News & Updates: NWSA History

NWSA, A History: 1982 – Fourth National Conference

Thursday, April 23, 2020  
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Cover of the 1982 conference program book

Fourth National Conference | "Feminist Connections Throughout Education" | June 16–20, 1982 | Humboldt State University | Arcata, CA

Heading of the 1982 conference program book

Program Highlights

The programming of the 1982 NWSA Annual Conference focused on "Feminist Connections Throughout Education." In these early years (and still today), many of the sessions focused on institutionalizing women's studies in a way that would both launch the field forward and critique and challenge those same institutions. This particular theme spoke to that complex contradiction at the heart of women's, gender, and sexuality studies and invited attendees to connect with each other and build community in deeper and less "professional" ways.

One way in which the coordinators sought to do this was through "Connecting Groups." The first of these drop-in sessions were meant for participants "to meet new people, find meal companions and begin to feel 'at home' at this conference." The second round of Connecting Group sessions were themed and meant to give attendees a space to meet and build connections around a common interest. Some of these sessions included: Lesbian-Straight Connections; Cross-Cultural Connections; Women's Health Care Issues; Violence Against Women; Community Social Action; Women in Science and Technology; Women's Studies in The California State University System; and K-12 Education. The organizers welcomed participants to create their own Connecting Groups as needed and articulated their hope that participants would maintain these connections and conversations past these sessions and this conference.

A second strategy the coordinators piloted was a comprehensive recreation schedule. The conference hosted daily physical group activities including swimming, jogging, walking in the woods, aerobic dance, folk dance, volleyball, and racquetball. This wasn't the first or the last time that NWSA hosted physical recreation. At the previous year's conference, they had a stretching and exercising workshop, a power lifting and weight training workshop, and a massage and masso therapy workshop. In recent years, NWSA has hosted a morning yoga session, "Yoga for Every Body," facilitated by Becky Thompson.

More than just building friendships and connections, the fourth NWSA conference also pushed for a connection between scholarship and activism. As NWSA's first major invited speaker, Angela Davis spoke in a plenary session titled, "Women, Race, and Class: An Activist Perspective." It was less than a year later that Davis published her groundbreaking book, Women, Race, & Class, in which she unearths systems of racism and capitalism that have impacted women's liberation activists from slavery abolitionists to her contemporaries. Though the attention to racial and class analyses was steadily becoming a norm across many NWSA sessions, there were not many with any dedicated attention to the connection to activists and activism outside of academia.

While this has gone on to become one of the most relevant discussion themes within the field, there continues to be barriers for community activists to be a part of these conversations. While it is, of course, related to the accessibility of funding, it also speaks to the still-persistent cultural and socioeconomic divisions between academics and community organizers. What's more, the many, many scholars who are also activists and the many, many activists who are also scholars are weighted down by the increasing demands, bureaucracy, and budget cuts of academic, of non-profit work, and of other ways we fund our work. As you'll see in the coordinators' letters below, the 1983 NWSA conference was nearly impossible in the face of grant cuts and great difficulty with regular funding sources. However, community funding prevailed to continue allowing NWSA to be a meeting space for that community – those dedicated to the work of the field and to liberation. In the years since, NWSA has tried to redirect its funding toward expanding and supporting its community by building stronger bridges between scholarship and community organizing through dedicated conference themes and sub-themes, travel grants and conference registration scholarships, teach-ins, the Activist Scholarship, and inviting organizers to present in our plenary sessions.

List of 1982 program committee members

Other Conference Facts

  • The city of Arcata, CA that hosted the 1982 conference embraced the conference so much that the mayor proclaimed the week "Women's Studies Week." The mayor believed that the conference was "highly beneficial to the economic and social structure of our Community" and urged residents to participate in the conference.
  • The 1982 conference was the first time that the NWSA program committee included a "disabled accessibility" coordinator who organized transportation solutions to make the host campus more accessible and allocated ASL interpreters. At the next conference, a proposed disabilities task force meets and goes on to become one of the longest running caucuses in NWSA.
  • NWSA continued its tradition of theatrical performances, classical music concerts, a soft rock concert, poetry readings, as well as 57 films screenings.
  • The original six caucuses – the Community College, Lesbian, Staff, Student, Pre K-12, and Third World Caucuses – met again at the 1982 conference. This would be the last year before new task forces and caucuses form.
  • The sessions had a particularly new emphasis on the potential of technological advancements and technology's role in the field and in women's lives, including:
    • "Feminist Education for the 21st Century: Taking Hold of Technology" (3 Parts)
    • "Women, Technology and Production"
    • "Computers for Feminists"
    • "APPLE/LOGO Computer Workshop" (Apple actually sponsored this workshop)
    • "The Creation of an Audiovisual Resource for Classroom and Community Use"
    • "Women, Technology, and Production"

See the full program here

From the Coordinator

Welcome to the 4th National NWSA Conference!

It is with genuine pleasure that I greet you. A year ago the possibility that we would not be able to join together again was all too real. But NWSA members responded to the devastating news of the Associations's precarious financial condition with courage and determination. In a year in which there have been no new grants, no concert tour or other national fundraising program, you have dug into your own pockets and have reached out to colleagues and friends for memberships and outright contributions to keep this organization afloat. So far, together, we have succeeded.

I wish I could tell you the crisis is past. I cannot. Your continuing commitment to membership development and other activities that contribute to the economic viability of the NWSA is as important now as it has been for the past 12 months. One of the agendas of this conference is to expand and continue discussions of how to increase the financial stability of the Association.

Of equal importance to the issue of financial stability, I believe we must find or create answers to the question of what priorities beyond economic survival the NWSA intends to pursue and how, in very specific terms, we will accomplish the goals we set. Issues of internal organizational structure and external attacks on educational equity for women are critical to the Association today. Views differ on the best responses to each. My hope for the convention is that the entire range will be heard and from that debate will emerge consenus [sic] across the widest possible range of constituencies and interests within the Association. Idealistic? Yes. And, I believe, absolutely necessary.

The annual convention of the NWSA is also both symbol and instrument of the continued growth of Women's Studies throughout American education. The topical sessions described in this conference program reflect the astonishing diversity of our interests as scholars and as activists within feminist education. The excitement of both facets of Women's Studies is genuine and, I believe, critical to maintaining the momentum established in expanding scholarly and public awareness of the vital contributions of half the human race.

Finally, in addition to the content of this convention, much work has gone into assuring the greatest degree of physical comfort and convenience for you. As a past conference planner myself, 1deeply appreciate the magnitude of that task and extend my heartfelt thanks to Phyllis Chinn, Rosalind Ribnick and the entire cast of collaborators in planning the logistics of this conference.

The organizational and intellectual agendas before us at this conference are extraordinary. Yet they are no more extraordinary than the combined energy, talents and commitment to feminist education encompassed within the NWSA. As we share the next days at Humboldt State University, I hope the towering redwoods around us will pro- vide an accurate reflection of the soaring height of our vision as feminist educators, as well as an inspiration toward resounding confirmation of the durability of our commitment to continue the pursuit of that vision.

In sisterhood,
Susan Gore
National Coordinator

From the Program Coordinators

Welcome to the Fourth Annual Conference of the National Women's Studies Association. Our theme, "Feminist Connections Throughout Education," has been chosen with the goal of increasing communication and opportunities for networking in a setting where we can meet others with similar goals. By increasing our knowledge of what others are doing, we can expand our sense of what we can accomplish while simultaneously strengthening our commitment to feminist education.

There are a variety of procedures we have established to accomplish these goals. First are the plenary sessions, given by speakers chosen to stimulate our thinking regarding the past, present and future of Women's Studies and feminist education. Next, we have scheduled eight time slots for contributed panels and sessions on a variety of topics relevant to feminist education. Over one hundred sessions, involving hundreds of participants, have been planned by members of NWSA from all over the United States, plus several involving women from other countries.

In keeping with our theme of Connections, we have set up a series of "Connecting Groups" designed with two pur- poses, One is to facilitate the formation of friendships and to encourage a sense of community among us as we participate in this conference. The second is to create an environment for people with similar interests to find one another and to begin networks and interconnections which can be carried back to our home settings. We have also scheduled displays of books and educational materials, computers, art exhibits and various special events and entertainments to enhance our experiences at this conference.

As conference coordinators, we have done everything possible to plan a conference that will run smoothly and facilitate Feminist Connections Throughout Education. We could not possibly have coordinated this conference without countless hours of assistance given by committee chairs and hundreds of volunteers, some of whom are named in this program book. We apologize to those whose names have been omitted and take this opportunity to acknowledge all of you who have assisted in planning and holding this conference.

One issue that has been raised several times is what becomes of registration fees and the commuter fee, We would like to mention a few of the ways the money is used: mailing and printing expenses for brochures, letters, film and art exhibit brochures, and the program book come to over $10,000; six people have been paid for a small fraction of the hours they have actually worked in planning this conference; telephone expenses; the "free" child care pro- gram; signing and interpreting; and provision for transportation for participants who cannot climb our campus hills. These and other expenses are paid from the NWSA registration fee. All of the Humboldt State University campus facilities have been rented for five days. This fee, plus the cost of registration badges, folders, and some subsidy to low-income participants, has been built into the room and board fee schedule, It is this cost that is reflected in the commuter fee.

All of these fees have been predicated on 800 participants, to ensure that NW5A's financial crisis not be worsened by fewer participants at this conference than anticipated, Registration fees from additional participants provide a major portion of the money necessary to keep the NWSA office in Maryland open.

Let us share the five days of this conference in a spirit of enjoyment, cooperation and caring.

In Sisterhood,
Phyllis Chinn and Rosalind Ribnick
Conference Coordinators

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.

1977-1982 Coordinating Council Members

See the rest of the history project here

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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.