The Academic Feminist: Report back from Feminism Unbound

Welcome back, Academic Feminists.  This edition of the Academic Feminist features a special report of the  National Women’s Studies Association’s (NWSA) 2012 Conference, “Feminism Unbound: Imaging a Feminist Future,” contributed by Dr. Stephanie Troutman.  Stephanie is the daughter of interracial, working class parents. A Black feminist scholar and first-generation college student, Stephanie received a Dual-PhD in Education and Women’s Studies from The Pennsylvania State University in 2011. She currently serves as Assistant Professor of Women and Gender Studies and African-American Studies at Berea College in Kentucky. An interdisciplinary scholar, Stephanie’s research interests include issues of race, gender, and sexuality in relation to both popular culture and educational policies- including curriculum and pedagogy, media and youth discourses on issues of identity. Thanks to Dr. Troutman for authoring the report, and for Patti Provance and the staff at NWSA for coordinating this effort with the Academic Feminist.

Feminism Unbound, Organic Diversity and a Movement in Motion: The 2012 National Women’s Studies Association Conference, by Stephanie Troutman

Early last month, the National Women’s Studies Association celebrated its’ 35th year as the preeminent academic, professional, feminist venue for scholar, students, activists, and researchers. The association’s annual conference, “Feminism Unbound: Imagining a Feminist Future,” convened in Oakland, California from November 8 – 12.  With more than 1600 attendees from all across the United States and other countries around the world (China, Canada and more) and over 400 paper sessions, the conference was more than successful: it was powerfully engaging, diverse and invigorating.

Notably, the conference broke new ground with the introduction of the NWSA Conference app- which many participants found helpful in navigating the 400+ sessions, receptions and featured events- such as book signings and mentor meetings. In addition to the app, the conference also asserted its presence on social media- via Twitter, namely. Many conference sessions were live-tweeted with the hashtag #nwsa2012.

Some of the most popular panels and sessions explored popular culture, others explored linkages between activism, social justice, feminism, and academic women’s studies. A panel on Nicki Minaj drew a standing room only audience. The presenters used multiple feminist frames to probe Minaj’s identity and media sensationalism with regard to race, sexuality and queerness, technology, and capitalism.

The plenary session, “Decolonizing Knowledge:  Black and Latina Women Stress for Success”  featured prominent scholars, Dr. Bonnie Thornton Dill (feminist sociologist, outgoing NWSA President and Dean of Arts and Humanities at University of Maryland, College Park) and Dr. Ruth Enid Zambrana (Professor in the Women’s Studies, and the Director of the Consortium on Race, Gender and Ethnicity at the University of Maryland, College Park) speaking on long term health outcomes  for women of color in the academy.

Pre-conferences began on Thursday morning: one on Women’s Centers, one devoted to Women’s Studies Programs and Departments; as well as NWSA’s ever growing Women of Color Leadership Project: a daylong workshop series highlighting the experiences and needs of women of color at both in and outside of academe, while focusing on their leadership potential and development. Though pre-conference were in session all day Thursday, the conference officially opened on Thursday night with a keynote speech featuring legendary feminist-sociologist, Dr. Patricia Hill Collins – author of the influential texts Black Feminist Thought, Fighting Words and numerous other texts on Black sexuality, activism and social justice feminism.  Hill Collins’ talk was circulated widely via live-tweets, which spawned a number of re-tweets and other social media sharing. Dr. Hill Collins focused on the need for feminism to continue to push boundaries while remaining conscious and reflexive of its own limitations. She articulated the importance of academic feminism to move outside of the ivory tower in order to assert itself within and amongst the intellectual public by addressing poverty, education, and policy in meaningful ways. While her talk was informative and serious, it was peppered with humor, anecdotes and a genuine concern for and commitment to installing feminism in the service of tangible, social justice outcomes.

As a diverse space, the National Women’s Studies Association Conference also offered a variety of services, such as networking zones, opportunities to connect with publishers, mentoring sessions for faculty and graduate students, and the chance for association constituency leaders to meet with the governing council and to hold business meetings with their members. Some of the association’s subgroups include the Women of Color Caucus, The Lesbian Caucus, and The Feminist Masculinities and Feminist Mothering Task Forces. These affiliate groups provide members with smaller forums in which to gather to have focused discussions on issues specific to particular areas of interest that fall under the larger umbrella of women, gender, and sexuality studies and lifestyles. The conference’s new series of sessions devoted to book award winners was also a success. During these sessions award-winning feminist authors met with critics to engage in discussion and analysis of their recently published books, which ranged from topics on feminist theory to popular cultural studies on the Twilight phenomenon.

Among the conferences most popular sponsored sessions, was the joint-sanctioned Brown Boi Project event. The Lesbian, Transgender and Women of Color Caucuses invited the Brown Boi Project to host a session that would highlight the intersection of race, sexuality and gender. Wildly popular, this session boasted a high-level of organic diversity that was informative, transgressive, and interactive. Because the Brown Boi Project is located in the Bay area, their participation seemed particularly relevant along activist and educational contours.

In terms of business, the conference handled that as well. New leaders and officers transitioned into their posts- including the induction of new President, longtime association member, feminist scholar, and Director of Women’s Studies at Southern Connecticut State University, Dr. Yi Chun Tricia Lin. In addition to new leadership roles, the conference also took time to acknowledge the excellent and important work being done by graduate students. At the Women of Color Awards reception, up and coming scholars accepted their prizes and had the opportunity to convey details about the importance of feminism in their research and scholarly development.

While some sessions occurred on Sunday, the conference’s final day, a dance was held on Saturday night as the event finale. The dance was an awesome opportunity for members to come together in celebration of feminism and difference! Members were invited not only to request songs, but to offer their I-phones, MP3 players, and other devices containing music to be shared and enjoyed by all. Given the diverse array of members present at the dance, the feminists rocked out and danced to everything from Lady Gaga to Michael Jackson to J.J. Fad and Florence and the Machine. Latin, salsa and techno music were popular as well.

In all, “Feminism Unbound” was a dynamic event and next year’s conference, “Negotiating Points of Encounter” (to be held in Cincinnati, Ohio in November 2013) promises to be a must-attend event for feminist scholars, activists and creative artists at all levels. Please visit the NWSA website often, and  watch for the Call for Proposals later this month. The National Women’s Studies Association is dedicated to providing, through the annual conference, a welcoming and inclusive, intergenerational environment in which feminists can come together across difference to transform academic institutions, communities, and individual lives through shared vision and commitment to social justice and feminist futures.

Further Resources:

Patricia Hill Collins, On Intellectual Activism

Bonnie Thornton Dill and Ruth Enid Zambrana. Emerging Intersections: Race, Class, and Gender in Theory, Policy, and Practice

Ruth Enid Zambrana, Latinos in American Society Families and Communities in Transition

Other reports of NWSA 2012 Conference:

Nydeya Says, NWSA 2012 Conference

Transgressing Boundaries, NWSA Conference: Fascinating Topics and Challenging Interactions

Feminism and Religion, Please Excuse Me for Having a Penis: Taking a Backseat to Privilege and Power

Baxter Sayz, #NWSA2012

Thanks to the NWSA for providing the photos for this post – please see their facebook page for more photos of the conference.

Scholarly queer feminist working to bridge the academic/online divide.

Read more about Gwendolyn

Join the Conversation