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Medalist: Virginia J. Cyrus

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The late Virginia J. Cyrus, Ph.D.

Citation and Sesquicentennial Medal presented on Nov. 20, 2014

It is with great pleasure this evening that I am able to present the Sesquicentennial Medal of Excellence to the late Dr. Virginia Cyrus, a longtime professor and the founder of the Gender and Sexuality Studies program at Rider University. A tenacious and passionate advocate for feminist studies, Dr. Cyrus passed away in October of 2001; representing her here this evening are members of her family.

A 1961 graduate of Pomona College in California with a bachelor's degree in English, she earned her master’s degree in English in 1964 and her doctorate in English in 1968, both from the University of Washington.

Virginia was a woman dedicated to the scholarly pursuit of knowledge, a woman of vision, and most importantly, a pioneer in the world of accepting and understanding the differences that have challenged humankind for centuries. As one of the first wave feminists, she was also hailed by her colleagues as an honest, authentic, outspoken, down-to-earth and open colleague and mentor. She believed her courses not only prepared her students to be better managers, but also to be better citizens in a greater society.

This is not the first time she has been recognized for her service. In 1990, she received the Distinguished Service Award from the National Women's Studies Association (NWSA) for her contributions to feminist education and to the growth of the organization. A founding member of the association, Cyrus was first as the national coordinator and treasurer and finally as the president of NWSA.

On the regional level, Cyrus served as treasurer and conference director of the Mid-Atlantic Women’s Studies Association, an active member of the Bucks County National Organization for Women, as well as serving on the board of directors of the Bucks County Opportunity Council, and attending the United Nations Conference for the End of the Decade for Women, conducted in Nairobi.

She joined Rider in 1975 as an assistant professor of English and became associate professor five years later. In 1979, Cyrus was named director of women’s studies at Rider. In 1986, she was the first recipient of the Rider College Woman of the Year Award.

In 1979, recognizing the need for further scholarship in the field of gender studies, she helped to establish the Women Studies program, in large part to bring feminist scholarship to Rider. Over the years, the program has broadened substantially. Now called the Gender and Sexuality Studies program, this field of study allows students to explore the complex interactions among race, class, ethnicity, gender and sexuality. Because of Dr. Cyrus’ commitment to these issues over the years, generations of Rider students have achieved a greater understanding of how these complex and multi-layered identities  affect the way individuals think and act.

It is also because of her dedication to scholarship and study that students today benefit from the Dr. Virginia J. Cyrus Scholarship. This scholarship, created in her honor in 2000, was established to recognize students who show academic promise of excellence and the potential to improve the status of women through scholarship and/or activism. 

Tonight, the Rider Women’s Leadership Council and the Gender Studies program host this colloquium, creating a space for discourse and learning on issues that remain pertinent to the field of gender studies. This vigorous exchange of ideas was part of Virginia’s vision and the fact that it continues today illustrates the reach of her impact and the importance of her legacy.

I am honored to award the sesquicentennial medal of excellence to one of our most influential and forward-thinking Rider faculty members, Dr. Virginia Cyrus. 

-Dr. DonnaJean Fredeen, Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs