News & Updates: NWSA History

NWSA, A History: 1980 – Second National Conference

Tuesday, April 21, 2020  
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Cover of the 1980 conference program book

Second National Conference | May 16–20, 1980 | Indiana University Bloomington

Heading of the 1980 conference program book

Program Highlights

NWSA's Second National Conference met at Indiana University Bloomington. Though the conference was not conducted with an overarching theme, the sessions mainly focused on the integration of women's studies programs into colleges and universities and on forming pedagogical best practices, especially for marginalized students, including:

  • "The Place of Women's Studies in the University"
  • "Promoting Sex Equity through Mathematics Education"
  • "How Many Working Class Women Are in Your Women's Studies Program?"

As with the previous year, the 1980 conference had a long bill of special events, including a dance sponsored by the Student Caucus; several poetry readings and open mike sessions, including a Third World poetry reading; a feminist book exhibit; several theatrical performances and concerts; art exhibits; as well as a raffle hosted by the New England regional constituency group, the runner-up of which received "a lobster dinner for six shipped via plane to the winner." Unfortunately, there wasn't enough humorous play with the session titles for me to name one as the funniest.

List of 1980 program committee members

Representation at the Conference

Representation of people of color, issues relevant to, and research about their experiences was markedly higher at the 1980 conference, more than doubling the number of dedicated sessions from the previous year's conference. Whereas the first conference had no dedicated representation for women of color/Third World women on the program committee, this year's included a four-member advisory council for "Third World participation." Following the conference's theme of institutionalizing feminism and building feminist pedagogy, many of the sessions focused on issues of race within the academy, including:

  • "Reducing Sexism and Racism through Staff Training"
  • "Teaching about African Women"
  • "Creating a Multicultural, Nonsexist Environment"
  • "The Role of Third World Women in Women's Studies"
  • "Dealing with Issues of Sex, Class, and Race in a High School Classroom"
  • "Can Women's Studies and Afro-American Studies 'Make It' in the Classroom?"
  • Building Coalitions: Women's Studies, Black Studies, and Hispanic Studies"

These sessions also seemed to focus on the position of women of color/Third World women and their issues within the broader feminist movement, particularly around their relationship to white women:

  • "Black Women/White Women: Is Sisterhood Possible?"
  • "Black Women/White Women: Our Collective Identity"
  • "Third World Women in the Community and The Academy"
  • "Anti-Racist Strategies for Feminist Contexts"
  • "Feminists Working against Racism"

What this uptick in racial conversations indicates is up for interpretation. Did these sessions fulfilled the need demonstrated by the presence of an advisory council on Third World participation? On whose terms were these conversations had? Who was a part of these conversations and who wasn't? What conversations weren't happening? These same questions persist today.

Representation of lesbian research and political issues was also greater at the 1980 conference than the previous year's. Dedicated sessions focused on politicizing lesbian perspectives within the field, including:

  • "Feminist Journals/Lesbian Readers: A Dialogue"
  • "The Politics of Lesbian Biography"
  • "Is the Library a Gay Place to Be? Experience Sharing"
  • "Discussing Lesbian and Gay Issues in K-12 Grades"
  • "A Lesbian Perspective on Wimmin's Studies"
  • "The Lesbian Scholar in the Community: Research on Lesbian Mothering as Consciousness Raising"

While the Lesbian Caucus was represented on the previous year's program committee, the caucuses did not have a designated liaison on the committee in 1980 (or at least none indicated in the archived program). However, the Lesbian Caucus is one of only two caucuses that have met at all 41 national conferences and is currently represented by two co-chairs on the Governing Council.

Issues of dis/ability within feminist theory had their first representation at the 1980 conference, though only with one dedicated session entitled, "Feminism and the Handicapped." As we'll see later, the NWSA task force on disabilities, proposed in 1984, would go on to become one of the longest-running caucuses at NWSA, indicative of the long – and often-invisibilized – history of disability scholarship and activism.

See the full program here

From the NWSA Coordinator

Sisterly Greetings!

On behalf of the National Women's Studies Association, I am delighted to welcome you to Bloomington for the Second NWSA Convention.

Our working/celebrating/meeting here is both conference and conventions. References to the Second NWSA Conference, and other to the Second NWSA Convention are often meant synonymously or used interchangeably.

We come together to confer with one another on the variety of issues, topics, and problems that concern and involve us: in our studies, our research, our employment, and our community activities. As individuals and as members of groups, we need each others' information, ideas, and presence to assist and affirm what are still too often isolated or separated experiences and undertakings.

We are also convened here by, and as part of, an organization, to further develop our collective capacity to support and promote feminist education. Through NWSA's ongoing networks, publications, projects, meetings, and coalitions, for example, we well be able to share the work done here with those who could not be present.

I hope your participation in these several days together will be rich and rewarding, and look forward to our continuing to work and celebrate, confer, and convene in the years ahead.

Elaine Reuben, National Coordinator

From the Conference Coordinators

The Program Committee for the National Women's Studies Association's Second National Conference welcomes you to Indiana. In organizing the conference, we have tried to bring together feminist educators, whether they work in institutions of higher education, in elementary and high schools, in the media, in community action, in government, in the arts, or in any other educational setting. We hope that the conference will build networks, disseminate new information and research, launch new campaigns for change, stir new insights, and nurture our growth as individuals and as an organization.

To ensure the widest possible representation on the program and to be consistent with the principles of feminist process, we decided to decentralize decision-making about program content. Accordingly, we asked each region and each caucus, as well as a coordinator for community-based programs, to take responsibility for organizing and selecting four session; these sessions are so designated in the program schedule. When regional associations and caucuses were unable to take on this task, we made a special effort to solicit sessions reflecting their concerns. We selected the remaining sessions from a total of about 300 proposals — proposals demonstrating the vitality, breadth, and diversity of women's studies throughout the country. We hope that the conference as a whole will foster a creative exchange of ideas for developing and nurturing women's studies in a variety of educational and social contexts.

We give sincere thanks to Towson State University and Indiana University whose support was highly valuable to our effort, to the Lilly Foundation for funding scholarships for K-12 teachers, and to the Indian Arts Council for facilitating the appearance of some of our artists.

In sisterhood,

Barbara Fassler
Judy Markowitz
Jean Robinson

NWSA Coordinating Council

Before there was a Governing Council, NWSA was led by the Coordinating Council. Below are the first council members, as well as the NWSA staff team. You can see the current Governing Council members, conference co-chairs, and staff members here.

1977-1979 Coordinating Council Members

Have any pictures, stories, or fun facts from past conferences? Let us know! Email us

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NWSA Program Archives

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About the Writer

Victoria Agunod is the office assistant at the National Women's Studies Association, as well as an adjunct faculty member in the Peace, Justice, and Conflict Studies Program at DePaul University. Victoria received their BA and MA in Women's and Gender Studies at DePaul. They first attended NWSA in 2018 and presented their research on university students organizing for racial justice against the new alt-right galvanized by the 2016 U.S. presidential election. They joined the NWSA team the following year. Their teaching emphases are on women of color feminisms, racial justice movements and organizing, and neoliberal rhetorical and cultural influences.

Please note: The information compiled in this project comes from the archived conference programs at the University of Maryland, College Park.