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Zimmerman, Bonnie (1947-) | Special Collections & University Archives

Name: Zimmerman, Bonnie (1947-)


Historical Note:

Dr. Bonnie Zimmerman worked for the Academic Affairs division of San Diego State University (SDSU) as the Associate Vice President for Faculty Affairs. Prior to assuming administrative duties, she was a distinguished Professor of Women’s Studies, with capacious publications in numerous journals, books, and anthologies in the fields of Literary Studies and Women’s Studies, her work often focusing on the nexus of the two.  One of the greatest achievements of this synergy is thearticle, “What Has Never Been,” first published in the Fall of 1981 edition of Feminist Studies and later anthologized in the Norton Anthology of Theory & Criticism, as well as Feminisms.

In her notable career at SDSU, she has diligently served both students and her department.  While a Women’s Studies Professor, she was also President of the National Women’s Studies Association (NWSA) from 1998 to 1999.  This appointment was the culmination of years of work.  Bonnie presented numerous papers at NWSA conferences, and served on smaller committees.  After many years of involvement with the NWSA, Dr. Zimmerman became Member-at-Large in 1995, President-Elect in 1997, and President in 1998.  NWSA has been one of the two most important institutions in her life, the other institution being SDSU.

Her career has had many other highlights, and many yet to come. She is very enthusiastic about her current occupation and pursuits and notes that SDSU has excellent faculty, has set high goals for itself, and has been a welcoming environment for both Women’s Studies and lesbian scholars.

As a popular professor in Women’s Studies and occasionally English, she served as Graduate Advisor for Women’s Studies from 1997 to 2003.  Additionally, she served as Department Chair from 1986 to 1992, and again from 1995 to 1997. She was the first reader for more than fourteen graduate theses, and served as second or third reader for many more.  She has also received distinguished awards for her accomplishments.  Most notably she received the “Alumni Award for Outstanding Faculty Contribution to the University,” in 2003, the “Positive Visibility Award,” from GLAAD in 1996, both the Emily Toth and Lambda Literary Award in 1991, a “Meritorious Performance and Professional Promise Award” in 1985, and the “Arthur R. Metz Distinguished Scholarship” award from 1965 to 1968 (while an undergraduate at Indiana University).

Dr. Zimmerman’s higher education began at Indiana University in 1965 and she graduated with honors in 1968.  She majored in Philosophy, an unusual major for women at the time, and she recalls having had one woman lecturer, in French, and no women professors whatsoever while pursuing her Bachelor’s Degree. While in Bloomington, she had budding dreams of becoming a Medievalist, and was inspired by her professors to study Medieval literature as a graduate student at State University of New York (SUNY), Buffalo in 1969.  However, upon arriving at SUNY Buffalo in fateful 1969, she quickly found her niche as a feminist, joining the Women’s Movement.  She states, “everything stands out for me in Buffalo. . .[it’s] where I got involved in lesbian separatism—as well as developing women’s studies and writing a feminist dissertation. . .that’s where I became who I am.”  Although her major was officially listed as English, she states: “I started Women’s Studies and my English PhD program at the same time and my English program was only an excuse for doing Women’s Studies,” thereby demonstrating her passion for feminist work and theory.

After graduating from SUNY Buffalo in 1974, Dr. Zimmerman taught at community colleges in the Chicago area, teaching both Composition and Women’s Studies courses.  After interviewing with SDSU’s groundbreaking Women’s Studies department in 1978—the first Women’s Studies program in the country—she was offered a temporary position as a lecturer.  While there, she was fundamental in building the curriculum and coordinating the infrastructure of the Women’s Studies department.  As a result of her committed dedication she transitioned into a tenure-track position soon after her arrival.  She became Professor of Women’s Studies in 1983.  She has been a Visiting Professor at both University of California San Diego (UCSD) and University of California Los Angeles (UCLA). Dr. Zimmerman’s current appointment as Vice President for Faculty Affairs, is a direct result of seasoned experience with larger university-level issues and her involvement with SDSU’s Academic Senate.

Zimmerman was born in 1947 in Chicago, Illinois, to a middle-class secular Jewish family. She has a younger brother, a younger sister, and a large extended family. At age eleven, her family moved to the suburbs of Chicago.  She states she occupied a very “liminal” place during her youth, bridging class levels and cultural boundaries, socializing with a variety of students.  She stated emphatically that her primary childhood interests were, “books, books, books, books,” but she also studied classical voice.  While attending a suburban high school, Bonnie states she felt displaced: “I hated almost everything about high school except the classes, and theater, and music.” She would go to Chicago to escape suburban life whenever she had a chance, spending many hours downtown and in the Chicago library. When discussing the social milieu of the sixties, Bonnie iterated the importance of the Kennedy assassination, “an absolute pivotal event for my generation,” and the Civil Rights Movement. As a teenager, Zimmerman was too young to participate in the Southern voting drive, but she followed the developments closely.

Shortly after graduating from high school, Zimmerman entered the music program at Indiana University, but quickly changed her major to Philosophy. After graduating in three years, Bonnie states she was exhausted and needed time to think over her future plans. As soon as she got there she realized she was ready for graduate school in English and she began preparing for the GRE Advanced Subject Examination in English. After reading the Norton anthologies back-to-back (both American and British), she took the GRE Subject Test and received a perfect score of 800. She received several acceptance letters to PhD programs, but chose State University of New York, Buffalo.

Buffalo is where Zimmerman became involved in the Women’s Liberation Movement.  She developed her formative political views while going to graduate school there, and she describes herself as a “generic feminist,” arriving at this description after an intellectual tug-of-war between Marxist and radical feminism.  When discussing the issue of self-identification she remarked, “that was really important to me then—exactly what the primary contradiction was and what the best method for social change was. . .I’m much more relaxed now.  I really don’t find any of those definitions to be helpful at all now.”

When asked about her progression towards identifying as “lesbian,” she reiterated the importance of the historical moment of the late sixties and her feminist studies at Buffalo. While discovering her deeply rooted feminist politics, she participated in several consciousness raising (CR) groups. The possibility and plausibility of alternative modes of sexuality was explored by Zimmerman and her consciousness raising group, and she recalls speaking positively about lesbianism long before she, or any of her friends, came out. Once she did embrace her lesbian identity, she remarked that when looking back on her high school life with her “lesbian eyes,” she realizes that she had always had the potential to be a lesbian.

As of this writing, Zimmerman has been with her current partner for over twenty-four years. They have no children.

At this time, after what she describes as a very satisfying teaching career, Dr. Zimmerman’s attention and energy is channeled into working with SDSU’s outstanding faculty and improving the university at large.






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