Only seven years after the university officially granted women students full admission without any conditions in the Fall of 1977, historian Sara Alpern was hired to teach at Texas A&M. During the early stages of her career she felt much pressure to be highly successful and to convey a positive image as there were so few female faculty that whatever she did seemed to be regarded as emblematic of all women faculty members. She has initiated many important programs for women at Texas A&M, including her work as a key developer for the Interdisciplinary Program in Women’s and Gender Studies and the Women’s Faculty Network (WFN), which mentors and promotes the professional development of women faculty. In the spring of 2016 Alpern was honored with the Founder’s Award of the WFN.
After nearly 40 years of teaching at Texas A&M, she states the most important aspect of teaching is to keep the classroom “academically honest and intellectually challenging.” With an emphasis on pluralism and diversity, Alpern notes she promotes critical thinking by preserving the “integrity of scholarship.” Her courses offer “diversity, balance, and broadness” of critical information to encourage open minds and open channels of communication. Alpern states, “I’m careful to make sure that students are not shut down for having different ideas.” When asked which course is her favorite to teach, she replied, “it’s impossible to choose,” because every course is her favorite.
Alpern loves to teach, but this is not to say she has not faced resistance in her classes on U.S. Women’s History. Some of the obstacles she has faced include the blatant disregard for women’s history. A few students and faculty have implied that women’s history is not “real history” and questioned if the classes on the subject were “real classes.” Alpern, however, contends there is a clear need to include women in history and argues for a continued expansion of women’s and gender studies as respected fields of inquiry.
Not only does Alpern inspire her students, but her students also inspire her to think about gaps in gender research. Alpern recalls a moment when a student brought up the connection between gender and eating disorders during a time when research on the topic was slim. This connection with her student inspired her to research eating disorders and publish her article “Eating Disorders Among Women: An Historical Review of the Literature from a Women’s History Perspective.”
Alpern teaches courses on U.S. Women’s History, Biography, and Twentieth-Century U. S. History in the Department of History. Her courses on U.S. Women’s History are also taught for the Women’s and Gender Studies Program.