Women’s History Month – Alumna fights for women’s rights

Juli Parker, Ph.D., organized her first women’s rights cause in college and hasn’t looked back since. “I took a Women’s Studies class as a junior, and I learned about women’s issues and activism. I started volunteering at the campus women’s resource center where the director, Sharon Barker, became a mentor,” said the Union Institute & University graduate, who received her Ph.D. in Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences with a focus in Theatre and Women’s Studies in 2006.

Dr. Parker is the assistant dean of students and director of the Center for Women, Gender & Sexuality (CWGS) at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, the second oldest collegiate Women’s Center in the country. She leads the Center in its quest to be a voice for women and the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans community, with the purpose of eliminating barriers, diminishing prejudices, and creating a supportive climate and space for all.

“Our mission is to offer resources and support on LGBTQ and women’s issues.  In addition, the CWGS coordinates campus initiatives to prevent sexual assault and intimate partner violence. The CWGS recognizes that investigations of gender must take place in tandem with explorations of race, class, sexual orientation, gender identity, and expression and other significant aspects of individual identity,” said Dr. Parker. Her leadership and advocacy for women have been recognized with many significant awards including the 2012-2014 UMASS President’s Office Roy J. Zuckerberg’s $100,000 Leadership Prize, 2012 YWCA of Southeastern Massachusetts Women of Distinction Award, and the Pride Alliance 2010 Harvey Milk Award.

She still combines her love of theater with activism as an actor, director, and producer. While at Union, she wrote her first play, “Liberating Women, A Play in Three Acts” and its accompanying contextual essay, “Is Feminist Theatre a Method of Social Change?,” with the encouragement of her Union professors.

“My first core was Dr. Minnie Bruce Pratt. Unfortunately, Union was undergoing changes and when Dr. Pratt left, Dr. Judith Arcana then became my core. She retired but she stayed with me. She was amazing and led me to believe I could write this play. My initial colloquium was great and my experience at Union was rich in every way. I am grateful to my doctoral committee, for their advice, knowledge, encouragement, and ability to make me laugh. I was so lucky to have Dr. Arcana, Wendy Overly, Dr. Lenora Champagne, Dr. Karen Bovard, Dr. Erika Feigenbaum, Dr. Rita Arditti, Dr. Margaret Blanchard, and Dr. Pratt encourage me,” said Dr. Parker. “I am still in close touch with a peer from my colloquium to this day.”

Dr. Parker laments the work left to advance women.

“This pandemic has revealed the imbalance working women face. Women are taking on more – more work at home, helping the kids, and pursuing and maintaining their own jobs and careers. The family-friendly policies in the U.S. seriously lag behind other wealthy countries such as Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. We need universal child care and paid maternity leave. The lack of paid child care is a huge burden. Women are forced to choose between work and children when women are essential wage earners. It is too easy for employers to assume the male will work and leave the childcare to the female. We must work for family-friendly policies that benefit all of us.”

What does the future hold for Dr. Parker?

“Currently, I am a founding member of the Women’s Work Theatre Collaborative, representing women playwrights and actors over 40, and at some point in the near future, I would like to lead more people. Perhaps as a chief diversity officer, dean of student affairs, or even run for political office,” said Dr. Parker who has been director of the Women’s Resource Center since 1995 and dean of students since 2013.

One thing is sure; she will continue her fight to advance women’s rights and to end racism.

“I will continue to work advancing women’s representation in education and media.”
Dr. Parker holds a B.A. in Theatre/Dance from the University of Maine and an M.A. in Women’s Studies from the University of Alabama. She has served on various campus committees focused on diversity, women’s issues, and strategic planning throughout her career at UMass Dartmouth.

On a professional basis, Dr. Parker is an active member of the YWCA of Southeastern MA having served as president and as a member of the Board of Directors. She chaired the Miss-Representation to Mass Representation: Educating for Change Conference and was a co-founder/co-chair of the Bristol County Commission on the Status of Women.  She served as Co-Chair of the New England Women’s Studies Association Conference: Performing Activism, and is a member of the National Women’s Studies Association. She has been an invited keynote speaker and panelist at many conferences and written several publications.

Learn more about Dr. Parker’s work.

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