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Faculty Spotlight: Debra Michals

Briana Alberghini ‘21

Staff Writer

Dr. Debra Michals started her career at Merrimack College in 2003 as an adjunct instructor. In 2008, she then became the acting director for a semester while the director of the department was on leave. Then, in 2016 she was hired full-time, tenure-track, as the Director of the Women’s and Gender Studies Department and an Assistant Professor. It was a long road, but well worth the wait in Dr. Michals opinion. 

Dr. Michals is an expert in her field as she has a B.S. in Journalism from Boston University, and an M.A. and Ph.D. in U.S.  History from New York University. Her areas of expertise include twentieth century women’s and gender history, histories of feminism and social movements, and entrepreneurship,especially entrepreneurship as a form of activism for marginalized groups. 

Prior to working at Merrimack, Dr. Michals was a freelance editor for history books and for academic publishers. She was also the former content director of the Women’s Museum: An Institute for the Future in Dallas (now defunct), and in 2016, she  served on the scholar advisory board for the Congressional Commission studying the need for a American Women’s History Museum in Washington D.C. Although becoming the Department Chair was always her dream job, Dr. Michals enjoyed the entrepreneurial aspects of combining her part-time teaching with her writing and editing projects. She enjoyed the freedom of self-employment, but not the isolation. Now, in her job at Merrimack, she is excited by the opportunity to share her vision for the future of the Women’s and Gender Studies Department. 

Dr. Michals offers a variety of courses for students to take at Merrimack. Some of the courses that run either in the fall are spring are Women in Business, Gender and Social Movements, Gender Race and War, and United States Women’s History. This upcoming Spring she is also offering a new course, Gender and Diversity and Leadership. Next Fall, she will be offering another  new course focusing on LGBTQ history. Of all the classes she offers, her favorite course to teach is United States Women’s History. 

“People do not realize how much women have been a force in history and how much history has shaped our lives. Students often come to that class saying they don’t like history. I enjoy the challenge to transform them into people who not only like history but especially understand why history matters,” Michals said. 

The Women’s and Gender Studies Department offers both a Major and a Minor. All of the courses the Department offers shows students how to think critically about their world through the prisms of gender, race, sexuality, and nation. Dr. Michals believes once you see the world through those sorts of lenses, you will see sexuaility idenity, class, race, and gender everywhere. 

Students who are a WGS Majors, Minors, or students who are thinking about becoming either one should know that is a very friendly place and students are always available to come and talk to Dr. Michals. Her office is always open to students if they would like to talk about what is going on in the world or even if they just need a quiet place to study. The department is a place to inspire and flame students’ passions. Dr. Michals believes what the department does is necessary for becoming engaged and compassionate human beings. Students will also learn how to navigate all of the injustices and oppression in the world. 

When Dr. Michals isn’t teaching courses, she is currently the Faculty Advisor and Executive Producer for a podcast, “Living Out Loud: Storytelling for Social Change,” and writing her own book. The podcast is actively looking for volunteers, so interested students should contact Dr. Michals. The whole process of creating the podcast has been both wonderful and frustrating. It has been wonderful because there is a lot of good stories out there that have the possibility to change peoples mind about what you think you know. It has also been frustrating due to working out all of the technological and logistical aspects. 

Michal’s book, She’s the Boss: The Rise of Women’s Entrepreneurship Since World War II, will be released in 2021 by Rutgers University Press. The title comes from an article she wrote for Ms. Magazine in 1989. Dr. Michals also has an essay coming out in another book that is titled Feminism Fathers and Fathering Feminists. The essay is about masculinity and fatherhood and the impact of the 1960s regarding single father sitcoms. With the last amount of free time Dr. Michals has, one thing she enjoys doing is making jewelry. If you see Dr. Michals around campus, you will see her with various statement jewelry pieces. Making her own jewelry started in Graduate school, and it has continued ever since. She also has a serious addiction to television and streaming and is also a huge film junky. Her favorite movie is “Coming Home” with Jane Fonda and Jon Voigh. Lastly, she enjoys walking by the ocean. The beach is one of her favorite places, because it reminds her of how small she is. She shared with me that “we all like to think we are so important, until we stand at the beach and realize how small we and our problems are.”