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Professor Giardina, a lifelong activist

Professor Carol Giardina identifies herself as a feminist leader and activist. Photo by Amna Shams
Professor Carol Giardina identifies herself as a feminist leader and activist. Photo by Amna Shams

Queens College history professor Carol Giardina was issued more “offense slips” during her four years in college than she can remember.

The self-proclaimed “beatnik,” a member of the popular ‘50s youth culture, attended the University of Florida and lived in the school’s dorms in 1963. During that time, women were forced to adhere to strict dress codes and curfews, which, if violated, resulted in punishment. Giardina especially got in trouble for these two rules, including her wearing pants, which was not allowed at the time for the women on campus.

“You got 48 hours enforced physical detention,” Giardina said. “If you got caught three times you got ‘campussed’ [sic] which meant you had to stay indoors for the whole weekend — I was constantly campussed [sic].”

The school was against her wearing pants and violating curfew, both of which were rules only enforced on the females on campus.

She especially recalls how difficult the curfews were when getting studying done. The girls had to be in their dorms by 10 p.m., while the boys did not have to come back in at all, she said.

Eventually, the dress codes were lifted and the curfews abolished, but not before Giardina and her coeds spoke their minds.

Having grown up in Queens, where she attended Jamaica High School and actively participated in the civil rights and anti-war movements of the 1960s, Giardina was deeply disturbed by the segregation and racism she encountered in the Deep South.

“I attended my first football game and instead of the national anthem, they sang ‘Dixie,’” Giardina said. “Everyone in this gigantic football stadium stood and sang, with their hand over their heart. It was unbelievable and something I’ve never been able to forget.”

The song ‘Dixie’ originated in the blackface minstrel shows of the 1850s and tells the story of a freed slave who longs for the plantation of his birth. The song became the de facto anthem of the Confederacy during the Civil War.

The blatant racism only made Giardina push harder. She began to further her activism by picketing at Civil Rights rallies and joining the Students for Democratic Society on campus. At one point, she was even threatened by the Ku Klux Klan.

“It was hard,” she said. “And your friends got hurt.”

Between 1963 and 1964, Giardina became the dorm abortion counselor — completely by accident. Her roommate had become pregnant and asked Giardina for her help. She contacted her beatnik friends in New York and they found a doctor and raised money in the dorms. This did not go unnoticed from her peers.

“And then it started,” Giardina said. “You’d be getting ready for bed and there would be another pregnant freshman asking for help. And then another, and another.”

By 1968, after actively participating in a Miss America Pageant protest in Atlantic City, N.J., she co-founded the Gainesville Women’s Liberation, the first women’s organization in the South.

In both her life and activist work, Giardina has dealt with women from all races and socio-economic backgrounds. To her, the movement began in the ‘60s, not the ‘70s, and it “was not a white movement. I wanted to present the ideas as they were, not the distorted views,” she said.

Her book, “Freedom for Women: Forging the Women’s Liberation Movement, 1953-1970,” does just that.

Teaching at QC for the past 10 years, she has taken her role of educator seriously and has inspired countless students in her introduction to women’s studies class. Monique Mojica, a junior, took the class last semester and was inspired to take action.

“As a woman of color, it helped me gain perspective in understanding the women’s movement better because women of color are so oppressed in society that they are also often excluded from recorded events in history,” Mojica said. “I felt that Prof. Giardina’s decision in teaching this was very important and it inspired many students in class, many of whom were women of color.”

Giardina has not stopped working for women’s liberation. Her most recent project, along with other members of the department, is the women’s studies conference on March 19, “Reproductive Justice.”

Referring to recent political events – from conservative political commentator Rush Limbaugh’s recent comments to states redefining abortion laws – Giardina was more than pleased when the subject was finalized.

“When the topic of this year’s conference first came up, we had no idea how timely it would be,” Giardina said.

Despite not calling herself a women’s liberation pioneer, a name given to her by her peers, Giardina is thrilled women are being celebrating for their triumphs during March, which is Women’s History Month.

“There is important work going on in the world,” she said. “And it should be acknowledged.”

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