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Bettina Aptheker: Building Feminist Studies at UC Santa Cruz

ettina ApthekerA scholar of history with a national reputation for her talents as an instructor, Bettina Aptheker taught one of the country’s largest and most influential introductory feminist studies courses for nearly three decades at UC Santa Cruz.

Starting out in 1980 as the sole lecturer in the Women’s Studies Department, she became the department’s first ladder-rank faculty member in 1987, and was honored with the Alumni Association’s Distinguished Teaching Award in 2001.

Students often describe their time in Aptheker’s class as a “life-changing experience” and an “eye-opener.” A deeply compelling speaker, Aptheker, incorporates art, poetry, guest speakers, historical essays, slides, videos, and music into multifaceted, multimedia courses that linger in the minds of undergraduates long after they leave the classroom.

Aptheker’s 2006 book, Intimate Politics: How I Grew Up Red, Fought for Free Speech and Became A Feminist Rebel, tells the fascinating story of her life. Described by the Chronicle of Higher Education as a “stunning memoir,” it traces her role in major historical and political events ranging from her co-leadership of the Free Speech Movement in Berkeley, the movement against the war in Vietnam, and the trial of Angela Davis, to the building of the Women’s Studies Department at UC Santa Cruz.

Aptheker, who received her Ph.D. in History of Consciousness from UC Santa Cruz, has been honored with the “Award for Excellence in Education” by the California chapter of the National Organization for Women. She was recently named a prestigious University of California Presidential Chair in Feminist Critical Race and Ethnic Studies at UC Santa Cruz, and is currently teaching a course on feminism and social justice.

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