By: Alyssa Birkholz, Maranda Meisenzahl, Melody Ascione
BROCKPORT, NY- When Barbara LeSavoy, Ph.D. came to The College at Brockport, she noticed that there was a gaping hole in the curriculum. LeSavoy spent 12 years working to fill that hole. In 2007, LeSavoy was appointed Director of the Women and Gender Studies Program at The College at Brockport. She spent her life fighting for social justice issues. This is the fighting spirit many admire and continue to be influenced by every day.
Ever since she was a young girl, LeSavoy was involved in activism. Since LeSavoy grew up in a single parent household, her mother often brought her and her siblings along for her activism work. She started political canvassing with her mother and two older brothers in her early years.
“I was raised by a single mother and she was also very politically active and in the days that I was young, due to not having other options for childcare, she took us with her,” said LeSavoy. “What I remember most is thinking about her advocacy and she was super political. So that notion of being connected to women’s rights was sort of embedded in us. I have two brothers and we’re all really good social justice fighters.”
LeSavoy attended college in the 1970s, a period where society was changing rapidly due to the Civil Rights Movement. Although this was such a pivotal time for women’s rights, LeSavoy did not have the option to major in women’s studies in school so she majored in English. She went on to earn her Ph.D. and decided that she wanted to build a career based on her passion for activism.
“Be cause-oriented, I remember in college we were fighting for planned parenthood, birth control, and equal pay and equal rights, we were radical,” LeSavoy said. “The whole second wave was about burning your bras and being free and I was right there during all that.”
While LeSavoy was in school, women’s sexual freedom and reproductive rights were important to young feminists and activists. Being passionate about women’s freedom and rights, LeSavoy became involved with activism at school during the civil rights movement.
“The whole second-wave was about burning your bras and being free and I was right there in line doing all the work. I was very engaged as a college student and that sort of stuck with me,” said LeSavoy.
After LeSavoy left college she wanted to continue her activism work. LeSavoy is the former chairwoman for the Women and Gender Studies department. When the department first developed LeSavoy was responsible for most of it.
“We have to fight for our rights. I think Women and gender studies is trying to advocate for what’s important.” Dr. LeSavoy said.
LeSavoy fought hard for the Women and Gender studies department to prosper. She was doubtful that the department would ever be recognized by the school.
“We always said that we would become a department when pigs fly,” LeSavoy said. “I came in and really built the program. I changed the curriculum and revised a lot.”
The Women and Gender studies department was a success, and many can thank Barb LeSavoy for that. Milo Obourn, Ph.D. knows all about Dr. LeSavoy’s hard work.
“Barb was very influential in getting me involved with women and gender studies in general,” said Obourn. “She really modeled how to grow something without a lot of institutional support, but with a lot of love and effort in bringing people in and working together.”
LeSavoy has lead the department in revolutionary ways through her inclusivity and feminism. She makes sure students feel connected and get a lot of attention and feel like colleagues. LeSavoy always tells students “You’re smart, you’re interesting and I like you.” Barb LeSavoy believed in the department. She wanted everyone to be included. This is what influenced Obourn and so many others.
“Barb was really influential in getting me involved in Women and Gender studies in general. We’ve done a ton of work together, so Barb does a lot of programming, she does a lot of work surrounding inclusion.” Obourn said.
Barb LeSavoy is very present on campus with her activism work, but she also is recognized for her work outside of the college.
“I sit on the board of director for Linkages, which is the Rochester Sister City Program….I chair the women’s partnership for Linkages, so that also connects with some work I do in Russia.” LeSavoy said.
Dr. LeSavoy has greatly impacted the department as well as this campus as a whole. LeSavoy has won numerous awards and done activist work throughout Brockport and Rochester bringing awareness to social justice issues. Not only does LeSavoy educate and lead others, but she influenced others such as students and Dr. Obourn to do great things at Brockport.
For those who want to follow in the footsteps of her work, she leaves a message:
“Be revolutionary,” said LeSavoy. “Be brave and courageous, don’t give up, be proud of yourself and do everything. You can do everything. Don’t let gender stereotypes and boxes hold you back.”