Illinois State University students have described her as the best teacher they have encountered and have used their teacher evaluations to thank her for challenging them in the classroom. While it may be unusual to thank a faculty member for being tough, it is Dr. Alison Bailey’s goal to help students think critically about their beliefs, the readings they do, and the many worlds they move through on a daily basis. Bailey says that “she does not really care what people think as long as they think for themselves.” She wants students to understand how power works to shape our identities, choices, and options for resistance. She uses readings in philosophy, the social sciences, and literature to communicate these ideas.
Dr. Bailey has directed the Women’s and Gender Studies Program since July 2004. She is also a professor in the Department of Philosophy. Bailey’s work as a feminist philosopher is motivated by her concerns for social justice. Her activist awakening happened when she was an undergraduate at Dickenson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Six months before she started her freshman year, the Three Mile Island nuclear power facility in Harrisburg had a near meltdown and radioactive materials were released into the surrounding area. “I’d lead a pretty sheltered life until that point,” Bailey remarked, “and this was the first time I became aware of the fragility of particular communities, and of the extent to which corporations lie to protect themselves.”
The accident and its aftermath gave rise to her interest in how disenfranchised groups navigate, resist, and respond to institutional power structures. She continued to be active in the peace movement when she was in graduate school and worked teaching English and life skills to Central American refugees in the 1980s. “I literally started my career at ISU a few weeks after returning from a trip to deliver school supplies to the Sumo people on the Rio Coco in Nicaragua,” she added.
Her interest and genuine concern for questions of justice continue to inform her current research and teaching interests. Bailey has published on issues of white anti-racist activism, privilege, collective responsibility for community harms, intersectionality and identity, and more recently on the moral issues raised by outsourcing surrogate motherhood to countries like India. She brings her knowledge and passion of these issues to the classroom. She has received a number of teaching awards, as well as, the University’s Strand Diversity Award.
When asked to think about what keeps her motivated, she immediately told the story of a few of her students who went on to do great things. One student pursued a career as a lobbyist for NARAL in Washington, D.C. Another went on to teach women’s studies at a community college. And, yet another is working with homeless and underemployed women in Texas.
She also owes a great deal of her motivation to her yoga practice. She has been practicing Iyengar yoga for the past ten years. “The day I got tenure,” Bailey explains, “I drove immediately to Urbana to study at the Yoga Institute of Urbana Champaign.” It keeps me balanced most of the time.
Bailey invites anyone with an interest in gender issues to come by the Women’s and Gender Studies Program on the second floor of Rachel Cooper.