Associate Professor of English
Judy Katz's activism on behalf of women goes way back. To the cradle in fact. New York City born and bred, she grew up in a politically active in household that valued speaking out. Both parents were working-class immigrants: her father from Estonia and her mother from Poland.
My mother was ambitious for us, says Dr. Katz, associate professor of English. Growing up, I was exposed to a lot of stories about the success of women. She would take us to museums and the theater and point out famous women or tell us stories about Eleanor Roosevelt. She was an artist herself who had given it all up to get married. As my sister and I became adults, we saw that this woman had sacrificed her talent for us.
Spurred on by her mothers dreams, Katz earned a bachelors degree in English from the City College of New York (CCNY) in 1966 and earned masters and doctoral degrees in English from Penn State University in 1968 and 1972 respectively.
After reading a paper Katz had written on British novelist Virginia Woolf, a Penn State English professor made a single suggestion that changed Judy Katz life: Why not focus her doctoral dissertation on her interest in women in literature?
I was thrilled beyond belief. I was expecting to have to write another dull, irrelevant dissertation, she recalls. When I was at CCNY, I sat in a class where the professor told us that, except for Jane Austen, no women writers were worth reading because their subject matter was so trivial. In essence, I was given permission to challenge that belief.
Katz began her career teaching freshman English at Penn State Altoona from 1971 to 1980. But academic life in a large state university system left her feeling discouraged. Katz began working at the Centre County Womens Resource Center, a social service agency dedicated to counseling women who are victims of domestic violence or sexual assault.
In 1988, she decided to return to teaching and Juniata hired her to teach freshman English. She was appointed to the faculty in 1991 and one of her first acts was to design Juniatas first Women in Literature course. I had been preparing this course for 20 years, she says, laughing. When I finally got to do it, the class was the most extraordinary thing I had ever seen in a classroom.
The class was pretty extrordinary for her students as well. Kara Laskowski 98, now a visiting instructor in communications at Juniata, was enrolled in that first class. Judy is very adept at bringing students up to a new level of thinking without making it seem as though shes pushing you although she really is, Laskowski says.
Katz also decided to incorporate activism into the curriculum by staging a program of readings. Unlock Your Voice. has been presented every year since 1996, featuring reading from such authors as Gwendolyn Brooks and Margaret Atwood. She also coordinates another readings program every February, Lift Every Voice, centering on African-American authors. I think everyone--even Judy--was surprised at how popular the course was, Laskowski says. The first reading program drew more than 100 people. I was terrified during my reading.
Most of the students coming into the womens literature course have read more works by women than I had by the time I was in graduate school, Katz says. I feel I have a mission to teach this and bring voices into the discussion that have not been heard. This is certainly a fulfillment of my mothers wish for me to make a contribution.
Her son, David Perkowski, 22, has followed in his mothers activist footsteps by working as a computer programmer for a Brooklyn, N.Y.-based nonprofit organization called The Democracy Project.
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