Welcome back, Academic Feminists! This month I’m taking a break from interviewing to provide you with a glimpse inside my pilgrimage to the academic feminist mecca: the annual NWSA conference!
Whether you came to feminism through a gender studies class or not, many of you will appreciate the “special relationship” between feminist activist/online work and WGSS (women’s, gender, and sexuality studies) programs. In this age of digital organizing and social networking, these connections are even stronger, and the NWSA conference is an excellent chance to get to hear – and meet – some of the feminists you admire online/in books IRL. Some of my personal IRL highlights at this year’s conference in Cincinnati, Ohio, included: meeting my UVenus colleague Liana Silva-Ford, recent Academic Feminist interviewee Koritha Mitchell, and writers Heather Hewett and Julia Serano (who signed my copy of her new book, Excluded – swoon!).
As exciting as these face-to-face meetings are, this year’s theme – Negotiating Points of Encounter – reflected some of the difficulties that we in feminist communities have in bridging conversations that are happening online with those happening in academia (of great interest to me, as regular readers of this column know!). Part of this difficulty at this year’s conference was reflected in the lack of space to address recent online conversations, including those surrounding #femfuture and #solidarityisforwhitewomen. Because proposals for conference sessions are due about 9 months in advance of the conference each year, the timeliness aspect is sorely missing, which was a disappointment to many conference attendees I spoke with. (That said, I was grateful to participate in a very productive round table on #femfuture that was organized on the fly, via twitter, by Anitra Cottledge and Brenda Bethman.) While I appreciate the fact that NWSA has the huge task of organizing several HUNDRED ongoing panels (seriously, have a look at the PDF of the program), in the future, organizers might consider holding space, in the form of “open” dialogue sessions or the like, so that timely issues can be addressed.
Another bone of contention brought up by the online conference goers was the lack of free wifi at the conference center where the conference was being held. However, it must be said that, in general, the NWSA did a commendable job on inclusiveness, providing a lot of attention to accessibility otherwise, including a fragrance-free policy and childcare for attendees. Also – I wonder how many other organizations that have used that conference space set up gender neutral bathrooms!
The goal of inclusivity was definitely felt in the extremely wide range of session topics available to attendees, and in the backgrounds and perspectives of the panel speakers themselves (again, check out that hefty program!). Although the many excellent sessions I attended are too numerous to list here (check the #nwsa2013 hashtag!), one of the over-all highlights for many attendees was the Saturday afternoon panel “Changing the Subjects: Remaking the Futures of the Feminist Past,” featuring Nan Alamilla Boyd , Alexis Pauline Gumbs, and Kelly Wooten. The talk by Alexis Pauline Gumbs, who evoked Audre Lorde in both words and spirit, was especially inspiring. I know I’m not alone when I say I got chills listening to Dr. Gumbs speak.
Moving from the echoes of the past into the present – as Dr. Gumbs was indeed encouraging us to do! – as someone who has recently completed a PhD in gender studies, I have to point out one glaring (it seems to me) oversight: the lack of panels on the topic of contingent labor in WGSS programs and Departments, and other issues of importance to WGSS grads — both those currently in programs and those on the market. You can’t turn on your computer right now without seeing something on this issue, and it felt odd to me that it lacked “official” space on the NWSA program (because let me tell you, unofficially, it was there!!). Luckily, the 2014 conference theme – Feminist Transgressions – includes the subtheme Love and Labor, which sounds to me like a perfect space for these concerns to be addressed. (Other items of interest in 2014: subtheme Technologizing Futures and the fact that BELL HOOKS IS KEYNOTING.)
And on that forward-looking note, I’ll close this recap by stating that overall, my experience as a NWSA newbie was an overwhelmingly positive one. I mean, what’s not to like about spending a few days with sixteen hundred feminists from around the country (and world!), listening to fascinating speakers, having great conversations, buying books and other feminist swag?! This academic feminist definitely left Cincinnati happy to be a part of the NWSA community.
You can find other report-backs on the NWSA conference here, here, and here, or take a glance through the #nwsa2013 timeline for a play-by-play of the weekend’s events. You can also have a look at NWSA’s Facebook page for more photos from the conference, taken by the amazing Megan McInnis.
If any of this sounds like F-U-N to you, send in a proposal for next year’s conference - and I’ll see you in sunny Puerto Rico!
Gwendolyn Beetham curates the Academic Feminist series for Feministing. In addition to hanging out with academic feminists, she also works as an adjunct professor and freelance researcher.