Diversity Champion: Dr. Lisa Fine

March 15, 2024 - Emily Jodway

Champion With over 40 years of influential work done at Michigan State, spanning from the Department of History to the Women’s and Gender Studies program and the Center for Gender in Global Context, Dr. Lisa Fine is a true example of a Diversity Champion. She has spent countless hours collaborating with faculty and staff across campus to make the University a more inclusive and broadly educational place for studies of all race, gender and religion. 

Fine is a Professor of History and former Chair of the History Department; she co-founded and served as co-director of the MSU Center for Gender in Global Context, and worked with the center to revive the women’s studies major and create a new LGBTQ and sexuality studies minor. Her research focuses on twentieth century labor and working class history, as well as gender and women’s history. She first developed an interest in labor history due in part to her grandparents on both sides coming from a working-class immigrant background. Her love of women’s history grew along the way as she learned about the many influential women in the field of history that forged a path for her to continue on. 

The decision to become an educator came naturally for Fine. “I understood the professor's role to include both research and teaching; I saw those as interactive, not as one or the other,” she explained. One of her favorite parts of these interactions is the education that occurs on both sides. As she teaches her students, she also learns from them what issues and concerns they might have, and what they are most excited to explore on their path through higher education. 

“They bring new questions to materials that I wouldn’t necessarily be given in my own position,” she added. “They have interests and passions, and I’m always very interested in hearing what those are and how the materials and information that I share can be helpful.”

In 2007, Fine came together with several other faculty members across disciplines to create the Center for Gender in Global Context. After the women’s studies program first created by Joyce Ladenson in the 1970s disbanded, Fine and others saw the need for a program that would revive women’s studies at Michigan State while also adding a more global and inclusive focus. She also brought a community and outreach element to GenCen, engaging students with groups throughout Michigan dedicated to advocacy of women and gender issues. GenCen continues to be an important way for students to participate in outreach and active learning initiatives while receiving education through an interdisciplinary lens on how women and men from a diverse range of cultures and orientations navigate through society. 

“It was a challenge, but I didn’t do it alone,” she said. “I had incredible help and support, including [anthropology professor and co-founder] Anne Ferguson, and other groups of male and female faculty from around campus who were aiding and assisting in creating this new program. It was all about collaboration, and it took two years; it was not an easy thing to do, but we brought it about.”

Due in part to its parallels with her research and everyday work, Women’s History Month is an everyday celebration for Fine. She stresses the importance of taking time to reflect on those who have come before us and how important they are, and never losing sight of the efforts it took for these women to create a more inclusive environment for all. 

“I use Women’s History Month to be grateful for the global, national and even local people who have come before me, who have done such vital and important work and provided inspiration and are dedicated to this work.” 

This includes several people in her own life, including the first director of the women’s studies program, Ladenson, who passed away in January. “I’ve been reflecting on how important she was when I first arrived at MSU, and what she did had an impact on everything that I was able to do in the 2000s when I started to take on administrative and leadership roles here.”

While celebrating the triumphs, Fine says it is also important to acknowledge the shaky ground we stand on today with women’s issues often taking the forefront of many conversations around lawmaking. 

“Just because [progress] has happened doesn’t mean it can’t be taken away,” she said. “We can’t take it for granted. That is something people have to remain vigilant about to ensure it’s available to everyone going forward. Diverse activities undertaken by people in their own way is the best formula for maintaining whatever gains we’ve been able to make over these centuries. Do something this month that you are comfortable doing to make sure you stay connected to maintaining an equitable humane future for everybody.”


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